Learn the facts behind some common folk wisdom to better your odds of plant-growing success
Bad Gardening Advice
Ask gardeners where they learned about plants, and most will tell you about a parent, grandparent, or favorite aunt or uncle who passed along a love of digging in the dirt. Certainly these green-thumbed mentors did a lot right. It was, after all, their colorful perennial borders and bountiful veggie patches that inspired the next generation to pick up a trowel. Amid all their sound advice, though, they probably passed down some less-than-scientific lore, too. Many homegrown garden tricks simply don’t live up to their hype when researchers put them to the test. But old ways are slow to change. After all, most gardeners learn from one another rather than by brushing up on the latest university study. So we’ve done the research for you. The next time a well-intentioned neighbor offers up one of these time-tested “tips,” you’ll be able to weed out fact from fiction.
1. Buried Banana Peels Give Roses a Potassium Boost
Bananas and their peels do contain high levels of potassium, an essential nutrient that roses—and all garden plants—need for everything from stimulating growth to producing flowers. But burying whole peels can backfire. As soil microorganisms work to break down the peels, they extract significant amounts of nitrogen from the soil, which results in less nitrogen for greening up plants. The best place for banana peels is in a compost pile, where they can break down alongside other nutrient-rich table scraps. To give plants the balanced nutrition they need, top-dress with compost instead.
2. Drought-Tolerant Plants Don’t Need Watering
Drought-tolerant plants may need less water than other plants, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never have to pull out your garden hose. If the garden or container soil around your plant is dry, water it. Young plants are especially susceptible to drought because their roots are getting established. Be vigilant about keeping soil slightly moist, but not soggy, throughout a plant’s first year, regardless of its reputation for resiliency.
3. Organic Pesticides are Safer Than Synthetic Ones
Snake venom, arsenic, poison ivy—they’re all natural, but that doesn’t make them safe. By the same token, there are many natural toxins used in organic garden products that are potentially harmful. If misused, natural poisons, such as pyrethrin (an insecticide extracted from chrysanthemum flowers), are hazardous to people, pets, and the beneficial inhabitants of our gardens, such as frogs and bees. If you must use a pesticide, base your selection on how dangerous the active ingredients are, and how effective. Safer choices include products that contain Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt, and insecticidal soap.