Remember when gardening was only ever about getting your hands dirty? The tools you used were kept in the shed and most of your advice and gardening tips came from over the fence. Oh…they were the good ‘ol days, weren’t they?

Well the 21st century has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for the home gardener. Where once we accepted big-box, uniformed, flowering annuals and swapped anecdotes with our neighbours, these days we’re much fussier. Gardeners today have far more knowledge than their predecessors and if they’re struggling for a solution to their gardening problems they are less likely to source the answer from friends, neighbours or relatives.

They’re more likely to turn to the Web – the most important gardening tool for this generation. So how do you use this clunky thing and make sense of it all? Stick around and we should be able to discover a few new tricks.

  1. Search
    This is probably where most gardeners start. Flick open Google, Yahoo! or MSN (the 3 biggies) and type in a few keywords and hopefully one of the results will point you in the right direction.

    If you find yourself swapping between the three to find useful results then you might want to consider using Dogpile. This search engine compiles all three.
    However, if you want to ask a question rather than typing a few related keywords then Ask (previously Ask Jeeves) might respond better to your query.
    Other search options may be even more helpful when they are created from Google’s Custom Search Engines. One example of this is my Blotanical search engine which compiles information from every gardening blog that is a member of the directory. This is the new online ‘neighbours fence’.

  2. Wiki
    Wiki is a name that is used to differentiate normal web content with material that has been compiled and edited by a community to produce helpful information. Wikipedia is the best example of this and is fast growing a reputation as a brilliant online encyclopedia.

    However, for the home gardener wikiHow may have some answers to your gardening questions.

  3. Answers
    If you haven’t found any joy from the search engines or wiki helps then your next ‘port of call’ might be to interact with a real person, or at least a community of unknown individuals who may or may not be capable of answering your questions.

    Yahoo! Answers may be a good place to start – Google [since been retired] also had a similar offering but has now retired it. With Yahoo! Answers you can ask the question and then wait for other users to answer it for you. Some answers will be helpful – others you may want to leave.

  4. Forums
    If you’re after dependable answers, as opposed to those given by a 16-year old wanna-be, then joining some of the more reputable forums may be worthwhile.

    Both GardenWeb’s Forum and Dave’s Garden’s Gardening Talk attract the most gardeners who have a wealth of experience to lend. (Note: Most of Dave’s Gardens will require a paid subscription).

  5. Alerts
    If finding information for your specific problem is really hard going then setting up a Google Alert may be the next option. Alerts can be set up as email or RSS reminders that dispatch information to you based on your keywords. The more specific the keyword phrase then the better quality information you will receive.

    Where once this information was predominantly news based, Google now offers findings from blogs, video and even images and you can receive them based on your frequency settings.

  6. RSS
    One of the greatest tools to help gardeners has been the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader. Again, Google offers a very useful reader service where you can subscribe to blogs, websites, alerts – basically any online presence that offers a RSS feed.

    Bloglines is another aggregator that can manage your feeds and updates regularly.

    Subscribing to blogs and news sources through RSS enables you to quickly decipher information much faster than visiting each blog separately.

  7. Newsletters
    While newsletters are becoming a little dated there may still be some gardeners who offer useful advice through this format. Doug Green produces one newsletter that is worth reading and it’s free to subscribe.
  8. Ebooks
    Ebooks are another almost outdated from of information but there are still a few worthwhile efforts. Kenny Point’s Gardening Secrets is a good one and Doug Green also offers a few different titles.
  9. Social Bookmarking
    The most interesting area yet to become useful for gardeners is the area of social bookmarking sites. This is where gardeners will be able to collaboratively build content, interact and add value to gardeners needing help (which is most of us).