We need a gardening Snopes

Treated? Who knows?

As I haphazardly follow gardening practice on social media, mainly Facebook, but often on Instagram, I notice huge variances in the quality and content of the discourse. I’ve also noticed that the way that the discussion among gardeners spreads to general networks doesn’t seem to encourage discussion or alternative points of view. For example, our version of the neighborhood discussion group, Nextdoor, had a post from a member flatly stating that pollen from plants bought at Home Deport labeled as containing neonicotinoids would, if planted, lead to mass destruction: “bees take the pollen from these treated plants back to the hive, where they all die.” The situation with neonics is a little more subtle than that. As many here know, HD is one of the few retailers that bothers to label and they are pretty much phasing out their use of neonics, which are still debated as to their bee harm (though the EU has now banned them). You would not know any of this from the discussion that followed. It was mainly shocked assurances that all would avoid HD.

This is all very well; I hold no brief for HD or other big boxes. There are zero guarantees, however, that the plants I buy haven’t been treated with anything, because my small independent retailers don’t require labels saying so. That point was never brought up in the discussion I saw. Or in most of the discussions I see. Certain houseplants are said to be poisonous to cats and other pets. All kinds of folk wisdom about orchid care is dropped into plant groups with abandon. Companion planting is still often adviced (marigolds repel aphids, etc.).

What if there was a special Snopes for gardening, manned by a group of scientists, all with at least ten years in the field and experience with real world testing and the green industry? Such an organization could quickly pull together reasoned rebuttals to the most common gardening myths and gradually add new answers as new questions/myths arise. I suppose the Garden Professors provide this to a certain degree, but it is not as specifically question-responsive.

There is something so satisfying about Snopes coming to the rescue as yet another social media friend posts a silly meme or a bogus scare. I know even Snopes is under attack by the fake news crowd on occasion, but for me, it is often a final bastion of reason in a maniacal universe.

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Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. Agreed, SNOPES for gardeners would be great – I see lots of questionable information out there. One source for evidence-based gardening is Linda Chalker-Scott. She has a Facebook page that has some great discussions. Here is a quote from https://www.rootsimple.com/2014/02/how-to-search-for-science-based-gardening-advice/:
    “In the interest of not spreading more bad information Linda Chalker-Scott, Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor at Washington State University, did a webinar (archived online here) with a lot of great advice on how you can evaluate gardening advice as well as do your own searches of peer reviewed literature.”

    She suggested six databases. First the free ones:

    Agricola–run by the USDA–not all of the contents are peer reviewed. The best thing about Agricola is that it’s free and online.
    Google Scholar–good for a start but most of the articles you’ll find are behind pay walls and you’ll have to look them up in a university library.
    The following databases are behind pay walls. You’ll need to make a trek to your local university to use them:

    CAB is a database of 7.3 million abstracts relating to “agriculture, environment, veterinary sciences, applied economics, food science and nutrition.”
    Biosis–A citation index for the life sciences.
    Web of Science–information in “sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities.”
    GREENfile–“draws on the connections between the environment and a variety of disciplines such as agriculture, education, law, health and technology. Topics covered include global climate change, green building, pollution, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, recycling and more.”

  2. Then there is Extension Service advice contradicting itself amongst several leaflets on same topic, different authors.

    Worse, soil preparation advice for heavy clay, to add organic material…..blah blah. Mentioning nothing about needing river sand or grit to break the particles to perk, and lasts centuries, versus organic material lasting a year, poof, back to clay. Yes, I’ve spoken with my precious favorite Extension Agent about this, he agreed and xyz won’t be changed…..

    Not judging them or picking on them or griping, it’s easy to understand how the issues arise, and then don’t get fixed.

    And what is true in one zone is not true in another sometimes.

    Topics you raise go right into heart of agrarian/pastoral landscapes vs. industrialized landscapes.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. I read the Garden Professors regularly. Jeff Gilliam has several books out debunking favorite Jerry baker fantasies.

