I recently attended a Master Gardener’s seminar and the guest speaker this year talked about gardening myths and remedies that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
He stated that he put the most popular myths and remedies under scientific scrutiny to find out which practices really worked and those that didn’t and in fact could make matters worse. The discussion ranged all the way from the practice of using beer to rid your garden of slugs to the use of chewing tobacco, urine, and other concoctions to rid your garden and home of unwanted pests.
However, I found a few topics to be of particular interest, mainly because I’ve heard about them over the years from many gardeners young and old, including my family. And, after listening to him, I will stop doing one, and was thankful that I’d never indulged in the other.
Myth #1 – Placing Broken Pottery at the Bottom of a Container
The first being the practice of putting pebbles, broken pottery, or other such material in the bottom of a container to aid in drainage, in the hopes of keeping the roots moist but not wet. He discovered that when this was done, what really happened is that the non-absorbent medium caused water to remain in the upper half of the container contributing to root rot, and other plant damage. The reason for this was that the water wasn’t readily able to move from the growing media through the courser, possibly compacted material. This myth minimizes the amount of growing area plants have available to grow in. He suggested either buying a better-quality growing mix, and/or adding perlite to help with drainage.
I do use a quality growing mix, but I have always placed a few large pebbles on the bottom of containers, because that is what I heard and saw many others before me do. However, after hearing this myth dispelled, this reminded me of a story I’d heard years ago about a little girl watching her mom prepare the Sunday roast by cutting off the meat on both ends before she put it in the pan. When she asked her mom why she did this, the mother replied, “this is how my mother, your grandmother always did it.” So, on her next visit to her grandmother’s house, the little girl asked her why she cut the ends off the roast, and her grandmother replied, “I did this because my roasting pan was too small.” The moral of this story is that I should have been more like the little girl than the mom.
Myth #2 – How to Plant Trees
The second experiment had to do with the planting of trees, and the myths surrounding this time- honored tradition. Who doesn’t remember watching a tree planted while you were young; grow up to become part of the family, filling pictures and memories as the years went along? Though the discussion revolved mainly around the girdling of a tree and the remedies on how to prevent and/or resolve this deadly problem, the main point he was trying to get across, is to make sure that the tree was planted at the appropriate depth, and that the soil in the hole was not smooth from the spade or shovel. Make sure that you rough up the soil so that the roots can penetrate the surrounding dirt as it matures. He also recommended that you talk with your local nurseries to try and get them to use fabric containers instead of the time-honored plastic nursery pots, because fiber pots have been found to significantly decrease the chance of the roots circling in the container as they sit on the lot waiting to be bought and planted. Read this article for instructions on how to properly plant trees and shrubs.
Paula M. Christensen is a hobby greenhouse gardener who incorporates natural and organic feed and insect management.