If I have a question, I start by using Google. The most reliable sites that provide scientifically tested information are university sites with the ending “.edu”. If I am looking for information about rutabagas, I type into the Google search engine “rutabaga site:edu” and I come up with 36,000 results. You can substitute any other gardening word or phrase if rutabagas are not your thing. Other websites to search are government (“site:gov”), organizations (“site:org”), or commercial (“site:com”).
University Extension web sites provide great information for the gardening public. I start with our own University of Minnesota site, www.extension.umn.edu. On it, you will find the best ideas and recommendations for taking care of your lawn, annual and perennial flowers, vegetables and fruit, trees and shrubs. You can find information about insect pests, diseases,and weeds. There are diagnostic flow charts, http://apps.extension.umn.edu/garden/diagnose/, where you are led on a path to finding out what bug, weed, or insect is pestering your garden. Each month, current gardening topics by experts are presented in the Yard and Garden News section. The University also has a Plant Elements of Design, http://www.landscapeplants.extension.umn.edu/, that requires you to generate a password to access a large database of perennials, trees, and shrubs.
Other good extension sites are from nearby Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana, and even Pennsylvania, Maine, and Massachusetts. The site, https://articles.extension.org/, is geared for extension professionals and the public they serve; it provides a search engine to access thousands of research-based extension articles. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs has detailed descriptions of common weeds at http://omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/ontweeds/weedgal.htm. It also has the best articles I have seen anywhere about choosing and growing different cover crops to build up your garden soil: http://omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/cover_crops01/covercrops.htm. For good ideas from over the ocean, check out the British perspective on gardening at the Royal Horticultural Society: https://www.rhs.org.uk/.
Many of our garden practices that we have followed for years are myths. They do not work. In some cases, we can even damage our plants. Some commercial websites (“.com”) offer bizarre and useless garden remedies. Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, of Washington State University, has researched many of these misguided garden beliefs. She will surprise you with many of her findings at Horticultural Myths, https://puyallup.wsu.edu/lcs/. Don’t forget that there are many garden organizations that provide useful information and hints for growing your favorite plant. Such sites include the American Rose Society, American Hosta Society, American Fern Society, American Orchid Society, Perennial Plant Association, and others. The American Horticultural Society has a large list of societies, clubs, and organization listed at their site: http://www.ahsgardening.org/gardening-resources/societies-clubs-organizations. Many of these groups have Facebook pages where you can become active with other gardeners that share your passion.
Do you receive too many beautiful catalogs during the winter and early spring? Are those garden related companies any good? Check at Dave’s Garden Watchdog, https://davesgarden.com/products/gwd/#b, which provides a guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening, and Catalogs. Gardeners from all over the country provide positive, neutral, or negative reviews of the service received from a vast listing of garden related companies and nurseries. The gardeners, like you or me, are not reserved at voicing their opinions of a vendor. Dave’s Garden website, https://davesgarden.com/#b, claims to list over 160,000 plants for searching, 144 garden forums, dictionaries of Latin terms, and many useful articles. A few articles, however, list some amazing home remedies for garden ailments; beware, they may or may not be scientifically sound solutions. Cyndi's Catalog of Garden Catalogs, www.gardenlist.com/, provides a large list of garden companies listed in convenient categories. You just read about a fabulous new plant, but don’t know where to find it-- the University of Minnesota Arboretum Library provides sources for purchasing a vast number of plants. In their own words: “Use Plant Information Online (https://plantinfo.umn.edu/) to discover sources in 983 North American nurseries for 81,887 plants, find 433,232 citations to 155,904 plants in science and garden literature, and access information on 2,699 North American seed and nursery firms. Plant Information Online is a free service of the University of Minnesota Libraries. If a fungus, virus, or bacterium is attacking your vegetable garden next year, check out Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online, http://vegetablemdonline.ppath.cornell.edu/cropindex.htm. Want to find out how toxic that spray is? Check the list of chemicals at EXTONET, Pesticide Information Profiles, http://extoxnet.orst.edu/pips/ghindex.html.
Botanical gardens offer a wealth of information. If you have not been there already, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, it is worth the drive. Plan your outing at http://www.arboretum.umn.edu/. The Missouri Botanical Garden website is beautifully set up and you can spend hours there. If you want to find out about a particular plant, check out the Plant Finder at the Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/plantfinder/plantfindersearch.aspx, to find out information on over 7,500 plants. You can search by common or scientific name, by hardiness zones, by height and width, color, fruit, uses, and other characteristics. Information provided includes fine photographs of the plant, general descriptions, culture, noteworthy characteristics, problems, and garden uses. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has some interesting articles to read, as well as excellent garden handbooks for sale, https://www.bbg.org/. Want to find out the best perennials for your garden? Each year, the Chicago Botanic Garden evaluates groups or genera of landscape plants and publishes their findings at https://www.chicagobotanic.org/plantinfo/plant_trials_articles. The varieties are well described and are rated from poor to excellent. A good site to check before your next shopping trip.
Minnesota Wildflowers is the site to check for wild flora in our state: https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/. If you want more information about your plant, and to see if it is native to your specific county, check the USDA Plant Database: https://plants.usda.gov/java/. You can even pull up a list of all plants native to Minnesota on the USDA site!
I think that Fine Gardening Magazine (https://www.finegardening.com/) provides consistently good, well-written, and accurate information. Their website provides a search engine where you can look up a subject and read many of their past articles. Although I was taught just to blurt out what I think is the proper pronunciation of scientific names, and no one would know the difference, this site provides a pronouncing guide to botanical Latin to have you sounding like an expert in no time.
Have fun with your online searches. If you find a great site that I have not included, please let me know.
Happy Gardening, Joe Baltrukonis