Ministry of Controversy

Jerry Baker: America’s Master Gardener or Rich Quack?

After all these applications you’d think you’d be set for the season,
right?  No, it’s just the beginning because Jerry next instructs us to
spray with his "green-up tonic" every 3 weeks throughout the season and
his "clean-up tonic" every 2 weeks.  Oh, and don’t forget the
anti-dessicant spray in spring and fall.  Also in the fall we’re
supposed to spray with his "jump start" formula of beer, dish soap,
ammonia and epsom salts.  And you’re still not done. His recommended
program for feeding and "cleaning," by which he means killing insects,
should be continued throughout the winter, even on top of snow.  And
after pruning in late winter, the cuts should be sealed with latex
paint.   As hard as it is to stop relating this parade of horrors, I
think I’ve conveyed the essence of Jerry Baker, conveyer of "natural
remedies and environmental products for your health," according to his
own promotions.

All of which sent me scrambling to Google
to find out more about this guy and among the marketing sites for his
products and his 40 books, I found this good article
fleshing out my own concerns. There I learned that he’s been
universally condemned by plant scientists, who say his advice "ranges
from the wacky to the downright dangerous."  For example, the nicotine
in chewing tobacco juice is a lethal pesticide, far
more dangerous than what most of us buy in the stores.  State and
federal agricultural agents have objected to his use of the name
"America’s Master Gardener" – well, I should hope so.

Apparently every scientific group there is has complained to
PBS but trouble is, Jerry’s videos bring in PBS’s third largest haul of U.S. greenbacks.  So their VP of fund-raising says they
"haven’t seen convincing evidence his advice is harmful" and that "most
of the criticism has come from people with vested interests, who are
the traditional experts."  Wow, what a concept, that if you’re a
"traditional expert," presumably meaning one with a degree in the
field, you’re somehow suspect because you have a vested interest.  Reminds me of the attitude toward science exhibited these days by Republicans, but don’t get me started.

On to my questions.  First, why is this guy so popular?
See, his 15-year-old national radio show airs on 217 stations, he’s
been Kmart’s gardening spokesman for 27 years, and he’s considered one
of America’s foremost gardening authorities.  Despite his folksiness,
I’m surprised that his shows aren’t sending viewers running in terror
from the overwhelming burden of continual spraying.  I thought the
public was looking for low-maintenance advice, so you see why I’m
confused.

But more importantly, if this guy were a medical quack,
would he be allowed on, much less promoted by, public television?
Hell, no.  But I suppose nobody takes gardening seriously enough to
dare suggest a little proof and heck, it’s only the environment at
stake, anyway.  Bottom line, why hasn’t this guy been totally
discredited and run off PBS long ago?  Apparently only a couple of
stations have been persuaded to drop Jerry’s programming; is that
because gardeners, even master gardeners, are happily zoned out in
their gardens?  Guys, it doesn’t have to be that way, especially now
that gardeners and environmentalists are often one and the same. 

If
I’ve failed miserably and you’re not pissed off about all this, here’s
my last shot. One of the pro-Jerry sites I found has the heading, "Get
the latest scoop straight from the bloggers," followed by a listing of
various commercial sites with not a blogger in the bunch.  But you see
how bloggers are being cited as legitimate grassroots voices?  Now
that’s a challenge I can’t let pass, despite my long support for
public television.  Sorry, guys.

Posted by on June 11, 2006 at 4:05 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
Comments are off for this post

16 Responses to “Jerry Baker: America’s Master Gardener or Rich Quack?”

  1. firefly says:

    Sounds like Mr. Baker has been tippling the green-up and clean-up tonics as he sprays!

  2. susan says:

    [This post was originally published on Takoma Gardener, where you'll find these comments with their links intact, for your reference, under Rants. Where else?]

    Shame on PBS. I’m glad you’re spreading the word.

