This Garden 'Wisdom' is Completely WRONG! 7 Myths Debunked

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Pine needles

Bunkum! Balderdash! Bilge and baloney! There are gardening myths almost everywhere you turn, waiting to trip the unwary gardener up and over into the flowerbed. You hear the same old untruths trotted out time and again. But why? Who knows? Never mind! Here are seven of them you can happily ignore!

Myth 1: Add Sand to Improve Clay Soil

You hear it time and again: To improve a heavy, poorly draining clay soil, just add sand. It appears to make sense – after all sandy soil drains really well right? But, in fact, adding sand to clay has the effect of turning soil incredibly hard and the amended area into little more than a sump, creating sodden conditions and rotting roots. Instead, to improve soil structure add plenty of organic matter such as garden-made compost whenever you have the opportunity. Or grow vegetables in raised beds for improved drainage.

If you have clay soil, leave the sand on the beach!

Myth 2: Water Droplets Burn Leaves

Don’t water on sunny days, we’re told, because the water droplets act like miniature magnifying lenses, concentrating the sun’s rays and burning the leaves. Well, this is, quite frankly, nonsense or else you’d see a lot of burned foliage! In reality water droplets evaporate before they can cause any harm. It’s still a good idea to aim water at the base of the plant where it’s needed, and to avoid watering during the heat of the day, when water quickly evaporates. If you can, water in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Watering during the heat of the day is best avoided

Myth 3: Pine Needles Acidify Soil

It’s a commonly held belief that pine needles help to acidify soil. As such they are often recommended for use around acid-loving plants like blueberries, rhododendrons and azaleas. But while fresh pine needles, taken straight from the tree, are indeed ever-so-slightly acidic, once they’re shed, they soon lose that acidity. That means that the pine straw found beneath a pine tree – those old dried-out needles – are in fact not at all acidic and will have no effect whatsoever on soil pH.

Myth 4: Dress Tree Wounds and Cuts

Pruning is a big job, especially over winter. The advice goes that fresh tree cuts should be painted with a special pruning paint, tar or sealant to protect the wound from disease and decay. But save yourself the money! All this does is interfere with the tree’s own natural healing process – a process it is perfectly capable of, all on its own! In time a natural callus will form over the cut, protecting it from bugs and disease. So just leave the tree be.

Don't waste money on wound paint for trees - let nature do the work

Myth 5: Sugared Soil Gives Sweet Tomatoes

Come on… really? Yes, adding sugar to the soil is sometimes suggested as a great way to impart tomatoes with extra sweetness. But look, it’s nonsense okay. There’s simply no correlation between a sweet soil and the sweetness of the fruits. Instead, choose varieties known for their sweet taste. Proper feeding, regular watering and ample sunlight should help to develop the tomato’s fullest flavour.

Sugared soil
Does sugar turn tomatoes into a sweet treat?

Myth 6: Planting in Rows is Best

If straight rows are your thing, fair enough. But planting in regimented rows or blocks isn’t essential and can even encourage problems with pests and diseases. Instead, mix crops up to confuse pests and slow down the spread of disease. Interplanting compatible crops, using companion planting principles, will help plants to thrive while improving their resilience. Clever stuff!

Myth 7: Tea Makes a Great Fertiliser

Tea leaves contain nutrients, so why shouldn’t you splosh leftover tea onto your pot plants? Okay, so while the leaves contain plenty of nitrogen and other nutrients, these nutrients aren’t necessarily in an accessible form, while other elements found in tea, such as aluminium and fluorine, may actually hinder growth. Stick to using a proper liquid feed for your pot plants.

Leftover tea may not be as good for plants as you might think

Sorting the myths from the reality can be liberating it has to be said. And there’s plenty more nonsense out there, believe me! Let’s get the debate going…drop me a comment below and tell me of any gardening myths you’ve come across. Let’s ditch the dross and seek the truth!

