The Master Gardener’s Bookshelf
Plant Science for Gardeners: Essentials for Growing Better Plants
by Robert Pavlis
Review by Susan Wilhelm, Extension Master Gardener
The more a gardener knows about plants and how they grow, the more likely she is to have a successful garden. In Plant Science for Gardeners: Essentials for Growing Better Plants, author Robert Pavlis explains the underlying science of how plants grow and how to use this knowledge to grow strong and healthy plants.
Pavlis wants to help gardeners “. . . understand what is really going on inside plants, and how they respond to the environment and [the gardener’s] actions in the garden.” He starts with basic plant biology beginning with cells and progressing through roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds. For each, Pavlis explains what science tells us about that component functions and the practical implications of this knowledge. For instance, when describing how a plant absorbs water and water’s role in supporting stem and leaf structure, Pavlis explains why wilt can occur even when the soil is moist (and why adding extra water will not help). Similarly, in discussing how plants use chlorophyll to trap light needed for photosynthesis, he notes that red and variegated leaf plants produce less chlorophyll than green leaved plants which is why red leafed plants grow slower than green leafed plants. It is also why, if not removed, solid green leaves growing on a variegated plant will eventually take over and the plant will no longer be variegated (reversion).
Building on this foundation, Pavlis moves from individual plant parts to plants as a whole addressing topics such as plant life cycles (annual, biennial, and perennial), and the special characteristics of woody plants (plants with hard stems). Other chapters examine environmental factors that influence plant growth such as plant hardiness zones, dealing with cold, heat, and water extremes, and the implications of climate change. There are also chapters on seed starting, vegetative propagation, and plant naming protocols and why they are important.
Pavlis brings a wide range of experience to his topic including being a Master Gardener, biochemist, and the developer of Aspen Grove Gardens, a 6-acre botanical garden with three thousand varieties of plants. He presents scientific information in an easily understood format with clearly labeled illustrations. Additionally, in sidebars throughout, he identifies common gardening myths, describing the reality of what a gardener should know about each. For example, one myth is that newly planted trees need to be staked. In reality, most trees do not need to be staked after planting, and in those few instances where staking is necessary, such as planting in a very windy location, the stakes should be loose enough to allow the plant to wiggle.
One of Plavis’ goals in writing Plant Science for Gardeners is to give readers “a good grounding of plant science” and he encourages them to “find other more detailed resources as your knowledge and interests expands.” Once your interest has been peaked, there are many resources available, including the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia website and the Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Publications and Education Resources. If you are searching online, be sure to include “site:edu” or “site:gov” in your search to ensure you are looking at research-based sources.
Plant Science for Gardeners: Essentials for Growing Better Plants (New Society Publishers, 2022) is available from national booksellers.