In a world filled with fake news, you must question everything—well, within reason. Thanks to centuries of scientific experimentation and pointed research, modern science is pretty much sure of how plants work. But still, misinformation and tall tales abound. When planning your garden, it’s important to be able to tell a well-researched, expert source from a dud. Confusing an unsubstantiated claim for the gospel truth could spell disaster for your plans—and shake your faith in what good gardening means. To stoke your critical eye, here are some common gardening myths we’ve encountered in the industry. They may sound real, but—after a little research—they’re easily debunked.
If Your Plants are Stressed, Fertilizer
Somehow, fertilizer has become a plant “fix-all.” Plants showing any kind of distress are quickly hit with a hefty dose of nutrients and assumed cured. In reality, browning, drooping, and other common signs of plant distress are often caused by planting errors: too much sun or heat, roots are overcrowded, or the soil is too compact. You should fertilize plants as recommended by a horticulturist, and then add additional fertilizer only if your plants show signs of lacking a specific nutrient that fertilizers contain. Too much fertilizer can actually damage healthy gardens. Always look at symptoms of plant sickness carefully and specifically, research possible causes, and then determine the cause that seems most relevant to your plants.
Pesticides are Miracle Workers
Not quite! Using pesticides is always a tricky game—many store-bought pesticides (even the organic varieties) are toxic to humans, pets, and the environment. Some gardeners use pesticides as liberally as fertilizer—spraying them on plants without much discernment. Really, there are thousands of varieties of pesticides and each has different uses and different application instructions. Though these products can be helpful tools in fighting an infestation, they are not a cure-all, and they will hardly prevent against problems caused by improper maintenance or improper planting. Always use pesticides carefully, and be aware of how injurious many are—for the sake of the world, chose the least toxic defense.
Add Sand to Hard Soil
Sand is a horrible solution to hard, heavy soil. Yet, somehow, this myth persists and many an amateur gardener has made already difficult soil even more difficult by adding sand to it. If you want to soften your soil, add natural compost on top of it, or put in a soil amendment. A natural ingredient like compost will help soften the consistency of the soil and fill it with needed nutrients. Plus—compost can be made for cheap at home. As a general rule, never add anything to your soil without first researching its effects.
Stake Young Trees
At first, this idea makes a lot of sense. Young trees are fragile and can easily succumb to bad weather or a strong gust of wind. However, like people, trees grow stronger when they are subjected to normal stress—like wind and rain. Horticulturists suggest that trees should be staked only for the first 18 months of their life; after that, they should be allowed to grow on their own. Like removing training wheels from a bike, young trees freed from their braces develop necessary skills by struggling against the forces of gravity. There are some exceptions—if the weather is severe and unusual, you can stake young trees to keep them safe. If rain and wind behave as expected, just leave them be.
Add Gravel to Pots to Help Drainage
Some gardening guides have recommended adding gravel to the bottom of planting pots to assist with drainage. This trick is, frankly, a total waste of time. Adding gravel has little effect on draining. In fact, gravel is more likely to restrict plant growth and soak plant roots in water trapped between rough stones. Soil is more porous than rock, and any pot that has holes in the bottom of it should drain just fine. If you’re having draining issues, check your soil consistency first—and don’t add gravel.