Why can’t you trust gardening information on the Internet? As part of my effort to bust gardening myths, I also try to understand how the myths are created in the first place.
I decided to run a test to illustrate why gardening information on the internet can’t be trusted. I hired someone to write an article on how to flower indoor plants more. How accurate will the information be? Will it be suitable for posting on one of my blogs?
How Did It All Start?
A few weeks ago I got an email from someone praising my article: The Magical Power of Banana Peels in The Garden – Or Not!
He said my article was so good, he would like me to add a link to his article and that with both linked together we would both benefit. My Garden Myths blog gets a lot of visitors and I have two weekly requests from people to write articles for me, or to have me link to their site. They are trying to capture my readers and/or promote their products.
I had a closer look and read the article on his blog. It was complete nonsense. His article was all about the great merits of banana tea fertilizer which I had completely debunked in my article. Clearly he didn’t read my post!
He did mention one other interesting fact. His article was written by a third party writer – a ghost writer who “writes all of his posts”.
That may seem odd to you but many of the popular gardening blogs are NOT written by the owner of the blog. Their only goal is to create a lot of content so they can plaster it with advertisement. If the reader clicks on any of the ads, the blog owner gets a commission. That is the purpose of these blogs. It has nothing to do with presenting good, factual gardening advice. The industry calls them “click-bait” and they exist in every genre and interest group. These types of sites are the dark side of the internet and the cause of much misinformation.
The general public does not understand this last point. Many bloggers do not care about presenting good, valid information. They are in the business of creating cheap content with ads.
Let me be clear, there are many good blogs out there, written by very knowledgeable gardeners. They usually contain fewer ads and the owners of the blog are the key writers but it can be difficult distinguishing a good one from click-bait. I also now use ads because the cost of running this site has skyrocketed. Ads alone do not indicate a poor quality site.
Where do you get cheap content? That’s easy.
Hire a Garden Writer
I write all of my own blog posts and do my own research. I have never hired a ghost writer, but in the name of science I wanted to see how easy it was to get some cheap content.
I went to Fiverr.com, a site where you can hire inexpensive labor for all kinds of projects. Why are they inexpensive? Because most of the work is done in countries with much lower wages. The quality of the work varies a lot, from poor to excellent.
I checked out a couple of garden writers and picked the best one – she had a university degree in horticulture. I hired her to write a “factual, well researched” 500 word article for my blog, entitled “How to Make Houseplants Bloom More?” I was assured that the article was authentic and well researched. Cost was $23 Canadian ($16 US).
The article is fairly good, and I could easily post it on my blog. Most readers would find it educational and enjoyable and I am quite sure I would get very few complaints about the content, mostly because inexperienced gardeners would read it.
I won’t be posting it as a separate post because it contains errors and it leaves out important details. However, most click-bait blogs would have no trouble using it and publishing it under their own name.
Hire a Different Garden Writer
I also tried one other thing. I posted a job offer on Fiverr for a different garden article. I gave quite specific requirements including experience in gardening, ability to research using scientific journals and a track record of published garden articles. I also asked to see sample published work. In 24 hours I had over 50 applicants all offering to write inexpensive articles and assuring me they had knowledge of the subject.
When I looked at their profiles almost none had any experience writing gardening material. I looked at a couple of articles they supplied and they were full of misinformation.
I am quite sure that if these writers had gotten the gig, they would have gone online to read a few of the top Google search results and copied whatever they read. With no knowledge of the subject, the article would have had little substance and lots of myths.
It is no wonder that so much of the information online is wrong.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming the writers. The problem is with people running blogs who either know nothing about gardening, or don’t care about their readers.
How to Make Houseplants Bloom More?
I have included the complete article from my selected author at the end of this post. It is actually better than I expected, but it still contains some mistakes and some important omissions. Here are some of the key mistakes.
Houseplants are Hardy
Most houseplants are tropical – you can hardly call them hardy.
When Houseplants Don’t Bloom, That’s When You Know Something is Wrong
Many houseplants are large tropical plants that never flower when grown indoors. It is normal for them not to bloom. Other plants can bloom but rarely do when grown as houseplants.
Poinsettia Need Long Periods of Darkness to Trigger Flowering
Not true. They need 14 hours of total darkness each night and bright light during the day (10 hours).
Ensure That Your Houseplant Gets at Least 2 Hours of Sunlight
This can be interpreted in different ways. Is this direct sunlight or just light from outside? It is very vague.
A lot of houseplants can be grown quite well and flowered without any sunlight, provided they get enough artificial light. They don’t need 2 hours of sunlight. If you are relying on sunlight alone, 2 hours is not nearly enough to flower most blooming plants.
I wondered where the number of 2 hours came from – it just seems so odd. I googled “How to Get Indoor Plants to Bloom More” and sure enough, the top post suggested 2 hours. It was not a reliable site and full of myths. It even recommended using banana peels to feed the plants. I then did the search again but this time added “site:.edu” at the end of the search. This brings up only educational sites – mostly government and university sites. No one recommended 2 hours of light.
Nutrient-poor Soil Should be Replaced
Most houseplants are soilless mix that provides very few nutrients. This soilless media does not get exhausted, nor does it get old. Plants in pots need to be fertilized regularly but the soil can be used for many years.