  4. To my mind, taking advice about anything from one source alone is a practice that will lead to trouble no matter what the subject, be it gardening, animal husbandry or how to properly bake brownies! Education ought to be teaching critical thinking and how to properly research a question–sadly, in today’s world it doesn’t seem to be so. Internet ‘experts’ abound and many are too lazy to seek their own answers.

  5. I heartily agree and would absolutely visit such a site. This would also fall under the general category of “Don’t believe everything you read on the Interwebs”.

  6. I know that Linda Chalker-Scott knows her stuff but I have seen our local Master Gardeners Association use her work to become our local Garden Nazis on Facebook 🙂

    On another note, Linda Chalker-Scott swears that agricultural cornmeal is of no use to control fungus but my experience with my St. Augustine lawn tells me otherwise.

  7. We at Bee Better Naturally with Helen Yoest have been following the use of neonics from various growers for some time. Yes, hysteria abounds. Yet, we mustn’t forget, our hysteria is how the results of nenonic disuse came about. With regards to you NextDoor neighbor, they just haven’t caught kept with the latest updates.

    Having followed this specific topic for years by regularly calling growers to know where they stand. It changes often. It has come to the point that I need to increase my annual inquiries to a grower’s use on a semi-annual basis. The good news is the list is getting shorter every day. There are far fewer growers using neonics that one might imagine, including your neighbor. Instead of hysteria, here are some FACTS I do know through personal conversations I’ve had with growers. There are many more I have not contacted or haven’t the time to post here. Perhaps a post to ask growers to reply to GardenRant is in order. At least if someone is buying from one of these growers below, they can be assured, as best as one can be, there were no neonics used. It might be interesting for a few of these plants on the garden center shelves be tested at random to see how truthful the growers are. But for me, I’m trusting with the knowledge I have recorded conversations with growers that give me comfort.

    GARDENERS CONFIDENCE: I heard from GC today stating they stopped using neonics, like Monrovia, the beginning of the year.

    MONROVIA: Monrovia has been eliminating their use of neonics over the years. They post their stand on using neonics on their website. If you visited this message two years ago, you would have read how they are patting themselves on the back for reducing neonics usage by 2/3rds. As I check in with the first of the year, I learned that as of January 1, 2019, they are eliminating the use of neonics as a pesticide. Congratulate them! I’ve tried to get a more in-depth answer by asking if this elimination of use includes the plants on the garden center shelves now or if going forward, will they discontinue their use. So with regards to purchasing from Monrovia this year is suspect until I hear otherwise. In any case, Monrovia plants are just too pricey for our meager non-profit’s budget.

    PROVEN WINNERS: Do not use neonics

    ANNIE’S ANNUALS: Do not use neonics

    PLANT DELIGHT NURSERY: Do not use neonics

    PRAIRIE MOON NURSERY: Do not use neonics

    METROLINA GREENHOUSE, who supply to Lowes and HD. Do not use neonics. As the garden center if a plant you are holding is from Metrolina Greenhouse? It’s a fair question. Most of the none-labeled plants, are from Metrolina Greenhouse. Check to be sure. It’s a fair question

    COSTA FARMS: Also supplying to Lowes and HD. I am waiting to hear back from Justin as to their stand on the use of neonics. Also, know, these plants aren’t marked with their logo. The Costa Farms plants are mostly the tropics indoors.

    TERRA NOVA: Do not use neonics.

    There are others to be investigated. Bee Better Natural is taking the angle of the grower. If you know a grower isn’t using neonics, as stated above, buy from them. Ask your local garden center who often grown their own. I know here in Raleigh, Campbell Road Nursery doesn’t use them. There are posts online like taking the angle of a garden center, which is also useful, but to be safe, know your grower!

    Our belief is to KNOW YOU GROWER. Let’s give our growers the respect they deserve. It isn’t fair to those who have committed to protecting bees and other wildlife.

    Helen Yoest
    Executive Director



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