7 garden myths busted

March 27, 2017

Years ago my father-in-law kept a stash of Juicy Fruit in his underwear drawer so he could roll up the sticks of gum and poke them into mole holes in his backyard.

Heíd heard the trick would kill the pesky critters, apparently from a buildup of undigested gum. But all he got out of his efforts was fruity-smelling underwear.

Thatís because the Juicy Fruit ploy, like many folksy lawn and garden remedies, is pure hooey. And Eric Barrett, an educator with the Ohio State University Extensionís Mahoning County office, is out to set the record straight.

Barrett recently busted a few widely held gardening myths during the Saturday Gardening Series, an educational program organized by the Summit County Master Gardeners.

Here are some of them.

Myth: Chemicals are bad for your landscape.

Fact: Any substance you use in your yard or garden has a chemical makeup, whether itís natural or synthetic. Whatís more important, in Barrettís view, is the effect the substance has on the environment.

Itís important to find out about the properties of any treatments you use, he said. Even natural or organic remedies that seem benign could harm soil, wildlife, water or other elements of our natural world.

And remember, too much of anything is never a good thing, he cautioned.

Myth: Adding eggshells to the hole when you plant tomatoes will prevent blossom end rot.

Fact: Blossom end rot ó a disease that causes dark spots to develop on the bottom of tomatoes ó happens when a plant canít take up calcium from the soil, usually because the plant has gone without water for too long. That can happen even when the soil has plenty of calcium in it, be it from eggshells or any other source.

The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to make sure tomato plants get a consistent and adequate supply of water, Barrett said. An Ohio State fact sheet recommends 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week.

Myth: Epsom salts are a cure-all for countless garden problems.

Fact: This is a case where too much of a good thing can be bad.

Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, so they add magnesium ó an important plant nutrient ó to the soil.

The problem is many gardeners use Epsom salts indiscriminately, which can cause too much magnesium to build up in the soil. That can prevent plants from taking up other nutrients.

Better to test your soil to determine whether it needs magnesium, Barrett said. If it does, correct the problem by adding dolomite lime in the amount recommended in the soil test report.

Myth: Adding aspirin to the water will keep cut flowers fresh longer.

Fact: Aspirin wonít keep flowers fresh. Neither will adding wine, pennies or a drop of bleach to the water.

Barrett said it may help to use a floral preservative, but itís more important to sanitize the vase, recut the stems, remove any leaves that fall below the waterline and check the water level daily. Keeping flowers away from hot or cold drafts also helps prolong their life, he said.

Myth: Peonies need ants on them to bloom properly.

Fact: The presence of ants has nothing to do with successful blooming, Barrett said. The reason ants often congregate on peonies is theyíre attracted to the sugary liquid secreted by the flower buds.

The ants arenít helpful, but neither are they harmful, he said.

Myth: Putting gravel in the bottom of flowerpots improves drainage.

Fact: Surprisingly, research shows this common practice doesnít help and might actually slow water flow, Barrett said.

A better strategy, he said, is to use a soilless potting mix instead of a mix containing soil, and to make sure the container has drainage holes.

Myth: Spread diatomaceous earth around plants to deter slugs.

Fact: Gardeners often recommend creating a rough surface out of diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells or other sharp substances, in the hope that slugs wonít want to crawl over them. But in reality, slugs create so much slime that they can even cross a razor blade, Barrett said.

He has a better approach: Lay pieces of damp cardboard around the plants. The slugs will congregate under the cardboard, making it easy to collect and destroy them.

So if these widely held gardening beliefs are wrong, how can you tell whatís right?

University researchers are constantly working to determine what works in our landscapes and what doesnít. While thereís still more research to be done, Barrett said, their findings offer reliable guidance on pretty much any lawn or garden issue.

The extension services at land grant universities such as Ohio State are great resources. Itís the job of those services to share research-based information with the public.

OSUís Ohioline website (

Letís all commit to gardening better ó and more responsibly.



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