    Posted by: Miz S | March 18, 2006 at 10:21 AM

    This must be the guy I’ve always ignored and switched the channel on in the past because who has time to make that horrible home made brew and wait for it to ferment or whatever the procedure is. I don’t know that I’d heard about the antiseptic spraying though to “cleanse” my poor dirty garden. And, what does he have against insects? How does he distinguish between the bees I love to see and need and whatever else he deems unfit to inhabit my garden? I mean, I’m not fond of the slugs and cinch bugs eating the petals as soon as they bloom,and even went so far as to buy slug killer and put it down once before I felt so guilty that I might be harming the other living things that I threw the rest away and went back to the harmless , for other insects anyway, of using tuna oil in cans for the cinch bugs, beer for the slugs and the blue bowls of water with Dawn for the thrips. Bees are too smart for all of these it seems. What a quack Mr. baker seems to be.

    Posted by: Pam L | March 18, 2006 at 12:26 PM

    P.S. I love the planting “bed” and the brick wall fountain. Are those in your yard?

    Posted by: Pam L | March 18, 2006 at 12:32 PM

    I was breathless with indignation by the time I finished reading your post. I mean, what hope has the environment got when the ‘big guys’ put profits above all else? Talking of vested interests, I’d say PBS was top of the list there. Honestly, if a garden needed that much fertilizing and cleaning, I’d settle for pavers and cement. You’d be so worn out with spraying (even if the sprays were environmentally safe) that you would have no time or energy left to actually enjoy the garden.

    Posted by: Alice | March 18, 2006 at 03:34 PM

    MmHmm. He and Kmart are both local Michigan, which may explain the long association. He probably just walked one day and talked some ad exec into letting him be a spokesman.

    Bloggers as grassroots explains this (ahem) garden writer contacting me to do a review of his new book. Still debating the debunk. Don’t know if I have the energy to do a proper job of it.

    Link: https://www.asseenontvnetwork.com/vcc/allstar/pestfreeproperty/134660/
    (not html on your comments, or I would have given you an embedded link.

    Posted by: Jenn | March 19, 2006 at 11:51 AM

    oh, thank goodness! When I first started gardening, a friend called and said, “Hey, there’s a gardening show on PBS!” So I eagerly switched it over and watched. By the end I was thinking, “Man, either I’m not cut out for gardening or this guy is smoking crack when he comes up with this stuff.” Glad to know that *I’M* not the one with the issues.

    Posted by: Heather | March 20, 2006 at 08:44 AM

    My goodness — the longer this guy goes on, the more and more bizzare his magic formulas get. I think he must just open up the cupboard and grab whatever is there. Mouthwash? Since when do my plants have halitosis? Dish soap? There are soap-based natural pesticides, but dish soap is pretty strong stuff (we use it to kill box elder bugs, but it could also kill plants). Antiseptic? Hey, those soil bacteria are SUPPOSED to be there! Don’t mess with them! Tobacco? My grandma used to make tobacco water to kill bugs using leavings in my dad’s ash trays. He never liked to be reminded that he was smoking bug poison, but maybe that was one of the things that finally convinced him to quit. Nicotine is one of the most toxic non-radioactive substances on the planet.

    Maybe he’s hoping we’ll mess up our gardens so much, he can sell us more advice on how to mend the damage.

    Posted by: Reading Dirt | March 20, 2006 at 11:01 PM

    Remember this is a decision made by your local station. We got him taken off our local PBS station. It took some persistence. I work for the Dept of Horticulture at the Univ of Wis which ironically is also the station holder of our PBS station. Many letters from staff at the U and extension agents along with pressure from their own garden show host worked after two years.

    Jerry Baker is an irresponsible and dangerous quack. While I haven’t seen the shows you saw I suspect they are the same ones that have been running for years. The usual excuse the stations give is that they get a lot of pledges during these shows. There are many other locally produced shows they could use that are probably cheaper that would get more response.

    Maybe we should start a petition to the Victory Garden producers and others to put pressure on them. As a professional this kind of drivel makes me sick. Just like these concoctions can. Wait til someone sues the station and Baker, it’ll stop.

