Are tums good for tomatoes? Can the right plants repel mosquitoes? Learn more about these and other commonly-shared garden myths and why they don’t work.
If you’re interested in garden folklore, there are more popular garden myths we’ve all fallen for here.
Popular Garden Tips You Can Avoid
1Use Tums or Eggshells to Fix Blossom End Rot
Nope! If you’ve had blossom end rot (BER) on your tomatoes or peppers, you know how gross it looks. Part of the fruit—often the bottom—gets cankerous and discolored—sometimes turning to mush. Although the rest of the fruit is still edible, it’s not appetizing. You may also see it in plants in the squash family. Yuck!
So how do we fix it?
Well, you can’t. Once the damage is done, the damage is done. BER is quite complex and not entirely understood. And although the condition is associated with a calcium problem, adding things that contain calcium to the soil is not a solution. The issue is that the plant may not be able to take up available calcium or distribute it where it’s needed, not that calcium isn’t available in the soil.
So hold the Tums and eggshells. And better luck next time.
2Grow Marigolds With Tomatoes
Maybe, but not the way we’ve been told. The are countless lists of plants believed to “love” each other or grow better together. We humans are very good at anthropomorphizing nature!
While there is research showing that some specific plant pairings can have a specific benefit in a specific situations (usually controlled settings unlike actual gardens), the whole topic of companion planting has reached mythological levels.
We run with vast generalizations while science must be specific.
We hear—just do this, it works!—without any hint about what it’s supposed to do.
Here is one example of how studies are misconstrued.
A recent UK study looked at using French marigolds to stop whiteflies from reaching tomatoes growing in a greenhouse. They did see a reduction if the plants were grown together, but not if the marigolds were introduced later. Unfortunately, they also saw a reduction in the size of the tomatoes. And none of the tests were done outdoors in the field.
You can see how it’s quite a leap to turn this into—always grow marigolds with tomatoes, but that’s how it goes. We ignore the specifics and run with the soundbite.
Yes, there is much to be discovered in the world of plant relationships. But much of what we’re told is too general to fact check or has not been studied. And if there are studies, they apply to lab or greenhouse settings, not home gardens.
If a gardener says a certain plant combination “works great,” it’s a good guess the plants had the right soil nutrition, adequate water, sun, and room to grow. The “companion plants” were happy because their basic—and similar—needs were met.
3Put Worms in a Compost Bin
Wait! There are many ways to create compost and not all of them are worm-friendly. This is because some compost piles get much hotter than worms can tolerate.
The general temperature range for worms is approximately 59-77°F (15-25°C). That’s why they stay underground in soil—heat at the surface can quickly dry them out.
When we vermicompost (use worms to convert organic waste into fertilizer), the worms are happy in the container if temperatures stay within the safe range.
Alternately, “hot” compost piles are just that: compost piles that heat up naturally as the microbes break down food waste. Yours may be hot without you ever knowing it. But with temperatures potentially reaching 160°F (71°C) or more, you would never intentionally add worms because they would fry.
Other compost piles may never reach these temperatures and worms are attracted to them all on their own. That’s fine. Just never add them if you are not certain conditions are right.
4Keep Mosquitoes Away With Certain Plants
We wish! Let’s apply some logic to this one. Say you have a plant that is proven to repel (or is of no interest to) mosquitoes. So, where will the mosquito go instead? How far away could this tiny creature possibly go? Unless carried by wind, that mosquito is still in the garden. And who cares if it’s on a plant? We don’t want it biting us!
So the plant-repellent idea doesn’t make much sense.
Common advice says to make a garden less enticing to mosquitoes but that’s not really realistic.
For instance, it is commonly recommended to reduce standing water (where mosquitoes lay their eggs) but that water is vital for all wildlife whether it’s on puddles, leaves, and in ponds. It’s not like we’re going to make a big difference by emptying out containers after a rain.
This has specific tips for attracting dragonflies to your garden.
To protect our bodies from bites, products containing DEET, picaridin or icaridin (see examples here), or oil of lemon eucalyptus-PMD (not lemon eucalyptus essential oil) have proven efficacy.
And avoid pesticides because, if you poison the pest, you poison the predator too.
5Avoid Watering Mid-Day
For years it was believed that watering in the hot mid-day sun would magnify the water droplets to scorch or burn plant leaves. But, it’s just not so.
If your plants need water, water them. The more they dry out, the harder time they will have taking up water, so there is no sense in holding off.
6Plant According to the Lunar Cycles
Not a priority. This is another one that contradicts what science knows and makes planting a garden more complicated. The theories vary depending on which lunar gardening calendar you read but they all claim that plants will do better if planted during certain moon phases or when the moon is in certain signs of the Zodiac.
We know the moon (and sun) cause ocean tides, but the idea that our moon also micro-manages small objects like plants or seeds is just not so.
There are plenty of gardeners who swear by moon gardening and that’s fine. I just wouldn’t pass up the right time to plant in the growing season to wait for a waxing or waning moon or a certain star sign.
7Add Fertilizer Regularly – No Matter What
No! Many of us have gardened for years without ever using a synthetic fertilizer, pesticide, or herbicide, and have healthy, thriving gardens.
While these various commercial products may do what they say, there are environmental costs.
Well-intended home gardeners just see blooms and green grass. But the destruction happens beyond our yards.
Think of how many gardeners and farmers use this stuff.
Rain carries the excess run-off into our rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds.
Aquatic life including fish have it in their bodies.
Issues like algae bloom occur, creating stagnate areas that aquatic life cannot survive in. All from things like surplus nitrogen.
So what can we do instead?
The alternative is to first understand your growing conditions including soil composition and work with it.
And let the garden be part of nature.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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