Bad Advice on the Internet

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I spend a lot of time on bonsai forums, not only those I am administrating, but many other bonsai forums as well, mostly reading and keeping up with happenings in the community. I have often been amazed at some of the advice given out to new comers and others by those who should know better.

Recently I noticed a newcomer asking advice about a serissa (of course) that is in ill health (imagine that) and a moderator of the forum where the question was asked automatically assumed the problem to be "root rot" (a cover all common diagnoses that is usually not the problem at all) and suggested the newcomer yank the tree out of the pot and cut back roots and then re-pot it! My God, does this moderator actually believe that re-potting a sickly tree is the wisest choice of action? This is usually a death sentence for any tree and should be used only when the problem is known for sure and there is no other choice.

A better suggestion would have been to simply slip the root ball out carefully (if really needed) and inspect the root mass without disturbing it at all. After that, then an intelligent decision could have been made. Knowing serissas, the best advice would have been to tell the newcomer to leave it alone, don't try and baby it to save it, water when almost dry and keep it in the same place it thrived in before.

This is just one single recent example of the kind of advice given out on bonsai forums that is unwise, dangerous to the tree, and could be very discouraging to the person receiving such advice from members and, as in the case above, moderators of forums.

Thankfully, this wasn't on this forum and I certainly hope that such questionable advice would not go unchallenged here as it did at the forum where this was posted.

What are your thoughts on such advice?



Will
 

agraham

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Will,

Why didn't you challenge that advice?

andy
 
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On the forum where that advice was posted I am banned for my serious crime against humanity, I gave a false teacher (one who's advice I challenged many times) negative rep points often and did so also from a friends computer at their house as well. The funny thing is that the personal attacks there and also on this very forum far exceed the crimes I was banned for. ;) Not to mention that the "reputation point system" there was abused by many, the same "teacher" who I gave the points to hit me with negs so often that I could set my watch by them. :rolleyes: But politics are powerful and those who go against the grain are often singled out, so is the way of the world we live in.

I have no hard feelings, the banning led to AoB and KoB and my articles being published, without the banning, things may never have come this far.

But the point of this thread is not so much that single bit of poor advice (not about me), the bad advice was used as a recent example only, but more toward the prevalent tendency of poor or bad advice being posted on the Internet, mostly going unchallenged. I was wondering if other have seen the same and their thoughts on such.


Will
 
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agraham

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Oh...it was that forum.

I would say that there is lots of bad advice going on all over the place.Not just the internet.

After looking at that particular case,I'm not sure I would disagree with the advice given though.Based on the picture provided,I think that the advice given would be given by many other experienced people.You're suggestion on what should have been said is a more cautious route.I would imagine that either route has a less than 50% chance of success at best. I would have been more ruthless I suppose.If it were my tree I would have thrown it away by now.Why struggle with a dieing tree?

andy
 
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After looking at that particular case,I'm not sure I would disagree with the advice given though.Based on the picture provided,I think that the advice given would be given by many other experienced people.You're suggestion on what should have been said is a more cautious route.I would imagine that either route has a less than 50% chance of success at best. I would have been more ruthless I suppose.If it were my tree I would have thrown it away by now.Why struggle with a dieing tree?

So you would recommend re-potting a tree in ill health and just throwing away and tree that slips into such a state away? Serrisa are notorious for dropping leaves if the location is changed, based on your statements, these should all be re-potted or just thrown away, am I understanding you right?

I disagree completely, based on my hands on experience with Serissa's, they should be just left alone and not babied to death by trying to save them by re-potting, over-watering, over-feeding, etc. 99% of the time, if just treated normally, they will push back out foliage in a matter of weeks.

It is always better to error on the side of caution, recommending that a tree in poor health be re-potted is bad advice, no matter what the species. The exception to the rule is actual confirmed cases of root rot, of which there are actually far fewer than most would have you believe, or in extreme cases of root bound trees. Both examples need specialized care and soil (many cases can be solved with a 100% mixture of sphagnum moss or a mix with a very high percentage of the same. They also need specialized care, telling someone to re-pot a sick tree without describing the process and care needed is careless.

Will
 
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Graydon

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now wait one cotton picking minute Andy....

If it were not for bad advice some people would get no advice at all. That goes for the internet (it's not a dump truck - it's a series of tubes) and in person.

Perhaps we chalk that up to the Barney Fifes or the Cliff Clavins of the world. They mean well but they have no idea what they are talking about. The problem is they sound like they know what's going on.

