Watch The Science of Gardening

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When scientists examine home gardens and landscapes, one fact stands out: The leading cause of landscape failure is not disease and it’s not pests - it’s our own gardening practices. Create a beautiful and sustainable home garden guided by the newest information from applied plant physiology, biology, soils science, climatology, hydrology, chemistry, and ecology.

The Great Courses Signature Collection
1 Season, 22 Episodes
March 2, 2018
Documentary & Biography
Cast: Linda Chalker-Scott
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The Science of Gardening Full Episode Guide

  • Two specific transformation stories - a wetlands restoration and a home garden project - reflect the benefit of science-based planning by considering soils, temperature, sunlight, moisture, water table, and likely pests. Learn how to become a citizen scientist and contribute to the field by asking the hard questions and knowing how to assess the strength of the answers.

  • If you can't trust the Internet home remedy or the local gardening salesperson, whom can you trust? Make science-based gardening decisions by assessing the credibility, relevance, accuracy, and purpose of the information you read. Learn the role played by peer review, the crucial difference between correlation and causation, and how to watch out for over-extrapolation and misapplied science.

  • If you have a garden in the U.S., chances are you're familiar with the damage caused by English ivy, kudzu, purple loosestrife, and/or the tamarisk tree. Each of these hardy plants can quickly create a monoculture, driving out other plant species and limiting the availability of diverse animal habitat. Learn the best science-based mechanisms to control these plants.

  • Yes, there can be an appropriate time for judicious use of chemical pesticides in your garden. Learn why you should always stick with those approved by the EPA and your state department of agriculture, and never use the home remedies promoted on the Internet or in non-science-based books. Are organics always safer ecologically than synthetics? You'll be surprised.

  • There is no lack of chemicals to get rid of the pests in your garden - whether that pest is a plant, insect, or other organism. But for long-term health, integrated pest management provides a better, systematic, science-based approach with a minimum of chemical inputs.

  • Take a virtual field trip to see examples of unhealthy plants and learn how to diagnose their problems based on the science of plant physiology. You'll see tree girdling, plants that become smaller instead of larger, scorched shrubs, and more. Once you understand the physiology behind these problems, you'll be better able to diagnose and treat any of your garden's plants that might be failing.

  • Learn how to reduce water use and protect water quality using knowledge of plant biochemistry, transpiration, and photosynthesis. Designing garden modifications, choosing appropriate plants based on morphology and color, and incorporating shading and mulch to reduce evaporation are just some of the water-wise techniques that will help conserve water.

  • While it seems intuitive that vegetables grown in your home garden will be safer and healthier than those purchased at the supermarket, that could be a dangerous assumption. Does your garden soil contain elements of concern, especially cadmium or lead? If so, learn how to best respond - whether in plant choices or creative garden design.

  • Current research supports the need to radically change the way we've been planting trees for the past half century. Although considered controversial by nursery professionals, learn why plant science supports the "old" method of bare-root planting. This technique can improve tree survival because a vigorous root system will better support a healthy crown.

  • Learn about the wide variety of mulch types - from glass to wood to compost - and the science-based pros and cons of each. By considering your specific site conditions and personal aesthetics, you can blend a variety of mulches to transform a struggling landscape into one that's healthier and more sustainable.

  • "Don't plant before you fertilize!" Chances are you've heard that admonishment more than once. But gardening science has revealed that many popular practices - including fertilizing every time you plant - are neither necessary nor sustainable. Learn about a more natural way to add organic material to your garden to protect soil structure and nourish your plants.

  • In addition to its aesthetic value, your landscaping can provide privacy, protect soils from erosion, moderate temperature, manage storm-water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, and more. Learn how to select the appropriate plants with respect to morphology, growth rates, and physiology to help achieve your specific goals for various locations on your property.

  • Native plants are always a better home-garden choice than non-natives, right? We know they are best suited to thrive in the soils and ecosystems of the area, and will create the best wildlife habitat. But does garden science support those "truths"? You might be surprised to learn how introduced species can enhance your garden and landscape biodiversity.

  • Many of us make our landscape choices based on plant aesthetics. Instead, learn to first identify your location's topography, prevailing winds, hydrology, soil type, and other environmental factors. Then you'll be able to choose a plant well-suited for the long term. And you'll avoid season after season of frustration.

  • How many of your horticultural practices are based on anecdotal evidence from your neighbor or grandmother, and how do you assess their validity? In the midst of an unregulated "Wild West" of gardening products and practices, you can learn to access science-based information to create your sustainable dream garden. #Better Living

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