    Posted by: Verdant Heart | March 20, 2006 at 11:39 PM

    This post is the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in months!

    Hilarious! He sounds like a comedian, not a gardener.

    Posted by: Michele Owens | March 21, 2006 at 04:28 PM

    One comment I left off my report of this blogpost. When you wrote “if this guy were a medical quack, would he be allowed on, much less promoted by, public television? Hell, no.” I’m assuming that you’ve never closely watched the Perricone Prescription programs during fundraising.

    I’ve read that many stations are embarrassed that many of these programs appear to have an “acceptable” stamp because they are shown on PBS… and the programs are pure crap. The musicians? Not as great as PBS makes them out to be. The fabulous specialists? Not so fabulous.

    I’ve come to dismiss most of these shows as pure marketing sleight of hand.

    Posted by: debra roby | March 21, 2006 at 06:43 PM

    All I can say is: YES, Jerry Baker is a quack…. Nice blog Susan…

    Posted by: Jim Gallion | March 22, 2006 at 11:44 AM

    Jerry Baker is a Quack! And I am so furious with him. I am a beginner gardener so to speak. Even though I have been doing it for years I don’t know too much about it. I bought Jerry Bakers dvd and am sorry I ever did. I used his solution for the Spring clean up tonic and now I’m just beside myself.
    Immediately after I began to spray this tonic on my gardening area, dozens and dozens of night crawlers began to surface. I had never seen so many night crawlers in my life. And first I thought they were just surfacing because it is what they do when it rains and such. Then I watched them as they died. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Night crawlers are extremely important to a garden and I loved the thought that I could dig any where in my garden and find night crawlers. Now they are all dead! And what else bothers me is what if any birds have eaten any of these poisoned night crawlers? Are they going to die? How long is my garden going to remain toxic to night crawlers now? I can’t believe I fell so quickly to such nonsense. I thought this man was for real and never once questioned the idea of tobacco juice even after I had heard years before that tobacco was not good for gardens. Someone needs to stop this man before more people make their gardens a toxic wasteland.

    Posted by: Glorene Parish | April 02, 2006 at 05:24 PM

    I agree with you on Jerry Baker. He is a bit of a quack. Your article is great. I don’t typically go for use of found items in the garden but I really liked the flower bed made out of a real bed. Funny! Signed up for your RSS feed today keep up the good work.

    Posted by: Garden Blogger Guy | April 03, 2006 at 12:36 PM

    Great post, Susan. Baker is the
    embodiment of the whole huge indus-
    try built around the behavioral
    quirk of so many gardeners–i.e.
    the compulsion to be constantly
    adding/amending/augmenting
    something (almost anything will do)
    to their plants and soil. Our plants look great , but surely dis
    aster lurks just around the next
    corner (deficiency, infestation,
    whatever) so I better buy a bag or
    bottle of Super P(anacea) by god
    and dump it on. fortuntely, most
    plants are more forgiving than we
    give credit for, and survive our
    horti-chondria

    JB is an extreme example of
    cashing in on this vulnerability
    that all gardeners seem to have to
    some extent–the urge to nurture,
    coddle to death. If a little of
    Product X is good, then let’s try
    a whole bag…
    By and large, it’s harmless, I
    guess

    Posted by: Marci |

  3. Greenwood says:

    As I peruse all the whacks at Jerry, one thing is constant; everybody takes issue with a certain addition to his sprays.

    His sprays do not consist of the one ..let’s call them “toxic” addition. They are mixed with some of the most common of chemicals that we see in every kitchen or laundry.

    Its well known that soap will kill a bug. It has to be the right soap to use as he suggests.
    It is soap…not detergent—and when you dilute it as he suggests, you will see…if you have paid attention to your grade two arithmetic a very low percentage of dilution.

    What he proposes in his sprays are no different than what commercial garden gurus put into their concoctions.