At one time (it was a brief period) I thought I should challenge such bad advice and set the records strait. I would go so far as to do the research to get the facts correct and then post the proper information. Sometimes it didn't go so well. Lesson learned is that life is too short to try to deal with everything. I now do what I can, when I can and leave it at that.

This not only applies to bonsai on the interwebs of course, it also applies to everything else we come in to contact with in our daily lives. Just the other day I was at a big box supply store getting some paint type materials and I overheard the employee in that area giving a customer bad advice. At the moment I made the decision to move on and ignore the situation. Later in the store I saw the customer that received the bad advice and approached them. They were very appreciative that a stranger would take the time to give advice but I have no idea if they listed to me (and my experience) or simply screwed up listening to the employee.

Great topic Will.
 

grog

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I think anyone asking for advice owes it to themselves to consider who is giving the advice and doing some reading on their own before jumping on it. Seems a lot of people throwing advice around are more concerned with their post count than what they're actually saying. An illustration that comes to mind is a mod on another board who seems harsh or downright snotty with noob questions yet when that mod finally posted some of their own material they didn't even reach "stick in pot" level, they were more like "twig in pot".

I'm new enough to bonsai I'm more likely to injure myself than a tree with a pair of concave cutters but I know enough to recognize advice that comes from experience and/or a genuine desire to help. Both of which are thankfully in abundant supply here.
 
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....At one time (it was a brief period) I thought I should challenge such bad advice and set the records strait. I would go so far as to do the research to get the facts correct and then post the proper information. Sometimes it didn't go so well.....
Oh yeah, a person who corrects bad information from some forum regulars can face quick and harsh reprisals indeed.


.... An illustration that comes to mind is a mod on another board who seems harsh or downright snotty with noob questions yet when that mod finally posted some of their own material they didn't even reach "stick in pot" level, they were more like "twig in pot".....
There are a few like that who confuse authority with knowledge, my father would have said that they were "blind in one eye and can't see out of the other."


So certainly the best policy is not to let such advice go unchallenged, but then again who wants to feel the heat from correcting such? What is the solution?


Will
 

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As a kid my parents would routinly leave our house unlocked. We never had any problems. My father had the garage door screwed into the upright position because it would not close because of all the carpenter tools. We would go to the coast with our dune buggy and leave the garage door completely open and never lost anything. This was back in the sixties. A time of leasure and criminals were mostly at bay.

The internet used to be this way. There were people that came there to learn and ask questions. Those that had konwledge were treated with respect and those that did not have knowledge knew where their place was in the pecking order. Times have changed. Respect is a thing of the past. The internet reflects what goes on daily in our schools and at home. Parents are not respected, knowledge is called a know-it-all and the internet is too inpersonal. There is no inflection no body language and calling someone a perverbial liar is so easy.

Walter has felt the sting, Brent has felt the sting. There is a better place.

It is called the blog and it will be the future of bonsai. No, you will not get many pats on the back, there will not be any discussion, but you can post what you want and people will read it. As long as it keeps their attention and is bonsai related. As far as the forums, I have seen the change since 1997. Ten years is not a long time for a the breakdown of what could have been a cool medium.

My time spent on the computer is about 20 mintutes a day today. I used to spend about 4 hours a day composing my thoughts and building quite a huge archive of usefull information. It is lost on todays youth that would rather text their way thru a post!

Regards, Al
 

agraham

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Yeah Will...I would throw the tree away.Unless there is some sentimental value attached,there is no need to take up space and time with a tree that looks like that.And,most people wouldn't know root rot if they saw it.I've heard and seen people say that all good roots are white tipped.I've seen that posted on the internet,written in books and magazines by reputable bonsaists.Which would infer that brown roots are dead or dieing and rotting.Mushy?...mushiness is generally a secondary effect of bacteria.The real culprit in most root rot is fungal in nature.And the fungi are often present with no visible symptoms.You'd be amazed what systemic fungicides(specific to the fungi) will do.We used to drench plants with no visible symptoms..no wilting,no browning,no "rot".The response in those plants was amazing.There was "root rot" but the other roots were carrying the load.After the drench,there was no more "root rot" and all the roots were working.You might want to take a look at the picture in question again.The tree is not just dropping leaves.Whole branches are dieing back;an indication of a more serious problem than you are suggesting.

