10 Gardening Myths Better Off Left Alone

4 comments by Halley -Author at MIGardener

Written by - Luke from MIgardener 

At MIgardener we think that the same quality information should be given to everyone in order to fully inspire, motivate, and teach the topic of gardening. One of the things that have always frustrated me (as you may know if you watch our YouTube channel) that we occasionally debunk garden myths that are spread around by the thousands of bloggers with the help of social media sites like Pinterest and Facebook trying to get a click. We take a different approach to this, by hoping that we get a click by telling you the truth, because if the truth isn't more exciting than a lie, then I fear for our future. Also, I continue to ask this, if the post goes viral, why would anyone want to be made famous by telling a lie? It loses the cool factor pretty quickly then.

Myth #1
Pine Needles Acidify the Soil:

Fact: Pine trees often grow in acidic soils, and the pine needles are indeed acidic, however, you could dump tons of them into your garden with almost zero pH change. This is because the breakdown occurs so slowly that the leaching of the acidity from the needles doesn't have time to acidify the soil. So go ahead and use them as mulch, they work great.

Myth #2
Male and Female Peppers

Peppers have lobes. Whether they have 3 lobes, 4 lobes, 5 lobes, or just 1 lobe, the flavor and texture are exactly the same. Further, pepper fruit does not have gender since the flower itself contains the sex organs. To take this one step further and say that a male pepper is better for cooking than female peppers is just well....stupid. 

Myth #3
Baking Soda Sweetens Tomatoes

 Baking soda is alkaline, and alkaline foods will balance sour or acidic foods. This works better in the kitchen than it does in the garden and should be completely avoided. The tomato plant does not uptake baking soda and then mixes it with tomato juices to make a sweeter tomato. Plants (all plants) uptake specific things that they need, and baking soda believe it or not will not be absorbed into the roots since they will only take up specific nutrients that are needed. The thing it will most likely do is react with the soil's slightly acidic nature and just foam like a model volcano that you made for your 5th grade science project. This results in Carbon dioxide, and water. So if anything your plants will just get a little drink of water. 

Myth #4
Potato Towers Work

: They don't. Potato towers have been the bane of my existence since beginning teaching people to garden. Everyone swears by them, even though everyone who swears by them has never gotten one to work successfully. Please note: I am not saying you will not get potatoes, you will, but you will not get any more than had you just hilled them with 6-7 inches of soil. This wastes time, effort, and money which is a triple annoyance. Potatoes are in the same family as tomatoes, however, will not send roots all along the stem. and NO. There is no such thing as a determinant and indeterminant potatoes when it comes to growing all season long. It refers to when they put their potatoes out. (determinant - all at once) (determinant - spread out throughout the growing season). 

Myth #5
Red Plastic Mulch Will Ripen Tomatoes Faster

Any fabric or plastic mulch will help to ripen tomatoes faster. This is because the mulch helps to insulate the soil, keep it warmer, and thus resulting in less stress on the plant during cold weather, and more moisture retention during hot weather. Your plants cannot sense color and will do no more good at ripening fruit faster than threatening to chop down your plants, or blowing a coaching whistle at them. Further, the myth states that the red mulch absorbs all the color except for red (yes this is how it works), but then derails when the myth states that the red reflection will ripen the tomatoes faster..... I can't make this up. Fact: Tomatoes are ripened by ethylene gas, which is a colorless odorless gas that is emitted when the fruit ripens. You can have a similar effect by putting a ripe apple in a paper bag with green unripe tomatoes. And no, the apple does not have to be red for this to matter.

Myth #6
Growing a garden is expensive

It CAN be expensive, however, a garden is very much what you make it. We made raised beds for $28 each, filled them for $10 per bed, $5 per bed in organic fertilizer, and started everything from seed that might have cost us $15 total in seed. The only thing costing gardeners money are unnecessary add-ons, lots of tools, buying more seeds than they can plant, and buying plant starts instead of starting from seed.

Myth #7
Grass clippings as mulch spread weed seeds

They CAN spread weed seeds and grass seeds, but generally they don't if you use the clippings from grass that has not yet gone to seed. Grass in fact makes terrific mulch and adds good organic matter to the garden and nutrients to your plant as it breaks down. Its small particle size allows for many air pockets to be formed resulting in good insulation for the soil and suppresses weeds actually!  

Myth #8
Adding sand to clay will loosen it

: Congratulations, you have now made concrete! Clay contains super small particles. The thought is that sand has a bigger particle size (this is true, it does.) and this will break up the clay and prevent the smaller particles from clumping together. This would be great, except it is the wrong approach. The sand will simply bind up the particles even more. Imagine putting oil on water, The oil floats on the water because the density is less than water. The density has nothing to do with what I am saying, but it was the image of the water and oil that I wanted you to see. Now imagine you take an emulsifier like dish soap and add it to the mix. You can now combine the soap and the water together.  The key to breaking up clay is the emulsifier of the soil - gypsum. You must get in between the clay particles in order to break them up, and that can only be done with something even smaller than the clay particles, that something is Gypsum, not sand. 

Myth #9
Beans Fix Nitrogen to Surrounding Hungry Plants

Beans are in fact a nitrogen-fixing legume, that has the ability to convert the nitrogen from the air into usable nitrogen for plant growth. The issue with this myth is that it is based on convenience. It is very convenient to say that a Nitrogen hungry plant like a tomato can be sufficed by simply planting beans next to it. This is false because the bean plant uses that nitrogen once it flowers and fruits. The only way to get the extra nitrogen in the soil is by chopping the bean plant down, and letting the entire plant decompose in the soil BEFORE it flowers and fruits, which WILL lead to more nitrogen being added to the soil. But it is not as grandiose as the latter idea is it? 

Myth #10
Ornamental vegetable plants are not edible 

  Whether it is ornamental kale, cabbage, basil, thyme, sage, peppers, Or any other vegetable you can think of, they are all 100% edible. Some might not taste the best, but they are edible. I hear mom's all the time at the greenhouse telling their kids about how they are poisonous and it makes me cringe more than nails on a chalkboard.  

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  • Shannon

    Love it, Luke! And super informative about what to use to loosen heavy clay soil. I learned somewhere awesome today. And you really made me laugh, which I love. Thank you!

  • Sharon I

    Very interesting and informative information especially about the pine needles as I heard that early on.

  • Lauri Eide

    Thanks, this was helpful. I had just heard about determibate/indeterminate potatoes. This article cleared that up for me.

  • Anna L

    Thank you. You have taught me so much. I’m always going back to your you tube videos. As the season begins I’m already planning my attack on the bugs. Prevention!
    Thanks again

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