Here in the great American Southwest, we have an amazing array of growing conditions, as I mentioned to a relative who lives in upstate New York. They are excited when summer temperatures rise above 80°. In September, they cover their raised beds for the winter and pull out their mukluks and parkas. At the same time we can planning our fall gardens.
Just before spring, my mailbox is full of plant catalogs, and I love looking at them, but you seldom receive catalogs around the end of summer, when I want information immediately. So I google it.
I think “to google” is now in the Oxford English Dictionary.
How much information is actually in Google or any other search engine? I can not imagine it.
Just because something is available doesn’t mean it’s all correct and suitable for US unique growing conditions. You really need a critical eye to make sure the computer gives you the information you need. Too often websites are designed to sell something. If it’s dot com it could not be unbiased.
Unfortunately, there are also opinions masked as fact. A blog may or may not be based on reality; it can easily be a person’s opinion presented as gospel. Many garden writers are experienced and trained, but if a statement sounds too clear or baseless, double check. Any statement containing the words “always” or “never” may not be true. I’ve learned to avoid those two words.
And many things just to show up in your search that seem to be completely unrelated. I looked up ‘food safety and hydroponics’, but I also got pages that gave me the… absolutely the best hydroponics units and other pages that tell me how dangerous the practice of hydroponics is. Some of the latter websites were actually blogs. opinions.
There are millions of plants on the web, from tender annuals to beautiful shade trees, but don’t be disappointed.
For example, a plant can look great in a photo, and from the description you would think it was perfect for anything. Look closer.
Where does it grow best? In which zone? We are zone 8 b and working our way up to zone 9. But if a plant were to be in zone 10, we will be too cold in the winter. If the zone range reads 4 – 7, our conditions are way too hot in the summer.
What about water consumption? There are locations all over the world where water regularly falls from the sky.
People there can occasionally give extra water with a hose.
We get the occasional downpour here in the desert southwest, then it can be months between precipitation events. If we wait for rain to irrigate our vegetables, flowers and trees, we get a landscape of dead plants. You can usually find the water requirement of the plant on the website or in the catalog.
Avoid anything that is not at least a little drought tolerant. Since we’ve technically been in a drought for over 20 years, that’s something to think about.
Let’s not forget sunlight. We have hundreds of cloudless or nearly cloudless days every year. Any plant that needs partial shade require careful placement and close attention.
Salty soil is one of our more serious horticultural problems. It is usually not mentioned in plant descriptions, neither on the Internet nor in catalogs. Don’t forget to check salt tolerance when looking for plants.
The World Wide Web is global, so not all information is appropriate for the Mojave, North America’s smallest, driest desert.
I just checked desert shade tree websites and found a great range. Many of the ones I found can thrive in this climate, but some lists would die after just a few years. Maybe they would thrive in other American deserts, but not all deserts are the same.
And with climate change, who knows what conditions will look like in the coming decades?
The web is great for so much, but it can’t replace a gardener’s knowledge of growing conditions, and it won’t replace your common sense.
For KNPR’s Desert Bloom, this is Dr. Angela O’Callaghan of the University of Nevada Extension.