Stop Using These 11 Common Gardening Techniques Immediately!

gardening mistakes

There are common gardening techniques that we read about or perhaps learned as a kid. Some kind of make sense intuitively because they use household hacks or natural products.

But, scientists and garden experts have some of these methods to the test and have debunked their efficacy. While there are still believers, you may want to consider ceasing these 11 gardening strategies.

Plant Holes Need Fertilizer Before Refilling

If you are eager to put plants in the ground and don’t have fertilizer on hand, don’t worry. It’s now thought that a handful of fertilizer dropped into the hole before a plant is slipped in can actually discourage roots from spreading. Why? Because dense nutrients are right there waiting and roots have no incentive to spread out. Instead, it’s suggested that you drop in a bit of compost and mulch the soil once the plant is in.

Holes Need to Be Dug Twice as Big as the Plant’s Root Ball

It’s true that a plant hole should be twice as wide as the plant’s root ball to enable roots to spread through loosened dirt. However, the plant hole should definitely not be twice as deep, too. This way roots are encouraged to grow outward in order to stabilize the plant and find water closer to the surface. Again, believers in this method advocate not adding more nutrients when backfilling the hole other than compost and mulch on top.

Drought Tolerant Plants Don’t Need Water

gardening 101 mistakes to avoid

Yes, they do need water. In fact, they require regular watering until they are properly established which, for some slow-growers could even be a year or longer, but usually never into a third growing season. Water just enough to keep the plant alive to avoid creating a dependency on more water than it really needs.

Stressed Plants Need Food

If the cause of stress is not related to lack of nutrients, this could actually case the plant to stress out further. And, odds are that lack of food is not the culprit. It’s far more common for plants to stress due to improper watering, poor placement (shade plants in sun and vice versa), and soil that is too compacted. So, before adding fertilizer, see if you can rule out other issues that may cause stress because you don’t want them to waste energy on digesting food that should be focused on whatever the root issue is.

Young Trees Need Staking

Tree staking 3

An article in the Guardian likened staking young trees to tough love that children often need. The origin of this myth probably stems from a loving, nurturing place but the truth is that staking young trees can inhibit their growth. The exception to this rule is when a tree is in a windy or sloped spot and/or top heavy. Young trees can become dependent on support, developing skinnier trunks because they’re not allowed to move around and build up strength… kind of like how we build muscle when we exercise. If you do need to stake trees, be sure it’s softly and not for too long.

Paint Tree Wounds After Pruning

It used to be that gardeners advised painting freshly cut tree wounds (with tar or paint) that occur after pruning. The logic was that trees are more susceptible to pests and disease with exposed wood. But a 13-year research study proved that trees respond to injury with chemical and physical changes. In fact some research shows that painting wounds prevents trees from developing a layer of “woundwood” to seal cuts.

Beer Makes Good Fertilizer

This old wives tale has been going strong for well over 100 years. Back then, it was thought that reusing hops from breweries as fertilizer would provide important vitamins and minerals to plants and microorganisms that live in the ground. Well, the theory was put to the test in a proper laboratory using Guinness, Michelob Light and alcohol-free Sharps. Six plants were grown using each beer as fertilization in addition to a low concentration of liquid fertilizer.

Well, these tests proved that the plants grown in only liquid fertilizer thrived significantly better. The study concluded that beer is bad for plants so just enjoy it yourself.

Use Gravel in Containers

Big Container - Part Sun

Many people believe that using gravel in the bottom of containers actually does more harm than good. The gravel acts as an elevated drainage hole, causing the water to pool a bit higher and perhaps closer to the root ball than the pot’s normal drainage hole. Instead, a well-draining potting soil or adding perlite to existing soil to make it lighter are recommended.

Watering Plants in Sunshine Causes Leaves to Burn

The basis of this myth stems from the belief that water acts like a lens that can actually cause the sun’s rays to burn leaves. It doesn’t so it will not harm plants to water them midday (it rains midday all over the world, right?). However, it is best to water in the early morning or after sundown to minimize the risk of evaporation and wind.

Sugar and Baking Soda Sweeten Tomatoes

It’s thought that adding baking soda or sugar to soil near tomato plants will cause the resulting fruit to taste sweeter by changing the soil’s pH. Apparently, this is false. What determines how sweet tomatoes are may be more dependent on the type of plant and amount of sunlight received. Cherry tomatoes are a good choice for those who like sweeter varieties. Baking soda (alkaline) is a bad idea unless you’re sure your soil is too acidic.

Organic Pesticides Are Safe

gardening mistakes

Just because pesticides are organic doesn’t mean they should be used liberally or that they are always safe for kids and animals. Even though they may be biodegradable, it’s a good idea to use organic pesticides with the same caution as chemical pesticides. Also, note which organic pesticides are being used on your garden. Nicotine is a popular choice but, as you might imagine, is still toxic to mammals. Pyrethrum, derived from chrysanthemums, may be a safer choice as might another organic pesticide called Neem. Research is key.

Your Turn…

Do any of these strategies actually work for you?


Top photo credit: Flickr/plutor