Practical Gardening: Skills: Part 1 -Information Sources

March 2, 2024

Part One: Your Best InformationSources

What are “gardening sources and skills”?

What is Gardening? A little art, a little science, a little exercise. A little bit of lifestyle improvement and a little nature study. We feed the birds and the pollinators. Then we both admire, and curse the deer and the cute rabbits.

Some economical living and a little indulgence. We take credit for homegrown herbs and tasty tomatoes fresh from the garden. Then we spend the savings on a few fancy Gardenia trees.

What I like is the fact that we never stop learning, our hobby keeps us eternally curious. Then we get outsmarted by a rabbit with an entire head smaller than a baseball! Maybe that’s why we need to keep learning!

What Do We Mean By Practical Gardening Sources And Skills?

What helps me as a gardener is first, having good sources, places I can go to quickly when I need information. Gardening is certainly academic; there is history, aesthetics, science, and food. But it is also immediate. When the leaves turn yellow, you need to act. I’ll start with some good sources that you can get to quickly.

Here are gardening tips you can use right away.

Part Two: The Skills

The second important element is the simple skills you will reach for repeatedly. Things like soil testing, reading labels, knowing good soil, and how to make it better. Identifying plants correctly and the skills to solve the inevitable problems. I will put that in part two.

Good Sources-Where To Go To Learn What You Need

Sources of Knowledge You Can Always Return To

Your State Land Grant University

This is the State Agricultural College that your taxes support. It provides science-based, accurate research about anything that grows in your state. Even in a geographically diverse state, you will get current and localized information. This is a link to the USDA directory of Land Grant Universities,

For example, I garden in Florida, and palm trees are important to us. This link will take you to information on diseases of palm trees from my state university, the University of Florida.

If your university has information I need, I, a person from another state, can read that online also. I use research from universities beyond my state, a lot. I just need to understand that there is a climate difference.

In addition, if I live in Massachusetts and I am ready to plant tomatoes, I search for “growing tomatoes in Massachuttes, U Mass Amherst” and I get this high-quality research quickly and free.

Try it, you can learn a lot before you finish your morning coffee!

Want Something More Personal? Try Your County Extension Service

This source of information, gives you access to experts who work through your State University but are located in your own County. In my family, we are Master Gardener Volunteers. We are trained to help people in our community to access the knowledge they need, near home. We can utilize the University’s experts to help our neighbors.

Here is how to locate your County Extension Service.

Get to know them, they will have events like lectures, and walk-in garden clinics, to identify plant problems. They will have information of all kinds and most of it free.

For example, in our walk-in clinics, we will show you how to take samples of your soil for testing. Bring the samples to our clinic and we will do important pH testing for you for free.

Alternatively, for a reasonable price with a fast turnaround time, we will send the soil sample to our University lab for full testing.

This information will help you put the “Right Plant in the Right Place,” how to amend your soil to improve it and help you keep wasted fertilizer and chemicals, out of the environment.

The Master Gardener Program

Would this interest you? The Master Gardener program is run through your Agricultural University Extension program. It began in 1973 in Washington State to supplement the reach of it’s educational staff.

Volunteer gardeners are trained in horticultural subjects such as taxonomy, plant pathology, soil health, Integrated Pest Management, etc. They volunteer in their communities with the goal of enhancing life in the outdoors. Today they operate in all 50 US States and 8 Canadian Provinces. There are about 95,000 volunteers donating 5,000,000 volunteer hours. We are proud of that.

How To Do It

Most counties have an annual or near-annual class to which you can apply. There is a reasonable fee. We felt we got a lot for our money. There are continuing education requirements and ongoing requirements for hours of service.

in our county’s last class we had government bureaucrats, an animal lover who volunteers at night at our wild animal hospital, an events manager, a retired real estate attorney, and an emu farmer. There is probably room for you!

Integrated Pest Management

This is the place to learn IPM. It is the way to practice long-term management of pests and diseases by using a graduated program of controls. This helps us all get the best outcomes with the least use of aggressive products and procedures.

