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Nine Gardening Myths Debunked

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Can you make tomatoes taste sweeter by feeding them sugar? Do potatoes prefer being planted on a religious holiday? And do leaves really get sunburnt?

With so many weird old wives tales surrounding the art of gardening, it isn’t the simplest of hobbies to pursue. Thankfully, we have separated the wheat from the chaff and untangled some classic gardening myths so you don’t have to. Here are eight pesky horticultural hoaxes well and truly debunked.

  1. Saplings need to be staked
  2. Wrong! We’re taught to secure a sapling to a stake in the ground to support the young tree and keep it upright. But this might actually do more harm than good. Research has shown that trees without support will develop thicker trunks, more supportive roots and more resistance to breakages – because they aren’t reliant on a pole. Here’s the science bit: the buffeting from the wind makes the tree release ethylene gas, which then triggers the formation of wood-strengthening lignin – a process called “thigmomorphogenesis”. That’s one to impress the neighbours with.

  3. Watering plants on a hot day will magnify the sun and burn the leaves
  4. Nope, leaves can’t get sunburn. The idea that water would act like a magnifying glass and scold a plant is simply not true. However, watering thirsty plants early in the morning or after the sun has gone down is generally a more efficient strategy, because less water will evaporate off.

  5. Putting gravel in the bottom of a pot helps it to drain
  6. It’s generally accepted advice that popping gravel, stones or broken crock at the bottom of a pot will help it to drain and prevent waterlogged plants. In fact, the water will just sit in the soil above the stones and your plant’s roots will have less space in which to grow. If you want better drainage, blend stones or sand into the actual soil.

  7. If my lawn is brown it is dead
  8. After this summer’s heat wave, there aren’t too many green patches of grass around. But you’ll be pleased to hear that brown grass does not necessarily mean that your lawn is dead – it is probably just dormant. Dormancy occurs when grass is exposed to intense heat and deprived of water, and although it may look dead, there will be a “crown” inside the plant that is still alive. Most lawns can tolerate drought for four to six weeks, after which you might want to get the hose out…

  9. You should add sand to heavy clay soil
  10. Nope! Do this and you risk creating a substance that is more like concrete than earth. If you want to make clay soil easier to dig, you should turn some organic matter into it – like compost, sphagnum moss, manure, or grass cuttings. This will help water and roots penetrate the soil and will add crucial nutrients too.

  11. Sealing pruned branches will keep out disease
  12. Incorrect! We’re told that after pruning a tree’s branch, we should seal the “wound” with tar, paint, or shellac to stop disease, decay or insect infestations. But trees have their own self-healing technique and will grow a callus at the site of the cut to keep pathogens at bay. Our paints can actually prevent these calluses or scabs from forming. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree!

  13. Adding sugar to the soil makes tomatoes sweeter
  14. Afraid not. How much sugar is in the soil will have absolutely no bearing on how sweet a plant’s tomatoes will be. Sweetness is all down to the plant’s genetics and how much sun it gets. If you’re partial to a saccharine tomato simply seek out a sweet variety. Save your sugar and make a nice Victoria sponge instead.

  15. You should plant potatoes on Good Friday
  16. When you consider the date for Easter moves each year – by up to a month – you realise this one makes no sense at all. Rumour has it that 16th Century Irish Catholics were suspicious of this plant, which was brought over from the Andes, but eased their concerns by dousing them with Holy Water and planting them on Good Friday. In truth, it’s best to get them in the soil once spring has definitely sprung, and not before, to prevent frost damage.

  17. Talking to your plants will help them grow
  18. Actually, as whacky as it sounds, there could be some truth in this. When we sing or talk we emit carbon dioxide – and plants need this to grow. You could simply breathe on them, but that wouldn’t be as fun as belting out Build Me Up Buttercup with a hoe as a makeshift microphone

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