You’ve heard them before. I know you have. Maybe you’ve even tried some of them. It seems like gardening has more myths passing around than any other hobby.
But how do you know what’s true and what’s folklore?
Just because it’s been passed around on Facebook a million times doesn’t make it true. Seriously, this might be one of my biggest pet peeves. Gardening and homesteading sites with thousands of followers spreading misleading information. So I thought I’d write about a few of them and try to set the records straight.
Here are 10 gardening myths that just need to go away…
Myth #1 – Use Epson salt, Tums or egg shells to cure Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot is a common problem that mystifies gardeners every year. It not only affects tomatoes but will also show up in peppers, eggplant and squash. It’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant, so naturally most people will assume that if you add calcium to the soil it will prevent Blossom End Rot from occurring. However, the problem usually doesn’t stem from a lack of calcium in the soil.
In a nutshell, there are two reasons why Blossom End Rot occurs. Watering plants infrequently will make it difficult for available calcium to move through the plant. This is probably the most common of the two. A mineral imbalance in the soil can also affect whether calcium is available to the plant. For instance, if there is too much magnesium in the soil it will tie up the available calcium, thereby not allowing it to reach the plant.
Epson Salt can be beneficial to plants, but it will not eliminate Blossom End Rot. Why? Because Epsom Salt is made from magnesium sulfate. Adding Epsom Salt to tomato plants with Blossom End Rot can actually make the problem worse.
Tums are basically calcium carbonate, which will certainly add calcium to the soil when they dissolve, but if you have a mineral imbalance problem then Tums won’t help. And eggshells? Yes they will add calcium to the soil when they break down over time. But again, adding more calcium to the soil will not be the answer in most cases.
The best thing to do? Get a soil test to know for sure what’s in your soil. Do this before adding any minerals, so you know exactly what you need.
Myth #2 – Throw a banana peel in with your plants to add potassium
Banana peels are full of potassium, so I can see how this one would be appealing to believe (see what I did there?). But banana peels, along with any other kitchen scraps, take time to break down in the soil, so any nutrients it will eventually provide won’t likely be available to your plant. Also, microbes in the soil will use available nitrogen to break down the banana peel, which could reduce the amount of this important nutrient that is available to the developing roots of your plant.
The best place for banana peels is in the compost pile.
Myth #3 – Add sand to clay soil to improve drainage
Soil with heavy clay doesn’t drain well. That means that when it rains, you might have water sitting on the surface, making a frustrating gardening experience. Adding sand to clay soil will keep clay particles from sticking to each other, opening channels that will allow the rain better access to drain, but only when sand is 50% of the total surface within the soil. That’s a lot of sand. The problem with this myth is that sand is nutrient deficient and is poor soil to grow plants in, so this will do very little to improve your garden site.
It’s better to amend heavy clay soils with lots of organic matter, like composted manure and wood chips. This will not only improve drainage but will over time create a rich soil structure that will allow garden plants to thrive.
Myth #4 – Add gravel to the bottom of your pot
While we’re on the subject of drainage, let’s look at the myth of adding gravel to the bottom of you pot or planter. What does this actually do for the plant? In short, the answer is simply nothing beneficial. Soil acts like a sponge, holding more water than gravel. So unless the soil is actually saturated, it won’t drain through the gravel. So what you get is less soil for the plant roots to spread with little value, plus you’re moving the level of saturated soil higher which can hurt the plant.
Instead, use potting soil rich with organic matter. This will not only feed your plant but improve drainage.
Myth #5 – Don’t water your plants in direct midday sunlight
I was taught this at an early age, and believed it for years. The thought is that water droplets on the leaves will act as a magnifying glass and burn the plant. However, this has been bunked many times. Think about it. If it were true, then why doesn’t it occur when it rains in the middle of the day?
In reality, if your plants are sun-beaten and look weathered in the middle of the day, water them. Don’t wait. You won’t burn your plants. But the best time to water the garden is still early in the morning. This will allow the water to penetrate the soil and cool it, reaching the roots before evaporating in the day’s heat. Evaporation is the real snake in this myth.
Myth #6 – Adding coffee grounds around your plants will acidify the soil
Coffee grounds can have a small affect on the pH of your soil. But using large amounts of coffee grounds around your plants can actually tie up beneficial nutrients like nitrogen as it breaks down. You’re better off tossing the coffee grounds in the compost with your banana peels.
Myth #7 – Organic chemicals are safer
There has been a lot of misconception (mostly due to manipulative marketing) around organic foods. Many people choose to purchase organic because they want to eat food that is safer for their family, especially when it comes to chemicals used to spray with. But many herbicides and insecticides authorized to use with organic foods are still toxic if misused. Pyrethin (an insecticide made from the chrysanthemum flower), for example, is dangerous to humans, animals and beneficial insects.
We choose not to spray our crops, unless we absolutely need to. Even then, we are extremely careful when, where and how we use our organic sprays.
Myth #8 – Using wood chips as mulch will deplete the soil of nitrogen
We’ve talked about how coffee grounds and banana peels will tie up nitrogen in the soil, so why doesn’t this apply to wood chips used as mulch? Since the wood chips are on top of the soil surface, rather than incorporated underneath, it takes microbes in soil a long time to break down the wood chips that don’t have direct contact with the soil.
The benefit of using wood chips as mulch is that it will keep your soil cooler, retain moisture during the hot summer days and reduce weeds. I say spread wood chips to your heart’s desire without worrying about them harming your plants. But here’s a tip: allow at least 3 inches of space directly around the plant when mulching with any kind of material.
Myth #9 – Water plants daily
Vegetables planted in pots can benefit from daily watering, especially when the weather is hot, because the soil is elevated and dries out quicker. But veggies and flowers planted in your landscape don’t need to be watered daily. Actually, watering too frequently can be harmful to the root structure of your plants and even add to the erosion of your soil.
Instead, water deeply twice a week.
Myth #10 – Ripen green tomatoes on the window sill
This time of year we all have green tomatoes sitting on the window sill. But does it actually speed up the ripening process? Actually, no. Sunlight isn’t necessary to the ripening process of a tomato. So when you pick a green tomato, it’s best to store them in a box with a lid or in a paper sack, out of direct sunlight. Store in a room above 60 degrees. To speed up the ripening process, add a banana with the tomatoes. As the banana ripens it will give off ethylene gas, which will aid in the ripening process.
There you have it! My top ten gardening myths…busted. I’d love to hear of any other gardening myths that just get under your skin. Share them with me in the comments below or find us on Facebook.