University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article

LET THE BUYER BEWARE

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
 

Have you ever heard this expression?  It applies in the lawn and garden industry, just as it does with any other products.  There are a few misleading statements and words you'll see in ads and on products.  Some products may be misleading, or inappropriate.

"University tested" is seen on some garden products, especially new ones.  True, they were probably tested at a university, but what were the results? The products may not have been effective, but they can still claim to have been "university tested."  Or if the university was on the west coast, will the results apply elsewhere such as in your area?

The issue of location also crops up in national ads and marketing campaigns. Ads may exhort you to buy that mower, or fertilizer that lawn.  If you still have snow on the ground or the grass hasn't begun to grow, you can tell these ads aren't local.

The same applies to ads for the perennials and shrubs you may find in national chain stores.  Many of these are purchased by buyers elsewhere.  Are they hardy in your area?

Hardiness is another word to watch closely.  Many ads, even books, may claim a plant is "hardy."  But where is it hardy?  And even if a plant is generally hardy in your area, because of local variations ("microclimates") it may not be hardy in your own landscape or in all parts of your landscape.

There are any number of products to be wary of.  One of my favorites is the light trap for insects.  You may hear all those insects getting "zapped" by the bluish electric filament at night.  The only problem is, most of these are beneficial insects in your garden.

Japanese beetles are a problem in many northern gardens, so many Japanese beetle traps are sold there.  These have a phermone, or chemical attractant, to lure in the beetles to the bag where they're caught.  These chemicals are so powerful that they will draw beetles from all around, including your neighbor's yard, with many more than you probably had before.  While on their way to the traps they may find some of your landscape plants quite good feeding!

Biological controls, such as the milky spore disease for beetle grubs, may not live over winter.  So these may not be effective in colder areas.

You may see "thatch-reducing" materials for lawns.  Thatch is a layer of undecomposed, or partially decomposed, plant residue which is on the soil surface in lawns. The truth is that while an excessive amount of thatch can cause problems (lack of air and water penetration, potential for diseases), contrary to some ads, some thatch can be good.  Less than one-half inch of thatch indicates a vigorously growing lawn, and
provides a cushion for walking and playing. Thatch is best avoided with proper culture and, if present, best removed physically with the right equipment.  Compacted soil should be mechanically aerated (holes made to allow air penetration).

Beware when buying pesticides that they will control your pests.  The bold print may say the product controls "garden" or "houseplant" pests or disease, but the fine print may not list those specific problems your plants have.  If you can't identify your specific pest or disease, many state universities have plant diagnostic clinics or master gardeners who may be of assistance.  Or, bring a sample to your local complete garden store or nursery for some help from their trained professionals.

The words "trained" and "certified" can also be misleading.  This merely may mean that employees had an hour or two of instruction on a general topic such as outdoor plants and power equipment.  Most state industry associations have Certified Horticulturist programs, involving quite a bit of study, experience or education, and rigorous exam.  It is these certified professionals you should seek out.


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