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"Gardening Myths and Wives Tales," by the Whistling Gardener

Simple and wonderful spring flowers. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Simple and wonderful spring flowers. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

I have been employed on and off in the horticultural industry since I was 14 (which is an incredible 56 years ago) and during that time I think I have heard just about every conceivable crazy idea about what to do and what not to do in the garden.

Here are a few on the top of my list. Some are true, some are false and some are just impossible to prove one way or the other, but all make for interesting conversation.

Never water during the heat of the day or you will burn the leaves.” FALSE. A droplet of water cannot act like a magnifying glass and even if it did, the water would never get hot enough to burn anything. However, the best time to water is in the morning because there is minimal evaporation.

Cut an earthworm in half and it will regenerate itself into two worms.” FALSE. Earthworms are only capable of regenerating a new “tail” (the area behind the bump known as the clitellum). If you chop one in half above the bump it will most likely be a goner.

Lime kills moss.” FALSE. While lime will help our grass compete better against moss, it will not kill moss. Iron is usually what we apply to kill moss.

“Gravel in the base of pots helps with drainage.” FALSE. The bottom few inches of soil in a container are always going to be saturated. If you add two inches of gravel all that it accomplishes is to raise up the saturated zone by two inches. If you want better drainage, blend more sand or pumice into your soil.

Coffee grounds are good for the garden.” TRUE. Coffee grounds contain 1% to 2% nitrogen, are only slightly acidic and they are a good source of organic material. They will not, however, change your soil pH enough to turn hydrangeas from pink to blue. In my opinion, the best use of coffee grounds is to either throw them into the compost pile or mix them with other mulches and spread them over the surface of the soil.

Control moles with Juicy-Fruit gum or human hair.” DEPENDS ON WHO YOU TALK TO. There is no scientific evidence that I know of to prove this myth. Castor oil will repel moles but the best way, in my opinion, to get rid of moles is to trap them.

Put sugar in the hole when you plant your tomato and it will be sweeter.” FALSE. Sweetness in tomatoes is controlled by genetics. However, a good healthy soil will always make veggies taste better overall.

Wood chips from sick trees will spread disease in the garden.” FALSE. Wood chips work best when you spread them on the surface as a mulch and it is best not to incorporate them into the soil. I have found that arbor chips that contain a certain amount of green material make a fabulous mulch when spread four to six inches thick around trees and shrubs (but not directly up against their stems) and it will make them grow like crazy.

Talking to your plants or playing music will make them grow better.” DEPENDS ON WHO YOU TALK TO. A Japanese scientist Dr. Masaru Emoto did groundbreaking research with water providing proof that thoughts and feelings do in fact affect physical reality. You can check out his research on his website,  or by reading any one of the many articles written about him and his research but in summary, positive influences create positive effects. Since humans are over 50% water and plants are over 90% water (along with other great reasons), more positivity could help us all. Plus, when we sing or talk we exhale carbon dioxide which plants use to grow so that helps too.

Anyway, these are just a few of the many myths out there. Let me know some of your favorites.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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