Gardening Myths- Fact, Fiction or Somewhere in-Between?

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Just the other day, a friend gave me a plant that I really wanted. A gardening myth is if you say ‘Thank You,’ it will die or not grow well. Keeping that in mind, just in case, my response to him was this plant will have a special place in my garden. After talking with several folks, there have been a variety of responses to this old wives’ tale. One friend said she accidently said thank you and the plant she was given died. Another said they had never hear of this and always said thank you, but couldn’t say if this had any bearing on the plants health. An elderly lady said that she asks the person to turn their head and she will ‘steal’ the plant. Don’t know where this started, but let’s look at a few gardening myths and see if they are true or a myth.

Myth: If I treat my yard for white grubs this year, I won’t have Japanese Beetles next year.

Fiction – Japanese Beetles strong flying ability allows adult beetles to infest areas several miles away from where they emerge. Even though you can control Japanese beetle grubs in your yard, they will fly in from everyone else’s untreated yard.

Myth: Adding sugar to the planting hole when planting tomatoes will result in the tomatoes harvested being sweeter.

Fiction- Tomato plants can’t absorb sugar in the soil, they produce it through photosynthesis. The sugar content of a variety is predetermined in the plant’s genetics.

Myth: You need both a male and female tree in order to get fruit.

Somewhere in between: Some fruit trees are self-sterile, meaning they will not set fruit from their own pollen. To get tree to set fruit another variety of the same fruit must be planted nearby, ideally within 50 feet.  Plant breeders have developed self-pollinating trees that do not require a second variety.  These trees provide their own pollen and they fertilize themselves! You can find many self-pollinating peach, apple, and pear trees.

Myth: Ants are integral to helping peony flowers open.

Fiction: Ants are only attracted to the sugary secretions produced by the peony bud and do nothing to help the flower open. In exchange for the nectar, ants help keep away other insect pests that may damage the flowers. If cutting peonies for flower arrangements, simply dip buds in water to help remove the ants.

Myth: Use salt in an asparagus patch to help control weeds.

Fiction – Asparagus are relatively salt tolerant. Even so, using salt in an asparagus patch can eventually cause excessive salt buildup in the soil causing both plant damage and soil structure damage.

Myth: Apply turf fertilizer early in the spring to help encourage new growth.

Fiction – Early spring turf fertilizer encourages top growth at the expense of root growth. Good root growth is necessary for turf survival through the summer. Fertilize Centipede in mid-June, St. Augustine in mid-May, Bermuda and Zoysia when turf fully greens-up. For best results, take a soil sample and follow recommendations applying at these recommended times.

Myth: You should always amend the backfill when planting trees.

Fiction – You should only amend the backfill in heavy clay soils. Otherwise, use the native soil to backfill the planting hole. Amending the soil can restrict outwards root growth as it can be easier to grow in the amended soil and the difference between the amended soil and the native existing soils can restrict water movement.

Myth: Nothing grows under a walnut tree

Fact: This is one old wives’ tale grounded in truth. The black walnut, Juglans nigra, produces a chemical that destroys or deters plant competition, a process known as allelopathy.

Myth: Plant potatoes only on Good Friday.

Fiction:  Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, and Easter Sunday occurs at different times in March and April in any given year. Potatoes are native to the Andes of South America and weren’t introduced to Europe until the 1500s. Irish potatoes in Hoke and Scotland Counties should be planted between mid-February to mid-March.

Myth: A bowl of beer in the garden attracts snails and slugs and drowns them.

Fact:  Snails and slugs will be attracted to the beer and drown in the container.  However, they are attracted by many things.  It is the trap that will kill them, not just the bait. You could attract these pests with grapefruit rinds, banana peels, a damp wooden board, etc..

Myth: Cover newly pruned areas with varnish, tar or paint

Fiction: There really isn’t a way to keep fungal organisms out of a new cut. In about half of the situations where these wound dressings are used, the tree’s heartwood decays faster than it would have without the topical application. Instead, simply make a clean cut just outside the branch collar and leave it alone. If pruned properly, trees can take advantage of natural defense mechanisms to ward off most decay problems.

Myth: Organic Pesticides are less toxic than synthetic ones

Somewhere in between: Misused pesticides can be harmful, regardless of whether they are considered natural or synthetic. Pyrethrum, for example, is made from chrysanthemums but is still toxic to people and pets when handled improperly. Whenever possible, it’s best to select the least toxic control option available because, even if not lethal, many of these pesticides can cause serious health complications. Safe storage of these products can help prevent any harmful accidents. Read and follow all label directions, and remember that these products are tools, not miracle workers or silver bullets. Pesticides cannot correct mistakes made in plant selection, installation, or maintenance.

Visit for an article on less toxic pesticides.

Myth: Newly planted trees need to be staked and guy-wired

Fiction: Staking a tree can hinder its proper development. Allowing the tree to sway in the wind encourages the development of stronger stabilizing roots. If staked, the tree may become dependent on this support, preventing the root system from becoming strong and healthy. If it is truly necessary, tie the trunk loosely to the stake using fabrics such as T-shirts or bicycle inner tubes to avoid damaging the bark, and remove the support after one growing season. Visit for complete information on planting trees and shrubs.

Visit the following link to check-out complete researched based information on gardening myths from Washington State University:

Written By

Photo of Shannon NewtonShannon NewtonArea Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (910) 875-3461 (Office) shannon_newton@ncsu.eduHoke County, North Carolina
Updated on Dec 19, 2017
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