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Gardening Myth Busters

From the MSU Extension Service


Photo from Wix

Don’t believe everything you hear. That piece of advice can be applied to gardening as well. We’ve all done something because a friend said that it works. Or maybe you do something because that’s the way you’ve always been told to do it. While those techniques may not be completely wrong, they often don’t have the scientific evidence to back them up. Here at Extension, we believe in using research-based information to help us garden. We’ve compiled a few gardening myths you’ve probably heard, and we’ll sort out what the truth is.


Add gravel to the bottom of containers to help with water drainage.


We’ve all purchased beautiful containers and later realized there is not a drainage hole at the bottom. You’ve probably heard that all you have to do is place a layer of gravel at the bottom of the container to help with drainage. (I’m guilty of this one!) The truth is, the gravel will only hinder water movement within the container, so it’s not recommended to try this. Instead, drill several small holes in the bottom of the container and be sure to use good soil. Your plants will thank you!


Newly planted trees need to be staked.


It is usually not necessary to stake a new tree. Any tree that has a sturdy root ball does not need the extra support to help it stand up. However, staking may be helpful if the tree cannot stand up by itself or if it’s planted in a windy area. Information Sheet 0965, “Transplanting Trees & Shrubs in the Landscape,” is a helpful resource for learning how to properly stake a tree if needed.


Epsom salt will help prevent blossom end rot on your tomatoes.


Many people claim that Epsom salt is beneficial to your tomatoes and can keep them from developing blossom end rot. This is not true. Blossom end rot is caused by a calcium deficiency and inconsistent watering, and Epsom salt does not contain calcium. It may actually promote blossom end rot more than prevent it! Extension publication 2975, “Tomato Troubles: Common Problems with Tomatoes,” can help you identify other physiological problems that often occur in tomatoes.


Apply pruning paint or wound dressing when pruning trees.


There is no need to paint over cuts. Trees have the natural ability to heal (compartmentalize), so applying paint does not provide any added benefits. The best thing you can do is make clean cuts with properly sharpened tools.


Our friends at Oregon State Extension and Penn State Extension have great resources that address other common gardening myths.


Gardening myths are easily spread around the Internet and social media. If you have questions about any of the “hacks” you see, feel free to reach out to your local Extension agent to see if there is any reliable research behind it.

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