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Show Comments


"similar to the tea question above is it ever worth adding used coffee grains to plants? some say yes, some say no..."
phoebe tomlin on Friday 18 December 2020
"I have read both too. There is some research that sustained applications of coffee grounds can actually hinder plant growth, so I would avoid adding too much to any individual plant."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 21 December 2020
"Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen but you are better off with them contributing their nitrogenous goodness to the compost pile rather than directly applying near growing plants."
Elizabeth on Monday 4 January 2021
"Thanks for that Elizabeth. I've heard similar."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 5 January 2021
"I appreciate anyone taking the time to express their opinions on various topics related to vegetable gardening. As in the above comments on adding coffee grounds directly around growing plants. Without intending any insult, can we, the novice gardener take your comments as gospel truth, or do we still have to verify with known experts? I really want to do things right and don't want to continue perpetuating "myths". Thank you "
Kerry Dillenburg on Monday 18 January 2021
"Hi Kerry. All our articles and videos are thoroughly researched - and we're all gardeners with first-hand experience. While we can't always be 100% correct all of the time, we like to think we're very close! So, yes, you should be able to trust the advice given in our articles and videos. The novice gardener can trust us. :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 January 2021
"Thank you. I will take your word as gospel unless and until proven otherwise. I appreciate you getting back to me so quickly. Happy gardening to all! and good night ;0)"
Kerry Dillenburg on Tuesday 19 January 2021
"Thanks Kerry - and very happy gardening to you too!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 19 January 2021
"Cochise county Arizona. Spider mites and white flies have been taking over my garden and almost killed off my artichokes. Sticky cards are up but still had to spray Neem for the mites. "
dmcAZ on Wednesday 28 July 2021
"I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds like a particularly vicious attack - especially having both pests in such numbers at the same time. I hope the situation has improved since then."
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 28 July 2021
"In the 70's I grew up with a 1/2 acre family garden upstate NY. The one myth my father drilled into my head was "Don't pick bean when the leaves are wet, it will cause 'Bean Rust'" I'm not disputing 'Bean Rust' is a true gardening issue. Anyways, after I started my own gardens I have and maintained this rule for the first 5 years or so. However, after several job changes and relocations up and down the east coast, USA, I have had to forgo this rule. Main reason was do to jobs and working hours on afternoon shifts. Second is that, I learned peek freshness is in the morning, also, my gardens were typically exposed to early morning dew or daily showers when crops were ready. Long story short, picking Beans without wet leaves was generally not a option. I have never noticed that I created 'Bean Rust' that was in a way reflected in the quality of the Beans or plants. So my question is, does handling the wet plants cause the Rust or is it more a bacteria's presence?"
Michael on Friday 2 December 2022
"The landscaper I worked for avoided watering in morning or at night -- plants,like other creatures, need water when they're thirsty. Laying down water when lawns and vegetation is already damp with dew encourages fungus. He watered in mid to late afternoon after peak sun but when plants were eager for water, the soil dry and permeable, and plants take it up quickly enough to offset evaporation. "
Peter on Saturday 3 December 2022
"Hi Michael. I haven't ever heard of that suggestion, and would always just pick my beans as and when I need them. If you waited for everything to be dry here in the UK you might be waiting quite a while! Generally, as Peter suggests, it's good to have water hanging around on foliage where that's possible. Letting plants dry off a bit between rain showers and ensuring good air flow between plants can reduce the risk of disease."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 December 2022
"While I agree that you shouldn't paint tree wounds; please note there is an exception when it comes to Red and Live Oaks. Spray painting is essential to prevent the spread of Oak Wilt. You can confirm this information with many Universites. "
Shanna on Sunday 11 December 2022
"While I agree that tree wounds should not be painted, there is an exception for Red and Live Oaks. It is essential to seal the wounds to prevent the spread of Oak Wilt. You can verify this with many universites."
Shanna Ciano on Sunday 11 December 2022
"Many thanks for bringing this to our attention Shanna - very helpful to know this."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 13 December 2022
"40 years ago as a High School Agriculture student we were told this rhyme: "Sand into clay, money thrown away, clay into sand, money in the hand." It stuck with me, obviously :) "
Stephen Norris on Saturday 20 May 2023
"That's a super rhyme Stephen - very catchy! Thanks for sharing this. :-)"
Ben Vanheems on Monday 22 May 2023

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