I'm looking at the gardening books in my home office; it's easy to tell which get more use; they're the well-thumbed, slightly tattered books with several sticky notes on the cover. But the books I use most for reference aren't necessarily the most-publicized or best-known.
Here's a list of gardening instruction and reference books that you might not be familiar with, but should find very useful.
Tops on the list is "The Ortho Home Gardener's Problem Solver." Mine is the smaller, condensed version of the really expensive larger volume. The photos and descriptions of plant diseases, pest insects and their damage are excellent.
The difference in appearance and effect of powdery and downy mildews, for example, is made very clear and the recommendations for treatment of problems begins by suggesting the least toxic methods.
All the small Ortho gardening guides in the "All About …." series are good. When I can't remember an uncommon weed's name, I go to the weed photo gallery in "All About Lawns."
The pruning instructions and detailed drawings in "All About Pruning" and "All About Roses" take away the fear of making a major pruning mistake.
The "All About …" books are available at most garden centers at moderate prices.
DK publishing is a British firm that offers the American Horticultural Series as well as Rodale's organic gardening guides. My copies of "The Complete Book of Cactus and Succulents" (still in print) and "What Houseplant Where" (out of print, but sometimes available used on Amazon) are nearly worn out.
The DK publication of the American Horticulture Series' "Pruning and Training" contains the best, most comprehensive pruning instructions ever. I still take the book into the garden with me when pruning my fruit trees, especially to differentiate techniques between those trees that produce fruit on old or new or 2-year-old wood.
The complete selection of DK gardening guides can be viewed online at www.DK.com.
The UCDavis ANR (Agriculture and Natural Resources) publications including the "California Master Gardener Handbook" ($30) are available online on the ANR website, www.anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu. Some publications are available as free PDF downloads and others can be ordered through the online catalog. You don't need to be a Master Gardener to order and it doesn't take a PhD. in horticulture to understand the information. The publications are meant to be read and followed by the average home gardener.
My copy of "The California Master Gardener Handbook" is the preferred reference source for this column; that's why it's in such bad shape.