In all seriousnes though...if you feel so strongly that this advice is so terrible,you should give someone permission to post your advice for that poor guy.

andy
 

grog

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I think people still come to the forums to learn. The problem is it doesn't take many bad apples to sour everyone's taste. It doesn't take very many negative interactions to cancel out a lot of good ones. Negative ones such as someone challenging and criticizing one of Brent's many excellent articles on another forum. And then in today's typical passive aggressive style backpedaling from what was originally said. Off topic perhaps but incredibly irritating.

All I can say is there are still people who are extremely grateful for what those of you who share your knowledge, experience, and advice. Gratitude won't put a beer in front of anyone but hopefully it eases the sting when people don't realize what a treasure they have with all the freely offered information out there.
 
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Bad advice is certainly in very large supply and variety. As in the example Will started this thread with we must be clear that there is a difference between bad advice and sabotage. I haven't seen anyone giving bad advice on purpose. Just thought I would say that most people do mean well and there is no need to be too harsh here.

That being said, I have though of this topic many times, and have seen discouraging advice given often (ie "congratulations on getting your first bonsai! Now take it out of the pot, put it in the ground and forget about having any fun with your tree for at least a couple years"). I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is not the way to encourage a new person to enjoy and learn from their first tree. It's is great advice for growing powerful trunks, but bad advice for getting a new person learning and exited.

Ask ourselves, are we giving advice to feel important or to encourage and support people new to a hobby that all love?

Bad advice is not just the stuff that kills the trees... it's also the stuff that kills a new person's interest in the tree.

Michael
 

Rick Moquin

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Bad advice is certainly in very large supply and variety. As in the example Will started this thread with we must be clear that there is a difference between bad advice and sabotage. I haven't seen anyone giving bad advice on purpose. Just thought I would say that most people do mean well and there is no need to be too harsh here.

That being said, I have though of this topic many times, and have seen discouraging advice given often (ie "congratulations on getting your first bonsai! Now take it out of the pot, put it in the ground and forget about having any fun with your tree for at least a couple years"). I've said it before and I'll say it again, this is not the way to encourage a new person to enjoy and learn from their first tree. It's is great advice for growing powerful trunks, but bad advice for getting a new person learning and exited.

Ask ourselves, are we giving advice to feel important or to encourage and support people new to a hobby that all love?

Bad advice is not just the stuff that kills the trees... it's also the stuff that kills a new person's interest in the tree.

Michael
Very well said and inspiring indeed.
 
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Andy, great post and well said.

Michael, you said "Bad advice is not just the stuff that kills the trees... it's also the stuff that kills a new person's interest in the tree." Very true, very true.

Al, You just may be right, but that certainly leaves the people who have questions out in the cold.


A update on the example used here...13 hours after the original poor advice was given, the admin on the forum finally posted some sense, hopefully it wasn't too late. They suggested removing the moss on the soil right away and asked two very important questions, how much have you been watering and how does the soil smell? (Although to purposely smell the roots on a serissa takes some getting used to ;) and a person must know the "outhouse on a hot day" smell of rot to reconize it.)

Diagnose and then prescribe, not the other way around.

With luck the newcomer did not read the first bit of advice given and rush off to re-pot right away. (I wonder how many trees and subsequently enthusiasts have been lost to this?)

So what if the tree does indeed have rotted roots? Was the advice still bad?

Of course, short of a blind guess, there is no way of knowing if it is a root problem without checking, rot will stink and a slip pot check should always come before the decision to re-pot. Blindly telling a newcomer to re-pot a tree that is stressed is careless advice. Remember, the subject was a Serrissa, a species that will drop its leaves if an ugly person walks too close to it....and the best thing to so in this case is not to try and "save" it by over-caring, treat it normally, don't feed, over-water, or move it all over the place, let it be. Unless there is an obvious problem and then you correct the problem doing as little as possible, in the case of the tree in question the admin saved the day and gave good advice, remove the moss, smell the soil (I myself slip the root mass out without disturbing it to inspect it if I think it is nessasary)....afterwards a decision based on actual fact can be made for other procedures.

My thoughts,


Will
 
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Joanie

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Just a correction to the facts, here, since I was the one who was giving advice. Here is exactly what I said:

"It probably has root rot from staying too wet. Where do you keep it? Extra lighting? (I'm assuming that you keep it inside) Is it near a heater vent?

Once the roots start to rot, the leaves wrinkle and brown, and it looks like it needs water. But the roots can no longer take up water, and the soil stays too wet, and you water it too much because you think that it needs more, so the rot continues.

