I’m a Snopes.com fan. This is a site that debunks all sorts of urban myths. Recently I’ve become addicted to sites that debunk gardening myths. And, there are so many. Someone posts to Facebook or Pinterest, and then it’s like a snowball of sharing something that is actually untrue.
This is the beginning of a series, where I share garden myths. I’ll warn you in advance I was shocked by how many I had believed and shared prior to this research.
MYTH: Adding fertilizer helps transplants establish faster
TRUTH: Adding fertilizer or other soil amendments to a planting hole isn’t necessary and, in some cases, may discourage a vigorous root system. Nutrient-rich planting holes give roots less incentive to branch out to absorb nutrients and moisture from the surrounding area. Fertilizers, such as phosphorus-rich fertilizers marketed for new transplants, contain salts, which can burn tender new roots if in contact. If you’re concerned about soil fertility, it is better to give plants a nutrient boost by spreading a 1- to 2-inch layer of compost, then 1 to 2 inches of mulch over the planting site. Just be sure to leave a few inches of breathing room around each plant’s stem.
MYTH: Stressed plants need fertilizer
TRUTH: Under stress does not mean nutrient deficient and so adding fertilizer may lead to additional stress. Typically, when a plant is stressed, it’s not from lack of food. Compacted soil, heat, salt spray, faulty planting, or poor placement are more likely to be the cause. Rule out these options before you fertilize because feeding a stressed plant may cause them to use energy in less productive ways.
MYTH: More is better when it comes to fertilizers and pesticides
TRUTH: Always follow the directions on the package, whether its fertilizer or pesticide, because too much could damage the plant, not to mention the environment. Fertilizers can raise salt levels in the soil to toxic levels, burning the roots and stunting plant growth. Overuse of pesticides can have similar detrimental effects on plants by burning the leaves or raising toxicity levels in the soil. Garden products, both organic and synthetic, are extensively tested during research and development to provide safe and reliable results.
MYTH: Feed your roses banana peels
TRUTH: Bananas and avocados contain high levels of potassium, an essential nutrient that all plants need to stimulate growth and produce flowers. Roses and ferns thrive with higher levels of potassium. However burying whole peels may actually lead to less nitrogen. As microorganisms in the soil break down the peels, they extract a significant amount of nitrogen. It’s better to compost the banana peels, then top-dressing your roses with the nitrogen-rich compost.
MYTH: Feed coffee grounds to your rhododendrons
TRUTH: Coffee grounds and tea bags are acidic, and mixing them into the soil can affect pH, very slowly. However, these acids can inhibit plant growth because they tie up nitrogen in the soil as they decompose (just like banana peels), especially if large quantities are added. To lower your soil’s pH purchase a sulfur-based soil acidifier and amend soil following the package instructions. Many popular shrubs, including azaleas, heathers, rhododendrons, and blueberries, appreciate soil with more acidity.
MYTH: Feed your veggies Epsom salts
TRUE: Epsom salts contain magnesium sulfate, and important nutrient for plants like tomatoes and peppers, but so do many other fertilizers. It may be more cost effective and safer for your plants if you use fertilizers created specifically for your use. (Author’s note: I’ve added Epsom salt to my vegetable beds in early spring before planting, and believe it increases my crops.)