Some Other Local Sources

Your Favorite Or Nearest Public Botanial Garden

Become a member, visit when you can. Get in the habit of using their website. Attend their events. They engage in important global research. Use them as much as you can. This link will take you to the American Public Garden Associates. You can find maps showing public gardens near you.

Your Best Garden Center

This is your source for plants for your local area. I may see a beautiful, annual Impatiens on a distant dealer’s web page but will it take the humidity in my garden? Local plants will.

Often garden centers have skilled garden fanatics on staff and they may offer educational programs. Also most heavy, bagged garden products such as; soil, compost, mulch, fertilizers, etc are local products made of local materials. Local products are suitable to your garden soil. You will get them at your local garden center.

Growers In Your Area

Look for the expertise of local plant producers. Today we utilize local, successful flower producers who permit retail customers at their facility. A family neighbor, when I was growing up was one of the most innovative producers of Rhododendrons and Azaleas in the North East.

Sometimes such experts will host tours and open houses at their facilities. Try to get on the mailing lists.

Home And Garden Tours/ Lectures/Garden Shows

We belong to clubs and volunteer organizations that sponsor all of these events. We are always educated and inspired by what goes on in our area. Try yours.

Small Public Gardens And Historic Houses

Do not overlook small public gardens and historic houses near you. They often are places to understand your community and the people who made it. We have, nearby, a historic 19th century Old Florida Cracker Ranch.

Now, we are in South Florida, in coastal zone 10b. Nobody would be fool enough to plant Azaleas. However, we think some hopeful settlers brought one south on the wagon sometime in the 1800s and it is still in bloom next to the cookhouse. A tribute to the optimism of gardeners everywhere!

Historic Houses and Gardens are located all over the USA. We can learn about our regional culture and about regional horticulture and taste by visiting them. After Covid 19, Americans are expected to travel with caution. We can enjoy visiting local places of entertainment and to travel by car.

Here is a listing of 50 Fascinating Houses and Gardens to visit all over the USA. Try to see them as you start to venture out.

Other Sources You Will Find Online

Large Growers

Check the websites of the large plant growers. Their names and contact information are on the labels you see in the garden center plant pots. These websites have good growing and care information.

Several of them show contact information on the footer of the website. You can correspond with their gardeners who will answer your questions.

Here is an example. I researched and posted this piece on the lovely tender perennial “Mona Lavender.” Wherever you live you can use it as a summer annual or house plant. It is lovely. But the information offered over the past few years has been spotty for this relatively new plant. I have seen it sold as a sun or shade plant and an annual or a perennial

I found very useful and personal information by corresponding with their gardeners. Use them, they can impact your success.

Specialty Growers of Interesting Plants

These are usually multigenerational family businesses totally dedicated to a single plant. Often they sell their special plant, internationally, throughout the nation or through a region. They have developed highly specialized knowledge. They work closely with the university scientists, other breeders, and are breeders themselves. If you really want to be an expert on the plant that interests you, buy from them and use their advice.

Places To Get Facts You Need

What Is My Plant Hardiness Zone plants will live where I garden? This link will take you to the USDA Plant Hardiness zones on a map.

How can I use this? When I go to the Garden Center and the label in the pot says “hardy in zones 7-9, and my garden is within zones 7-9, that plant should grow for me.

When To Plant?

For this I need to know my “frost dates” These are the earliest dates in spring and the last dates in fall when my plants should not be damaged by cold. This is a popular source for historic average frost dates.

Lists Of Planting Dates For Individual Crops

Here is a national list of planting dates. You enter your zip code and will see planting dates by named crops. Planting too early and suffering cold damage or too late and not getting a complet crop are problems you can solve by knowing the safest planting dates.

Crop Information For Your State

This vegetable garden guide is for the three growing regions in Florida. You will find similar information from your State University system and your County Extension service.

This is my version based on what gets done in our Zone 10b Garden. I hope it is helpful, it is about day to day life in one garden. You may have a different climate, different plants, and not be interested in pond plantings. However, we do hope that it is useful to read because it is life in a real garden with monthly chores and planting schedules. I publish it every month.


These are all sources of information that we rely on to keep our knowledge current. Try them out. They should be informative and give you ideas you can use.

Check back, I will continue to add new sources as I see them.