If it were sitting here, I would pull it out of its pot, cut off the dark squishy roots, and then repot it into a larger pot with free-draining soil. It may or may not recover, but it would have a better chance than trying to recover in the wet soil and with rotting roots as it is now.

If you decide to take this route, make sure that you understand how to make the soil, ask us about it if you need to.

Joanie"

Note that I said probably. Note also that I said "if it were sitting here", because that is absolutely what I would do. Also, the tree was obviously failing, the SMALL amount of soil was waterlogged, the leaves were showing classic signs of root rot. Trying to keep the small amount of overly organic soil in just the right degree of dampness, for a beginner,in the house, with a tree whose uptake of water is seriously compromised, would be difficult. In order to stabilize the tree, getting it into fast draining soil and a somewhat bigger pot seemed the best advice. If it is wrong, then I'm sorry, but considering ALL of the factors involved it certainly wasn't the bad advice that it has been made out to be. I spend a large part of each day helping beginners, and have done so for several years now. Certainly bad advice should be challenged... but in this situation, with this tree as pictured and the conditions described, the advice wasn't bad.

Oh, and for your information... the poster hasn't yet returned to read anything. Which is fairly typical for beginners. They flail around for a few hours, then give up. If the poster comes back, he will read all of the advice, and it is his choice to take the advice or not. Or further answer the multiple questions that were posted to him, which would make our help more useful. Or ask more questions. Some work on his end will also be necessary to help him and his tree.

[EDIT] Sorry, I'm gonna step in and edit specifics talking about disciplinary actions on other sites. It is not relevant here. Thanks - BN [/EDIT]

Just thought it was worth saying. :D
 
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Just a correction to the facts, here, since I was the one who was giving advice. Here is exactly what I said:

So the idea that Will's banning "lead to" the establishment of AoB, as stated, and even KoB, is revisionist history.

Just thought it was worth saying. :D
First, re-potting a stressed tree is ill advised and still bad advice.

[EDIT] Editing out discussion of disciplinary action or site politics from other sites. - BN [/EDIT]

Just a correction to the facts, here, since I was the one who was giving advice. Here is exactly what I said:

"It probably has root rot from staying too wet. Where do you keep it? Extra lighting? (I'm assuming that you keep it inside) Is it near a heater vent?
Could you show us where the answers to your questions are?

I stand by my statement based on my personal hands on experience and success with growing Serrissa's, the advice to re-pot a stressed tree was bad. Not having well needed answers from the owner of the tree, the diagnosis of root rot was just a guess, the "classic symptoms" you describe are also the symptoms of other problems as well, such as a change of location. "Blindly telling a newcomer to re-pot a tree that is stressed is careless advice."


Will
 

Joanie

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No, it wasn't bad advice, and it was based on a lot of information that is not being relayed here.... such as the picture. And the persons location. The person did not come back and answer the questions that several of us posed, either. I said that it PROBABLY had root rot, described what happens when the roots are unable to uptake the water, and the typical newbie response of overwatering. All of those factors are pretty apparent in the picture and the original post. All clues that we use, to help people who don't know what's going on. But your complaint isn't really about this particular tree, is it? It's about "bad advice" in general. You just needed an example, and thought that you found it.

Extreme measures like repotting and trimming bad roots are not usually something that you want to tell a new person to take. That's true, indeed. We have to try and teach people how to water properly, especially how to water trees in bad soil, and in pots that aren't particularly well draining. It takes some time (and some trust from them) to learn how to let the soil dry out between waterings, to refrain from watering on a schedule. We've all seen the impulse. In a tree this far gone, I felt that there probably wasn't time for the person to learn how to water. The tree was in a very small pot. A heavy layer of feathery climbing moss was covering the soil. Soil was lacking around the edges of the pot. Once the moss is removed from the pot, there will be even less soil to contend with. They were going to need to replace the soil to some degree anyway. If the anaerobic bacteria that causes root rot was already present in the organic soil, telling them to replace the upper layer of soil with something better draining would cause even more problems, as it would hide the actual wetness of the old soil around the root ball. Unless we are there to really look at what they have in that pot, it would be hard to tell them how to match it and thus keep the soil in the pot homogenous. So I felt that a repot into a better soil, and a larger and more stable pot, was a last resort.

