Top 5 Gardening Myths

 Peony with Ants

Gardening myths abound and are usually passed down from generation to generation and are told as fact. A myth is a “widely held but false belief or idea” (The Oxford dictionary). There is rarely any scientific evidence to back up a myth. For example, one popular gardening myth is that peonies need ants to bloom.  The truth is that peony flower buds exude a sweet nectar that ants feed on and take back to their nests. Be assured that peonies would still bloom if there were no ants in the area whatsoever.

Here are my Top 5 Gardening Myths

Watering Succulents

Myth: Drought Tolerant Plants Need Less Water Than Other Plants or Do Not Need Water At All!

When first planted, drought tolerant plants need water regularly in the first year or two to establish a good, strong root system. This includes succulents.

Once established I would water drought tolerant plants thoroughly once in the spring and see what happens with the summer weather. During excessively hot weather, you may have to water deeply once every two weeks until the temperatures cool down a bit. Always plant drought tolerant plants in well-draining soil.

Myth: Painting Pruning Cuts Protects Trees From Disease and Insects

When I first started in the gardening business in the early 1980’s everyone used pruning paint to seal fresh pruning cuts, thinking this would protect their trees from disease and harmful insects. Since then, scientific studies have shown that pruning paint and tar are not needed and may even adversely affect the tree wounds. Trees have the wonderful natural ability on their own time to ‘compartmentalize’ or seal a wound. Pruning paint interferes with this natural healing process by trapping moisture under the paint and encouraging diseases to gain a foothold.

Pruning Tools

As you prune, you can help this natural healing process to take place by being proactive and practicing the following:

Always use very sharp pruning tools and sharpen them regularly.

Use Lysol spray on your pruning tools as you work to keep those tools clean and disease-free.

Prune your trees and shrubs when recommended. Take time to identify your trees and shrubs and their pruning requirements. For example: Here in Saskatoon we have a ban on pruning Elm trees from April 1 to August 31. The best time to prune elms is from October to early March.

Clean your pruning tools at the end of each season before storing them for the winter.

If pruning is a daunting task for you, consider hiring qualified arborists to do the job. They are experts in tree care and a wealth of information on trees in general.

Pine Needles

Myth: Pine Needles Acidify Soil

Once again, scientific studies have shown that pine and evergreen needles have almost no influence over soil acidity. When attached to the tree, green pine needles are very acidic. As they turn yellow they have lost most of their acidic value. Once brown and on the ground decomposing, their pH is usually 6 to 6.5 which is very close to 7 (Neutral on the pH scale). The best pH for most plants is between 6.0 and 7.0.

The needle acidity myth is also responsible for the widely held belief that nothing grows under mature evergreen trees. Evergreens are quite shallow-rooted. Any water will be totally taken up by those roots leaving very little for surrounding plants. I have two mature pine trees bordering my back yard lawn. That side of the lawn is very poor as the pines steal most of the lawn’s water supply. At the same time very little sun reaches the area below these evergreens.

Myth: Stones in the Bottom of a Plant Pot Improve Drainage

As long as I can remember I have used a layer of broken clay shards or stones in the bottom of my indoor plant pots before adding soil. This was the transplanting norm. I now use a coffee filter or fine screen cut to size that keeps the soil from escaping the drain holes yet provides great drainage. Don’t forget to empty the pot saucers of any excess water. 

The stones are larger than the soil particles and the soil settles in around them, retaining water and prevents most of the water from escaping. Over time, this can be a recipe for root rot.

Myth: Adding Sand to Clay Soil Improves Drainage

In a garden with predominantly clay soil, it only makes sense to mix in some sand to break up the clay particles. In reality, clay is made up of very fine particles and they fill in around the larger sand particles creating a concrete-like mix when watered. Not a good scenario. 

The very best amendment to add yearly to clay soil is compost. This will do the job of improving drainage. Once drainage is improved over time, then you can add a small amount of sand to the amended soil.

Things you may want to know:


September 20th is National Tree Day in Canada

This day celebrates ‘appreciation of trees, their natural beauty and the many essential benefits they provide’ (Tree Canada). For more information about this event in Saskatoon please go to treecanada.ca.

In the month of July 2023 there were three known cases of Dutch Elm Disease discovered in the City of Saskatoon. For more information and to familiarize yourself with the laws, rules and regulations regarding Elm trees and Elm firewood please visit the Saskatoon.ca website.

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