    The author of this tirade against Mr Baker has something against spraying dormant oil on trees, shrubs and roses to kill bugs that infest the wood.

    Notice she doesn’t suggest a counter way of treating for the bugs…..NO, they usually don’t, they just take something out of context and suggest the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    I suggest Susan, you go back to your secnd grade reader and this time pay attention in class; you might graduate.

  4. Yvonne says:

    I agree with susan whose note was posted March 31 2008. If you dilute the tonics as per the recipes, it is not harmful. I sprayed the cleaning tonic on my garden the other day. It took only a few minutes and because of the mouthwash, my garden smelled so nice. To me, these are non-toxic biodegradable household items and better than using constant chemicals. We bought a house that had the poorest landscaping. By the time we started with the garden in the spring, it seemed like everything in the garden was sick and infested with some disease or bug. I had to spray so many “commercial” sprays to kill the bad and help the plants become strong. All of them had warnings about being toxic and using gloves to handle … etc. These were basic store bought solutions meant to deal with bugs and disease. Since then, I have spent so much money on fertilizers of all kinds. I am tired of putting so much money and chemicals into my garden, so I am trying Jerry baker’s formula’s. Besides, it is common to spray dish washing soap mixture on roses. everyone knows that. Jerry Baker uses lawn and plant fertilizer also, but sporadically, so as not to overfeed. To me, it makes sense, especially when it comes to dealing with the lawn, because personally, I did everything a “natural” solution book told me to do in order to get rid of weeds and have a great lawn and in the spring, all I got a lot of crabgrass that took me a long time to deal with. Plus, no matter how much it rained, the grass was still dry and yellow. I think that the very “critical” gardner of Jerry Baker should read the ingredients on the labels of store bought sprays and fertilizers and find out what all is in them. After all, hasn’t Monsanto, one of the largest pesticide and fertilizer companies in the US had numerous law suits because of the chemicals in their ingredients. It’s in our local health food magazines constantly. I was going to buy a liquid aerator, but cannot import it into Canada. I found out that it is 50% soap. So what’s the difference from Jerry baker’s liquid aerator using 1/3 soap, 1/3 beer and some ammonia. It’s the only way I can get a similar solution in Canada. By the way, I think most fertilizers and chemicals can destroy your garden if not used according to the directions. they can certainly burn the plants .. that has been my experience in feeding them probably too much fertilizer. Plus, the Round up solution I had to use on the crabgrass kills everything in sight, including bugs and worms .. for all you bug lovers.

  5. Enlightened says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Saw the dude on tv spraying and spraying. I thought his neighbors must think he’s nuts but I was hoping to score his tree wash tonic for free on internet and stumbled upon this site. Good link in main article above. I like this:

    “Like many with doctorate degrees, Chuck Powell, a technical adviser to the Commercial Rose Growers Association, is puzzled by some of Baker’s ingredients. Of a fertilizer that includes a tablespoon of bourbon, Powell says: “It won’t hurt the plant, but it sounds like a waste of good whiskey to me.”

    So I think I’ll be saving my good whiskey, mouth wash, dish soap, and shampoo! It’s obvious he’s a moneymaking scam for PBS.

  6. audy haze says:

    If it wasn’t for a garden we would have starved todeath! Spraying for bugs and blight is real! If you have any sense’s you know that commerical grade spray material or chemicals are extremely expensive and hardly do anything to help you anymore do to the lobby and book “silent spring” which hurt more than it helped. Jerry Baker has shown us how to use “off the shelf” items to achieve the same or better medium. Most of the writers on here know very little about soil, blight, bugs and planter eaters and destroyers. But they will go to a doctor and get there bodies filled with rx’s that kill bugs within. I am not defending Mr. Baker methods. If they don’t work, then don’t use them. I do know that Nicotine was one of the best insecticides very used until someone drank some of it and it hurt them thus it was outlawed. DDT was banned due to “silent spring” book and has caused more deaths since than if it were allowed due to Malaria. I work the land, soil and ground. I do know where Jerry Baker is coming from. I do know that he probably is making a ton of money the American way. I listen to what he has to say and if it makes any sense (kills bugs, blight, fungus) cheaper than commercial chemicals I am for it. Oh, by the way I have never purchased one item from him. But I have yet to see anything he has suggested or talked about being far fetched or BS. My only concerns is will it be effective enough to achieve the results I expect. Fungus, blight, insects are real and do billions in damages to everything. Fruit growers don’t want the harry home owner to have anything (chemicals) that you can spray a fruit tree with and get beautiful apples and etc.. they want you to come to the super market and buy the product they sell (oh, they use real high powdered chemicals) that are real bad.