When serissas drop their leaves, they actually drop their leaves. They don't retain a majority of brown leaves on shrivelled branches. I know this... I have quite a few serissas. And I've lost quite a few. The reasons that I lost them, was bad soil from the nursery. Left in that soil, they were doomed. Their roots turned mushy and slimy. The ones that I repotted into free draining soil, and the ones that I purchased that were already in free draining soil, have lived and thrived.

So if you want to consider my judgement call bad advice, so be it. I took a lot of factors into consideration. It wasn't just thrown out there with reckless abandon.:) It may have been more drastic measures than you would have suggested, but it certainly wasn't wrong.

[EDIT] Editing out the specific discussion around disciplinary actions on other sites -BN [/EDIT]

Joanie
 
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Please, please, please don't bring your fight here. I'm new to bonsai and to this forum, but I, personally, don't want to have to see the two of you fighting it out here. I get the sense that this is a fight that has started a LONG time ago and will continue for a long time.

I don't want to see it. Sorry if I've overstepped my bounds, but I didn't join this forum or this thread to see the same fight rehashed that I've seen everywhere else.
 

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I have stayed away from this thread intentionally, it smoked.

Yes indeed we read alot of mis-information on the forums, and yes indeed there are folks out there that do not have first hand experience with certain trees in question. I have not followed the particular thread in question, so I will not collaborate or debate the aforementioned issues.

This is my take on the subject and this is what I have done in the past with 100% success. When we acquire "stock" regardless where it comes from, unless it is a bonsai in good soil, a "slip pot" into good medium is called for IMHO. I am not talking root work here, just a change in medium. My rationale is lets eliminate possibilities of disease , infections etc... not to mention improperly draining soil. I further believe that providing adequate oxygen to the roots is paramount, for a healthy tree. So I bareroot all of my trees, including pines once home. The roots get washed of all old soil with a hose carefully, then they are potted up in my particular mix which includes "Myke" (the later is not snake oil, and the info can be found here). The use of said product is such that albeit in "my growing conditions" I am forced to repot every year due to the proliferation of the root mass, pines respond agressively as well. Once repotted they are fed with 10-52-10 at half strength followed by a full dose 2 weeks later. They then go on my regular feeding schedule 2 weeks later.

In subsequent repotting this is where root work is carried out, something else I do not do, which is found in many books is balance the root mass with the foliage. I have come to find that mother nature does a far better job for this endeavour, and the tree will balanced itself out. My take on the subject and I may be wrong is that the more of one will cause the other to grow more rapidly, and vice versa or simply die off, the tree will balance itself. What is important however IMO is to alternate top and bottom work, in subsequent growing seasons, to allow the tree sufficient time to recuparate, between intrusions.

... and yes we baby our trees far too much which often leads to their demise. Serissas are one that are extremely fussy, along with many other tropicals including but not limited to ficus IMO. Any sudden change in climactic conditions and they throw a fit. I have 2 Fukiens that for the love of god I cannot get to flourish at the same time, both are under identical conditions. I just compare them as sibblings and hace come to accept their individual particularities for the lack of a better word.

So in closing, mis-information is everywhere, on the net, in books etc... I believe the internet is a place that although proliferates innacurate information at times, helps to alleviate the amount of mis-information out there, through discussions such as this. Wrt the thread in question as I have not read it, and have no intention to do so, the slip pot albeit pre-mature perhaps, would have been one of my recommendations based on the aforementioned discussion.
 

agraham

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Bnut,

You probably should delete Will's side of the banning story if you delete Joanie's.Just a suggestion to be fair.I'm sorry all of this happened.But,I think it is obvious that Will started this thread to specifically slam another person and another site.It's a shame he didn't take the complaint to one of his own forums instead of trashing yours with the same vindictiveness he accuses others of.I would think that a site called The Knowledge of Bonsai would be the perfect place to warn people of and discuss incorrect internet advice.

This same kind of suggestion on repotting and root rot can be seen on any number of forums.

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/bonsai/msg0123300223777.html

You may notice one of the participants in the linked discussion is Will's mentor.And he gave sound advice,not disimiliar to Joanie's.He also mentioned something about brown roots indicating rot(not particularly accurate,but oft repeated).Now before anyone starts in on not respecting those more knowlegeable in certain aspects of bonsai...I respect Vance's knowledge and willingness to help.I just don't accept everything he says as gospel.I would say the same about Walter Pall,Al(smoke) and Bret among others.

And yet,Will picked(as an example) the one person and forum which he knew would stir up the most discussion(debate,arguing).Typical Will.

andy
 
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