Gardening Myths, Misconceptions, and Tall Tales, Debunked

Gardening Myths, Misconceptions, and Tall Tales, Debunked

By Michael Jenkins

Gardening, in some form or another, is probably as old as agriculture. Once people figured out that they could grow plants in an organized way and for their own use, they likely did so in a way that we would consider a garden. This is one of the wonderful things about gardening as a hobby and a vocation; the art and science of gardening connect us to deep human history while the plants themselves connect us to deep time. However, along with all that history comes a large number of myths, legends, misconceptions, and tall tales about gardening. We’d like to take a look at some of those today, and debunk them as best we can. So in the name of truth in gardening, let’s dig in!

Myth #1: Watering on a hot or sunny day “burns” plants

We’re starting with this one because we get emails about it every summer when the weather gets warm, and it’s one of of the oldest and most pervasive gardening myths around. The myth itself goes something like this: watering your plants on a hot day or when it’s sunny “cooks the roots” or causes leaf and stem damage. But is that true? The answer is . . . yes, sort of. While watering on a hot or sunny day doesn’t do damage to the roots of your plant, water droplets on stems and leaves can do damage to some species. In general, shade loving plants or plants with hair on their stems, leaves, or other above-ground parts may actually get some damage from being watered in the hot sun. You can avoid this issue by watering the soil around the plant, rather than the plant itself—which is always a good idea anyway—and by choosing the right locations for plants that may need a bit of extra sun protection. A good deep watering of the soil is always best, so give your plants water when they need it.

Myth #2: If you cut an earthworm in half, you get two worms!

A gardening tall tale that is far, far older than the internet, this one refuses to go away. Let’s be very clear: cutting a worm in half doesn’t give you two worms. At best, it gives you an injured worm and a dead, amputated section of a worm. It will most likely kill the worm in question, which is a shame. In addition to being unnecessarily cruel, it also eliminates a helpful creature that does a lot for your soil health. So if you see worms in your garden soil, let them be or perhaps consider taking some steps to support and encourage them.

Myth #3: Adding copper coins or strips to the soil prevents tomato blight

Tomato blight is a common problem for many gardeners--but do copper coins help?


There are so many garden myths and so much folklore around growing tomatoes that we’ve written entire blogs about them, but this one keeps coming up as we move in to the spring. While some fungicide sprays intended to treat tomato blight do contain copper, the reality is that adding copper coins, copper mesh, or strips of copper to your soil or around your plants will not prevent tomato blight. The copper contained in them doesn’t migrate to the plant in any helpful quantity, and doesn’t do anything useful just lying there in or on the soil. The copper used in gardening sprays is generally formulated as part of a compound of elements, making it more effective when applies, and is then aerosolized to ensure that it gets where it needs to be. Keep your coins in your pocket, and follow some effective guidelines for preventing tomato blight.

Myth #4: Tilling in/incorporating sand improves the drainage of clay soils

Clay soil is notoriously difficult to work with for gardeners, and there are many myths floating around about how to improve it and make it easier to work with. We’ve offered some guidelines and tips for soil amendments and working with clay soil elsewhere, but let’s talk about sand. The myth goes that adding sand to clay soil by tilling or other means of incorporation lightens the clay and helps it become usable soil. The reality is that it takes quite a bit of sand, grit, or gravel to lighten up clay, and by that point the nutritional value has been compromised. A better approach is to use straw or another organic to lighten the soil, aerate it, and unlock the minerals and suspended organics locked into the clay. Clay soils can be very rich in all the things plants need—they often need to be aerated in order to make them  accessible to your plants. There are better ways to do that then sand, so please make use of them instead!

Myth #5: Beer traps can help eliminate slugs from your garden

Slugs can be cute, but they're also common garden pests

If you’ve been gardening for a while, you’ve probably heard this one. The idea is that a saucer or container filled with stale beer set around the garden can attract unwanted slugs, who then drown in the liquid. This sounds like a cheap and easy way to eliminate slugs from your garden, but does it work? Well we did some research and the answer is . . . again, kind of. While there are some cheap and effective ways to deal with garden pests, beer traps more often than not fail to eliminate slugs. It’s difficult to arrange the container such that it’s accessible to the slugs but doesn’t allow them back out again, and while slugs do enjoy beer they also enjoy many other foods—like your garden plants! A better approach is to ensure that the area around your vegetable plants is clean and tidy, removing places for slugs to hide and lay their eggs. The slugs will move elsewhere, and you’ll have healthy veggies in your garden!

Myth #6: Burying banana peels near your plants can provide the potassium they need

Can banana peels add potassium to your soil- Let's find out!

Potassium is one of the critical nutrients for plant growth, and ensuring that your soil contains sufficient levels of potassium is a must for a successful garden. There’s a longstanding garden “tip” that suggests burying a banana peel near a plant or in the same hole as a newly transplanted plant adds potassium and encourages successful plant growth. So does adding banana peels to your soil help your plants grow? The reality is that while banana peels do contain potassium and other nutrients that plants need, the reality is that it take a long time for banana peels to break down and for those nutrients to move into the soil itself. So, spare your plants a banana peel and add good fertilizer or compost instead. Your banana peels are best served in your compost heap for more effective future use.

These are some of the most common garden myths, but they’re far from the only ones. Do you have a favorite garden myth? Do you have a garden myth that actually works for you? Let us know in the comments or vial email and your story may appear in a future blog!

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