Gardening 101

Gardening Myths: Fact or Fiction

There are a great many garden traditions without basis of scientific fact that nonetheless help shape our approach to gardening. Traditions pass through generations and many are as good as gold.

One such seasonal practice is the addition of Epsom salts spread around the root zone of roses for better health and appearance. Epsom salts contains magnesium sulfate, which is critical to plant growth, but science shows no real positive effect of Epsom salts on roses in plant trials. Yet, if the soil is deplete in these essential elements then the benefit could be there. A soil test is always the best bet before using anything on your plants just because great aunt Sally did it.

There are many ‘garden truths’ that are actual myth when analyzed.

•    Our deciduous trees and pines do not ‘make the soil more acid’ if you let their needles and leaves decompose in place beneath tree canopies. Our soil is acid and in turn our oaks, maples and pines produce acid leaves. Compost your leaves in place to feed the plant from which they fell.

•    A tiller, though wonderful in minimizing the physical assault of the earth, is also the worst way to prepare your garden soil. Use a turning fork to avoid killing all the wonderful soil components obliterated by tilling. Also, the fine particles produced by a tiller are not as conducive to growth as a freshly turned soil.

•    Fresh ground wood chips are fine to use as mulch for the garden as long as you do not incorporate the chips into the planting hole. The chips use soil nitrogen and can deplete key foods from plant roots. A good dose of a yearly all-purpose organic fertilizer around each plant will help kick off the growing season.

•    Tree surgery does not require wound dressing such as black paint when cutting off a live branch. Tests show this practice unnecessary and if decay is present it could seal it inside the tree. Make a nice clean cut several inches away from the crotch where the branch attaches to the tree.

•    Don’t add sand to clay with thoughts of improving the soil. Clay, sand and water make bricks. Use compost to help break up the very fine textured clay soil particles.

•    A hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the pot really is not the perfect planting hole size. Plants can die from drowning in our unforgiving clay soil and a hole the same depth of the pot insures the plant does not sink into a depression and it preps the soil for immediate horizontal root growth.

The list is long with entire books written on the subject of garden fact and fiction. Even if the research does not support a specific family tradition of plant care, if your plant looks good and you feel good, who cares?

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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