Over the years, I have come to realize how little I knew about gardening the right way. So much of what I knew as a budding horticulturist was gleaned from school. It wasn’t until I had killed a few plants and tortured many others that I began to learn some basic principles that guide how I work in my own garden today. Many times, we do things to plants and flowers in our gardens for no reason, other than “that is how it has always been done” or “Mom or Dad told us to do it that way”. There may not be any legitimate scientific data backing a certain practice, but that doesn’t stop us from doing it anyhow. Begin to demystify gardening with these truths I have learned.
Myth #1 Add sand to improve clay soil drainage.
Truth: This takes me back to my days sitting in soils class and learning about soil particles. Clay particles are fine and fit nicely between the sand particles which forms a substance similar to concrete. Since every pore is filled with these particles, air exchange and drainage is reduced, if not made impossible. The better choice for clay soils is to choose plants that thrive in them, such as milkweed, indigo, bluestem, or blazing star.
Myth #2 Drought-tolerant plants (native plants) don’t need to be watered.
Truth: They are still live plants that need water for survival, though maybe not as much as others. Match plants to your site, for sure. But native plants are only drought tolerant to a point and may need water during prolonged dry spells. Until they get established, they are very vulnerable to drought stress. Establishment Guide
Myth #3 After pruning a tree, treat open wounds with a wound dressing.
Truth: There is good research suggesting that treating a tree scar/wound after you have removed a branch is bogus. Trees are resilient and can heal themselves. Treatments can delay the healing and even lock in plant diseases.
Myth #4 Amend the soil when planting trees and shrubs.
Truth: At the arboretum, we have heavy clay soils. For years, I put soft soil (compost) in the backfill when I planted trees. I have come to find out, that is like planting the tree in a pot. The new roots often circle the hole, unwilling to venture into the hard clay soils. This restricted root growth slows establishment. Use the native soil in the backfill and force the tree to acclimate to its new surroundings.
Myth #5 Plant a tree even with the soil line.
Truth: In our clay soils, it is better to plant a tree high. Find the root flare and plant the top of the flare at least 2 inches above the soil line. It can even be 6 inches higher. Planting too deep can deprive the growing point of oxygen or actually drown the tree if the soil stays too wet. Recommended Trees for South-Central Kansas
Myth #6 Apply turf fertilizer early in the spring to help encourage new growth.
Truth: Applying early spring turf fertilizer only encourages top growth, resulting in more mowing in the spring and summer. It does very little for the root system of the turf. In our climate, the focus needs to be on developing healthy roots. That is why we fertilize in the fall (October and November). Turfgrass growth slows in the fall as nutrients are translocated to the roots for the leaves. This translocation process stores energy in the roots in preparation for next year, helping it survive the summer with less stress.
Myth #7 If a plant is under stress, it should be fed.
Myth: If a plant is under stress, fertilizer will not solve the problem. Usually it is environmental (dry soils, overwatering, compacted soils, root damage, etc.). Our soils generally have adequate nutrients, so diagnose the problem to find the solution.
Myth #8 When it comes to fertilizers and pesticides, if a little is good, twice as much is better.
Truth: I have experienced this in a number ways over the years, from dead grass to burned foliage, causing me a few sleepless nights. There are precise directions for a reason and label directions have been carefully developed to help you avoid catastrophes. We want immediate results to a problem so we “kick it up a notch”. BAD IDEA!!! Too much of a good thing is usually harmful and often results in unforeseen consequences. Using the exact recommended dosage is always the best practice. Trust me.
These are some truths I learned the hard way. Unfortunately, some plants took the brunt of my misinformation. Myths, old wives tales, and folklore abound in the world of gardening. Learn from my mistakes. You and your plants will both benefit.