Fertilizer is Most Effective When You Know the Deficiency
Not exactly. Fertilizer is only effective if the fertilizer supplies the nutrients missing in the media. Simply knowing the deficiency is of little value. It is a minor point, but a key reason why most gardeners should not bother with a soil test – they don’t follow the recommendations anyway.
Besides, who gets their houseplant soil tested?
A Balanced Fertilizer is Best
So many gardening sources say this, but it’s not true. Plants use nutrients in an NPK ratio of about 3-1-2, so that is the best fertilizer to use. Also, nitrogen and potassium leach out the quickest, so they should be added in higher amounts than the P.
A balanced fertilizer will grow and flower plants, but the extra P and K just gets flushed down the drain, increasing the pollution of rivers and lakes, not to mention the extra cost.
How often should you fertilize and how much should be used? These are important missing points, especially if a plant is not blooming as expected. In general they need more fertilizer when actively growing and if they are grown well, they have the potential to flower well.
Test pH With a pH Kit
I really don’t see the point of this since there is no information about what to do with the data once you get it. Besides garden center pH test kits are not very good. If pH needs to be adjusted it should be done before planting in the new media and by using the right kind of fertilizer.
“Your watering schedule in winters will have a lower frequency than that in summers.” This may or may not be true. Evaporation depends very much on the surrounding humidity and the amount of water used by the plant. Homes in winter are dry and have a higher evaporation rate, although plants tend to grow slower due to less light, reducing their needs for water.
“To be on the safe side, it is a good idea to follow a well-defined watering schedule without overwatering or under watering it.” That is bad advice. The last thing you should do is water on a schedule especially if the needs in winter and summer are different.
“Use your fingertips to feel the topsoil. If it feels dry to the touch, then watering is due!” This is the correct advice, but contradicts the advice of using a schedule.
Common Problem With a Lot of Gardening Advice
You might think my critique above is a bit harsh, but it’s not. Give a new gardener incorrect bits of information and they will struggle for years before they sort things out. In the mean time they get on social media and pass along the wrong information to many others.
There is one other important point and I find this to be a big problem with many online sites. The information is very superficial and lacks many of the required details. If you look at the section about fertilizing and assume you are a new gardener, do you really know how to fertilize your plants? Should the fertilizer be changed at different times of the year? How much should be used? How does it affect blooming, which after all is the main point of the article?
I find a lot of online information gives enough detail to make the reader feel they haven’t totally wasted their time, but it doesn’t provide enough detail to really educate the reader. One of the main reasons for this is that the articles are being written by people with a limited understanding of the subject matter. They can’t explain the details because they don’t understand the main concepts.
So how do you make houseplants flower more? I’ve written and published a separate blog with all the details; How to Get Indoor Plants to Bloom More.
How to Make Houseplants Bloom More?
The following is the article from my ghost writer:
Houseplants are known to be low-maintenance and hardy, but they may occasionally not bloom enough, take longer than anticipated, or refuse to flower at all. That’s when you know something is wrong!
Here is what you can do to make your houseplant bloom more:
Some houseplants such as poinsettia enjoy staying in the dark and require being plunged in long periods of darkness to trigger flowering. However, most houseplants require low to moderate levels of sunlight to flower well on time unlike the poinsettia plant. If your houseplant is not flowering enough, then the most probable reason is lack of sunlight. Most plants need at least 6 – 8 hours of either direct or partial sunlight, but houseplants can survive with much little.
However, do ensure that your houseplant gets at least 2 hours of sunlight (more is better) if you notice delays in blooming or sparse flowering.
Soil and nutrients
Sometimes lack of adequate nutrition can hold your houseplant from flowering as enthusiastically as you expect it to. If your houseplant bloomed earlier in the year and refuses to flower again, then it has probably exhausted all the nutrients available in the soil. When this situation occurs, it is time to replenish your plant’s growing medium. The most effective solution to this problem is to repot your plant in fresh and nutrient-rich soil. Loosen the roots of your plant (while wearing gloves) to extract your houseplant and carefully place it in the new soil. If you notice that the roots are beginning to crawl upwards, then your plant needs more space. It may be time for a bigger pot!
Sunlight and watering are essential!
It is worth noting that an alternative is to introduce fertilizer to your plant’s growing medium. Using a fertilizer yields the most effective results when you know which nutrient deficiency you are targeting. To stay on the safe side, it is a good idea to use a fertilizer that has equal parts of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Please make your way to the local gardening store and get a soil pH testing kit to ensure that your plant’s growing medium is neither too acidic nor too alkaline for its liking. However, it takes some time for fertilizer effects to kick in. For this reason, potting your plant into fresh soil is usually the preferable option.
Each plant will have its unique water requirements. You need to do some research about your houseplant species and the climatic zone you live and also consider the current season. For example, your watering schedule in winters will have a lower frequency than that in summers because of high evaporation rates. Most hardy houseplants will bloom with very little water, but some are more demanding when it comes to moisture. To be on the safe side, it is a good idea to follow a well-defined watering schedule without overwatering or under watering it. Use your fingertips to feel the topsoil. If it feels dry to the touch, then watering is due!
(Make sure that your houseplant’s growing container has small holes at the bottom to allow excess water to seep through).