At this peak time in the outdoor gardening season I think I owe readers something specifically on growing things rather than some of the important topics I have been covering in the last several weeks. So here goes!
My friends at the National Garden Bureau just last week published a list of “common myths” that apparently hale from “grandmother’s days.”
They turned to their members and asked for their professional expertise on a few commonly cited garden tips to find out if they were still applicable in today’s gardening world. Turns out most were not. Here are some examples.
Myth: Knock the tops of onions over to make larger bulbs.
Busted!: Actually the opposite is true. If you knock the tops over prematurely, that will stop the bulbing process and thus will make the onion more likely to grow during storage.
Myth: To get sweeter tomatoes, add sugar to the planting hole.
Busted!: Sorry grandma, this is not true. Tomato plants can’t absorb sugar in the soil, they produce it through photosynthesis. The sugar content of a variety is predetermined in the plant’s genetics.
Myth: Pinch the seed pod off if the onion goes to seed.
Busted!: Years ago that was a common practice because older (heirloom) varieties were prone to bolting. In to-day’s world with newer hybrids, if you pinch the seed pod off immediately it will keep the center core of the onion from growing and the end result is a smaller onion that will not store well.
Myth: Perennials won’t bloom the first year, especially bare-root.
Half Busted!: With modern breeding and growing techniques, this is no longer true. Go ahead and plant bare root and potted perennials now and enjoy those blooms the first year, assuming you don’t plant them past the time they naturally would bloom. However, if you buy a potted perennial that requires over-wintering, then you will have to wait through the first winter to get the desired blooms. It’s best to enquire from the seller or a knowledgeable neighbour or friend to find out what to expect that first season after planting.
Myth: Plant peas and potatoes on St. Patrick’s day.
Half Busted!: This can’t possibly be true for all climate zones. It’s much better to refer to the updated USDA (or Canadian) hardiness zone map and plant according the local last-frost dates as recommended by local gardening experts. We assume grandma never moved far from where she was born so she must have lived her entire life in the same hardiness zone!
Myth: Planting tomatoes in a trench or up to the first true leaves promotes a sturdier plant.
Half-Busted!: This one is still true for seed propagated heirlooms and hybrids. Planting deeply does help elongate the rooting area since any point on the stem that comes into contact with the soil will root. The exception is when planting grafted tomatoes because if the scion takes root it will negate the benefits of the grafted root-stock, so never plant a grafted tomato too deeply.
I might add here personally, that I have heard from a large number of garden tomato growers who have tried the grafted jobs, and were disappointed. If you have tried them, or are trying them, I should love to hear from you on this new topic.
Myth: Use tuna fish cans around transplant tomato stems to thwart cut worm.
Not Busted!: Yes, Grandma was correct and frugal with this tip! When both ends of the can are removed and placed around the plant, it acts as a barrier to keep these natural soil surface crawlers from reaching the plant until the stem has thickened past the tender stage. But, may I add, you do not have to use tuna cans. For decades my Dad and I used simple strips of cardboard (not corrugated) pushed into the ground immediately after the tomato plants were planted. This works equally well!
Myth: Add chalk or egg shells to the planting hole for tomato plants.
Not Busted!: Again, a good tip, as both of these items will help prevent blossom end rot in tomatoes since they provide calcium to the fruit (since egg shells take a while to decompose, crush or grind the shells to enable them to dissolve faster).
Myth: Putting egg shell flakes around the base of plants will prevent slug damage.
Not Busted!: Yes, Grandma was right, slugs do not like to crawl over the jagged surface of sharp eggshells so putting a barrier of crushed (not ground too finely) egg shells is a great deterrent.
Myth: Beer traps for slugs.
Not Busted!: Yes, they really do work. And there is even research to show they prefer the light beers over the darker ales and lagers. But, if you get a rain or water the plants, you will need to refill the traps with fresh, undiluted beer as those little critters avoid the watered down stuff.
May I add a comment to this one too? Please do remember that whatever form of beer trap you use for slugs it is important that the edge of the container be even with the soil surface. The slugs are not great mountain climbers and your catch will be slim if you just set the container on top of the soil without digging it in.
Finally, I should like to add one myth of my own that I have encountered on a regular basis for the last three or four decades.
Myth: Once tomato plants start to grow cut off the excess foliage from the outside of the plants to allow more sunlight to get through to ripen the fruit.
Busted!: This idea hails from England where they get far less sunshine than we do here in North America. It is absolutely not necessary to remove foliage from tomato plants—in fact it is not a good idea at all because the foliage draws up nutrients and helps develop the fruits. The only possible exception to this is that some growers of tomatoes like to remove the ‘suckers’ that develop between any two major branches of the plants. These, generally, will never produce fruit, but then, like other foliage just mentioned, a well-foliaged plant will produce a good crop of fruit.