Does gravel help with pot drainage? Gardening myths debunked

Steve Smith has been gardening for most of his life — so he’s heard all sorts of wives’ tales.

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 have heard just about every conceivable (and 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 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 a pots helps with drainage.” False. The bottom few inches of soil in a container are always going to be saturated. If you add 2 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 percent 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.” Maybe. There is no scientific evidence to prove this myth. Castor oil will repel moles, but the best way to get rid of them is to trap them. Just don’t kill them with body-gripping traps. They are illegal.

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 vegetables 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 — it’s 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 4 to 6 inches thick around trees and shrubs (but not directly up against their stems). It will make them grow like crazy.

“Talking to your plants or playing music will make them grow better.” Maybe. A Japanese scientist has proof that thoughts and feelings do in fact affect physical reality when water is involved. Dr. Masaru Emoto’s research shows that positive influences create positive effects. Since humans are over 50 percent water and plants are over 90 percent water (along with other great reasons), more positivity could help us all. Plus, when we sing or talk we exhale carbon dioxide that 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 and can be reached at

Rhododendrons & Yoga

Attend two free classes and an event next weekend at Sunnyside Nursery: A class on rhododendrons and azaleas is 10 a.m. April 21 and a yoga for gardeners class is offered April 22 at two times — 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. In addition, the American Rhododendron Society Truss Show is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 21. The nursery and garden center is at 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, go to

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