9 Common Gardening Myths Busted
How to tell fact from fiction when it comes to what products to use in your garden.
Gardening isn’t just a great way to relieve stress and spend time outdoors; it also helps you stay active and grow your own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and blooms.
While blogs, social media, and websites can be great sources of gardening inspiration, not everything out there is vetted by experts. In fact, it’s easy to stumble upon advice that isn’t quite realistic—or even info that’s just plain inaccurate.
To help you get started on the right foot and see plenty of success in your gardening endeavors, we’ve identified nine common myths for growing and planting. We’re explaining why they’re more fiction than fact and sharing alternative, tested ideas to explore instead.
Gardening Myth No. 1: Always Place Coarse Material in Containers Before Planting.
Common advice for planting containers is to line them with a layer of gravel, sand, or other coarse material to improve drainage. The truth is: Materials like these actually prevent water from draining, and waterlogged soil causes poor root growth and unhealthy plants.
Smart Alternative: Instead of gravel, cover the drainage hole with a paper coffee filter to keep soil in the pot.
Gardening Myth No. 2: Banana Peels Add Potassium to Soil.
Because bananas are loaded with potassium, it makes sense they’d add potassium to soil, right? Wrong! Banana peels do add some potassium but burying them uses up the soil’s nitrogen while the peels decompose. Banana peels are better suited for the compost pile.
Smart Alternative: A better potassium source is a well-balanced plant fertilizer,
like one with 10-10-10 on the label. These numbers represent the amount of the primary nutrients of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Gardening Myth No. 3: Homemade Lawn Tonics Work Great.
Some sources recommend lawn tonics to keep grass healthy. We’ve even seen recipes that call for a mix of beer, soda, dishwashing soap, ammonia, and mouthwash to spray on your lawn. The reality is: the resulting green grass is because of the extra watering—not the tonic. And ingredients like ammonia aren’t a safe fertilizer, either.
Smart Alternative: Use proven lawn care practices instead. Core aerate, add compost, fertilize, mow regularly, and irrigate on a spray and soak cycle.
Gardening Myth No. 4: Female Sweet Peppers are Better for Eating Raw than Male Peppers.
Some folks think they can identify the gender of sweet bell peppers by the number of lobes or bumps on the base of the fruit. And they think females are sweeter and best eaten raw, while males are bitter, and better for cooking.
The truth is, while pepper plant flowers have male and female parts, fruits are gender-free. The number of lobes is determined by variety and growing conditions.
Smart Alternative: Explore the wide world of peppers to find the ones whose flavor you like most. In addition to large, blocky bell peppers, there are other types of sweet peppers to plant. You can choose thin, curved bull’s horns; long, tapered “Cubanelle” types; sweet banana peppers; mini bell peppers; pimentos, and sweet cherry peppers. Each has a different flavor, and some offer a bit of heat.
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Gardening Myth No. 5: Coffee Grounds Are a Good Organic Fertilizer.
While grounds are useful in the garden, they’re not a good fertilizer because they have low amounts of nitrogen and adding too much to soil can prevent seeds from sprouting or stunt plant growth.
Smart Alternative: Use coffee grounds to improve soil structure by mixing it into the soil along with a nitrogen fertilizer. Soil microbes will use up the nitrogen in the grounds, so more is needed to give plants a boost. You can also layer coffee grounds into your compost pile with leaves and grass clippings.
Gardening Myth No. 6: Epsom Salts Improve Soil for Tomato Planting.
You may have seen some gardeners use Epsom salts as a soil amendment for planting tomatoes. Others mix salts into soil to raise sulfur and magnesium levels. If plants are low in these nutrients, Epsom salts can help, but it’s difficult to know what plants need just by looking at them, and using Epsom salts unnecessarily could harm plants and contaminate your soil.
Smart Alternative: Instead of guessing, use a soil test to identify nutrient deficiencies.
Gardening Myth No. 7: Compost Tea Prevents Plant Disease.
Some folks believe that compost teas, especially aerated compost teas, prevent plant diseases when sprayed on the leaves, and that they’re an environmentally friendly alternative to synthetic chemical sprays. Aerated teas use a pump to circulate oxygen into a compost-and-water mixture to increase the beneficial bacteria in the tea.
However, because the microbes vary in each batch of tea, results are difficult to measure. Research from Washington State University shows aerated compost teas have no “scientifically documented effect as pathogen suppressors” and could contribute to water pollution from runoff.
Smart Alternative: Instead of dabbling in compost tea, keep your garden healthy by using fertile soil, putting the right plant in the right place, and giving plants the right amount of water, fertilizer, and care after planting.
Gardening Myth No. 8: Corn Gluten Meal Controls Weeds Organically.
Corn gluten meal is a protein-based natural product that’s gained attention as a good organic fertilizer and a magic bullet for killing weeds. Some people use it as a pre-emergent weed killer or a weed inhibitor for lawns.
But corn gluten meal doesn’t effectively block all weeds, doesn’t kill existing weeds, and its high nitrogen content can actually help weeds grow.
Smart Alternative: Other weed controls, like a targeted herbicide or mulch, are cheaper and more effective.
Gardening Myth No. 9: High-Quality Plants Are Worth the Extra Cost.
Many gardeners, from rookies to pros, assume higher prices mean higher-quality plants. However, price isn’t the best indicator of plant health. Plant failure is usually linked to poor roots.
Smart Alternative: Especially for trees and shrubs, it pays to inspect roots to ensure there’s no circling or girdling. A nutrient-rich, well-amended soil is also crucial, so if you do invest in a costly plant, avoid putting it in a cheap planting hole.
BONUS: 4 Experts You Can Trust
With so much gardening information out there on the internet, we want to help you make sure you’re getting the most accurate, helpful advice possible. Along with visiting your local Tractor Supply for help meeting all your planting needs, we recommend checking out these sources:
- The Cooperative Extension System, a partnership of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the land-grant university in your state, offers free, researched-based information.
- The national eXtension system website offers easy search access to resources provided by your Land-Grant institutions.
- The Garden Professors is a blog with science-based information from horticultural professors from around the country.
- Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, associate professor and extension specialist at Washington State University, dispels more horticultural myths on her website.