  7. ron says:

    audy haze, read the linked article before you comment next time. the stuff he sells at a big markup is the same chemicals that everyone else sells, not the wacky concoctions he hocks on TV because they dont work. hes not making money the american way, hes tricking people. but sadly, that does seem to be a larger and larger part of the american way these days.

    nicotine kills EVERYTHING in the soil, good and bad thats why it shouldnt be used. and of course you dont get why DDT was banned either. it wasnt because it was killing people, but destroying the reproductive success of several species, sending them to the brink of extinction (including the bald eagle) because it was applied wrong and biomagnifies in the food chain.

  8. Jerry Baker says:

    Hi,

    I’m Jerry L. Baker, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, not the Jerry F. Baker that promotes strange gardening practices on television and in books. Just checking in here to say hello, and best wishes.

  9. Grace says:

    I have used the “Green-up” as well as his suggestions to rid yard of ants, white flys, aphids and snails. All have worked! The best thing is that the “Green Up” and “Clean UP” are very inexpensive to make. These are much safer than anything I have tried in the past. Many of his suggestions are things my Mom did back in the 40′s and 50′s. I used the free tonic recipes and his free newsletter so I did not spend a cent on his books. Unless you have used some of his tonics or followedsome of his suggestions yourself, you are only blogging unsubstanciated information. That is character assination.

  10. d says:

    GET OVER IT. Is spraying nicotine any different than the millions of people who use commercial pesticides . All are indiscriminate and should be used with care. As for the other ingredients like soap, alcohol, mouthwash, etc. You will fin much worse in every commercial product. You should be more worried about the people who use 10 bottles of roundup every spring

  11. @Yvonne:

    “because of the mouthwash, my garden smelled so nice”

    You did not just say that. You’re happy that your garden smells like Scope?

  12. jibbo@q.com says:

    I’m not 100% sure but doesn’t the misuse of any pesticide or herbicide cause risk? Aren’t all fertilizers natural and manufactured just a way of getting specific chemical compounds into the soil–and if misused won’t they do damage also?
    I’m assuming the soap that is included in most of the tonics acts to break the surface tension of water to allow for more absorption of the rest of the tonic ingredients. I don’t believe the tonics are a total waste or totally unsafe. I would like to see a little more critical analysis as to whether there is a basis in good gardening for the ingredients. i.e. if you mix and apply the tonics per instructions, what chemicals and what amounts get applied, and what “possible” good or bad are they doing. To simply argue they are dangerous if misused–isn’t cogent, as I stated the chemicals purchased over-the-counter are also dangerous if misused.

  13. Jerry Baker says:

    Hello,

    I’m a different “Jerry Baker,” not the so-called “gardener.”

    I publish a blog, at

    http://reykr.livejournal.com

  14. Dan K says:

    You must use soap and not detergent. Soap is made from natural ingredients such as animal fat or vegetable oils where detergent is man made from petroleum products. If you use detergent you will KILL the plants and the good ground earthworms also.

  15. Sharon says:

    I absolutely love Jerry Baker’s tips, tricks and tonics of all sorts. We’ve never had issues with any of his recipes and I recommend them highly!!!!!

  16. Burney says:

    Jerry Baker has forgotten more than the 4 of you will collectively ever learn.

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