7 Gardening Myths

August 28, 2010

Do you sometimes wonder if your green thumb is browning around the edges?

You follow conventional wisdom, but you just don’t get the results promised. You mulch this and fertilize that, yet your garden doesn’t thrive. It’s enough to make you want to hang up your hoe.

Gardening myths and irrigation Well friend, you may be victim of garden myth.

As an avid gardener, I’ve tested many common theories of gardening, and I’ve discovered that quite a bit of that gardening wisdom isn’t so wise.

It’s easy to understand how those tried-and-true gardenisms have acquired their accepted status. The need to condense experience and information in our expanding gardening world has led to an oversimplification of complex gardening experiences.

Add to this the ever changing world of gardening and the influence of marketing that inevitably sways gardeners’ habits, and it’s no wonder we’re confused.

Here are the top 7 well 8 myths that may be keeping your garden from becoming the pride of the neighborhood.

  • Reading is believing

Myth: The information found in gardening books or on a plant container’s label is the final word on this plant’s care.

Fact: Two words — micro climates. Not only is the general information on plant care applied across the entire spectrum of zones it can be grown in, lumping high veld with coastal, but it also can’t distinguish between the staggering diversity of micro climates contained within even one city.

Resolution: Talk to your local nursery professional or ask your neighbors what experiences they’ve had with a particular plant or category of plants.

  • Greywater irrigation stinks

Myth: Recycled water smells and in bad for plants

Fact: Recycled household water contains low amounts of nutrients, this low dose of nutrients and absorbed into the soil daily and will allow you to fertilize less often. Greywater might never replace the need to fertilizer however.
Using greywater to irrigate your garden does not add unbecoming odours to the outdoors, easy maintenance prevents any occurrence of malodours.

Greywater naturally contain low levels of soaps that keep the bugs away. This point leads me to the next myth.

Resolution: Stop wasting clean drinking water on your plants, they thrive in the dirt. Is the water you were splashing around in the bath not good enough for your lawn? Go green and start recycling your wash water.

  • A bug is a bug

Myth: Aphids are a pest you should always get rid of.

Fact: Recent thinking is improving the lowly aphid’s standing. Aphids attract beneficial predators to your garden, where they eat not only the aphids but other harmful bugs. Think of aphids as benign appetizers to draw these beneficial “hunting” insects to your garden.

Resolution: Hose off excess aphids or use a mild soap solution to wipe off an infestation, but don’t aim for an aphid-free garden.

  • Indigenous, Indigenous, Indigenous

Myth: Conscientious gardeners plant only indigenous.

Fact: Gardeners frequently ask for indigenous plants, believing they must plant only indigenous plants to have a drought-resistant and responsible garden.

The list of such plants available in the trade is a short one. However, there are non-natives, called Bay friendly plants, that offer the same virtues — they are noninvasive, drought tolerant, and hardy. The list of these plants includes a much wider range of offerings.

Resolution: Grow plants that are well suited to the area you live in. Plants that would be able to thrive with minimal irrigation. Cape Town is blessed with a wide variety of local plants that are will suited to our climate.

Photo magic

Myth: Our gardens can look like the photos in garden magazines.

Fact: Umm, no. Those gardens looked great on the day the photos were shot and not for much longer. That’s OK. Gardens are in constant change, and we should embrace the inherent wildness of nature.

Nobody seems to read “Your results may vary” on the bottom of the page.

Resolution: Use the pictures as inspiration, then create your own vision. Enjoy the journey. You’ll get the occasional picture-perfect moment and then it will change and grow into a different photo op.

Stronger is better

Myth: A more potent fertilizer is a better fertilizer.

Fact: This is a particularly pernicious fallacy. Chemical fertilizers and generally any product with a percentage above 10-10-10, are bad for the environment. But they’re not great for the long term health of plants, either.

Plants may respond to the potency of the mix, blooming more quickly and fully, but in the long term, these chemicals will leave the plant depleted. It’s been compared to a sugar rush: immediate euphoria then a crash.

Resolution: Use widely available organic or nonchemical fertilizers, which also have the benefit of being slow-release formulations.

Who needs it?

Myth: I don’t need to fertilize my plants if they look healthy.

Fact: All plants need nutrients on a regular basis. Unless you’re growing vegetables, where you can add soil amendments at the beginning of each planting year, you’ll need to top dress or add fertilizer of some kind to feed your plants.

This is especially true for heavy feeders, such as fruit-bearing shrubs and trees, and potted pots that have a limited volume of soil and thus a limited amount of nutrients.

Resolution: As a general rule, fertilize your plants four times a year. An all purpose blend will be fine, though there are mixes for acid-loving plants and for citrus and fruit trees. If your plants are having trouble flowering, try a 0-10-10 blend.

Eternally yours

Myth: Plants live forever.

Fact: It’s understandable that we all get attached to plants in our garden, and even develop relationships with them. But even with our best efforts, plants have a natural limit to their life span.

Sometimes people are relieved to be informed that they’ve done nothing wrong, that a plant has just reached its natural end. Even us humans don’t live for ever.

Resolution: In a wider sense, sometimes it’s better to replace a sickly plant than keep it on life support. Remove long suffering plants, or plants that no longer fit that location’s needs, and start fresh. This replacing can even be invigorating.


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