Years ago, my father-in-law kept a stash of Juicy Fruit in his underwear drawer so he could roll up the sticks of gum and poke them into mole holes in his backyard.
He’d heard that the trick would kill the pesky critters, apparently from a buildup of undigested gum. But all he got out of his efforts was fruity-smelling underwear.
That’s because the Juicy Fruit ploy, like many folksy lawn and garden remedies, is pure hooey. And Eric Barrett, an educator with the Ohio State University Extension’s Mahoning County office, is out to set the record straight.
Barrett recently busted a few widely held gardening myths during the Saturday Gardening Series, an educational program organized by the Summit County Master Gardeners.
Here are some of them.
Myth: Chemicals are bad for your landscape.
Fact: Any substance you use in your yard or garden has a chemical makeup, whether it’s natural or synthetic. What’s more important, in Barrett’s view, is the effect the substance has on the environment.
It’s important to find out about the properties of any treatments you use, he said. Even natural or organic remedies that seem benign could harm soil, wildlife, water or other elements of our natural world.
And remember, he said, too much of anything is never a good thing.
Myth: Adding eggshells to the hole when you plant tomatoes will prevent blossom end rot.
Fact: Blossom end rot — a disease that causes dark spots to develop on the bottom of tomatoes — happens when a plant can’t take up calcium from the soil, usually because the plant has gone without water for too long. That can happen even when the soil has plenty of calcium in it, be it from eggshells or any other source.
The best way to prevent blossom end rot is to make sure tomato plants get a consistent and adequate supply of water, Barrett said. An Ohio State fact sheet recommends 1 to 1 1/2 inches of water a week.
Myth: Epsom salts are a cure-all for countless garden problems.
Fact: This is a case in which too much of a good thing can be bad.
Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, so they add magnesium — an important plant nutrient — to the soil.
The problem is that many gardeners use Epsom salts indiscriminately, which can cause too much magnesium to build up in the soil. That can prevent plants from taking up other nutrients.
Better to test your soil to determine whether it needs magnesium, Barrett said. If it does, correct the problem by adding dolomite lime in the amount recommended in the soil test report.
Myth: Adding aspirin to the water will keep cut flowers fresh longer.
Fact: Aspirin won’t keep flowers fresh. Neither will adding wine, pennies or a drop of bleach to the water.
Barrett said it might help to use a floral preservative, but it’s more important to sanitize the vase, recut the stems, remove any leaves that fall below the waterline and check the water level daily. Keeping flowers away from hot or cold drafts also helps prolong their life, he said.
Myth: Peonies need ants on them to bloom properly.
Fact: The presence of ants has nothing to do with successful blooming, Barrett said. The reason ants often congregate on peonies is that they’re attracted to the sugary liquid secreted by the flower buds.
The ants aren’t helpful, but neither are they harmful, he said.
Myth: Putting gravel in the bottom of flower pots improves drainage.
Fact: Surprisingly, research shows that this common practice doesn’t help and might even slow water flow, Barrett said.
A better strategy, he said, is to use a soilless potting mix instead of a mix containing soil, and to make sure the container has drainage holes.
Myth: Spread diatomaceous earth around plants to deter slugs.
Fact: Gardeners often recommend creating a rough surface out of diatomaceous earth, crushed eggshells or other sharp substances, in the hope that slugs won’t want to crawl over them. But in reality, slugs create so much slime that they can even cross a razor blade, Barrett said.
He has a better approach: Lay pieces of damp cardboard around the plants. The slugs will congregate under the cardboard, making it easy to collect and destroy them.
So if these widely held gardening ideas are wrong, how can you tell what’s right?
University researchers are constantly working to determine what works in our landscapes and what doesn’t. There’s more research to be done, Barrett said, but their findings offer reliable guidance on pretty much any lawn or garden issue.
The extension services at land grant universities, such as the University of Kentucky, are great resources. It’s the job of those services to share research-based information with the public.
The University of Kentucky’s website (Fayette.ca.uky.edu) is a good place to look for help online, or you can add the words “university extension” to a Google search to narrow the results to research-based information.
Let’s all commit to gardening better — and more responsibly.