MythBusters: Garden Edition

In the journey to garden enlightenment, we’ve most assuredly heard myriad theories about “the absolute easiest way to get rid of weeds,” or “the only fertilizing trick you’ll ever need!” It can be confusing to sort through these broad speculations and find the most effective route. In an effort to lighten your load, we have conducted our own version of MythBusters. Sit back and get educated on the do’s and don’ts of gardening hacks.

Myth: Plants labeled “full sun” or “full shade” mean that they should spend all day in the sun, or in the shade, respectively. 

Busted: A plant that is “full sun” actually means that it needs a minimum of six hours in the sun. For those full shade plants, they may require up to 2-4 hours in the sun, or they won’t thrive in a densely shaded area. Gee! The more you know.

Myth: Slugs love beer more than the average Joe. Use it to attract them out of their hiding places, then let them drink to their heart’s content – and drown.

Busted (somewhat): Slugs love beer, but we don’t just mean the slugs in your garden. Once beer is poured onto the ground, somehow all the surrounding slugs in your neighborhood receive an invite, and they begin to arrive by the busload. They eat everything on their way in, and then they meet their demise at the first taste of alcohol. As you can tell, this would mean a lot of clean-up and a few too many slug funerals. Instead of putting something in your garden that will have such an unsettling effect, try planting things that slugs hate to encounter. Rather than planting hosta, which slugs adore, opt for the false forget-me-not (Brunnera machrophylla). Slugs detest this plant and its spiny, fuzzy leaves that irritate their soft, slimy bodies.

Myth: Similar to the slug quandary, there’s a common belief that Japanese beetle traps are the best way to get rid of Japanese beetles, A.K.A. scarab beetles. (Context: these traps are a bag or box containing both a sex pheromone and a floral scent, attracting these beetles. They fall into the bag and can’t get out.)

Busted: While it is true that the trap is an effective slayer of Japanese beetles, the traps attract up to four times the amount of beetles that you would already have in your yard. A portion of them will not even end up in your trap, meaning they’d just have an open invitation to eat your plants and lay their eggs. The whole neighborhood would thank you for eradicating their beetles, but is friendship worth it?

Here are some alternatives that won’t compromise your neighborhood dynamics: 

  • As you’re deciding what to plant, swap a flowering cherry tree for a Japanese dogwood (which the beetles don’t like!), or choose a red maple instead of a linden.
  • Who knew geraniums could be a warfare weapon? Planting sacrificial geraniums attracts hungry scarab beetles. After a heavy dose, the beetles become slow, and easy for their predators to eat them. Their chance of survival is considerably decreased. If they happen to dodge another creature’s open jaws, they’ll merely return to the geranium, leaving your other plants in peace.
  • Plant Japanese beetles’ least favorite foods. American bittersweet, dogwood, forsythia, hydrangea, lilac, paper birch, pine, silver maple, spruce, white poplar, and yew are all unpopular in the scarab circle.

Myth: A tree with deeper roots has more access to water and nutrients. 

Busted: The finer roots in the top three inches of soil are called “feeder” roots for a reason! Since these roots are in slightly looser soil, water and organisms can move around more freely, meaning that the tree has a VIP pass to the best nutrients possible. Protect your feeder roots from soil disturbances like construction and soil compaction; anything from a footprint to a tractor can compact the soil around the tree’s roots. This results in a limitation of air and water flow, and less microorganism activity underground. Give your roots the space they need by avoiding machinery, constant traffic from people and/or large animals, and removing organic matter. The tree actually needs those leaves and branches that fall on the roots to maintain their levels of aeration and growth capacity.

Myth: If bees on your property look tired, feed them a solution of water and sugar. This will help them get back to their hive.

Busted!! Bees don’t need humans to feed them (sometimes beekeepers do supplement winter food with sugar water, but leave that to them!). The best way to support a bee when it needs food is to have bee-friendly flowers and plants in your garden. Lavender and sunflowers offer both pollen and nectar. Bees also love oregano, lamb’s ear, black-eyed susans, butterfly bush, and so many other plants!

Myth: Cornmeal gluten is a natural weed killer.

Busted with a caveat: Cornmeal is not effective against weeds, but it does stop the seeds that weeds shed in summer, so that the weeds cannot proliferate. If you consistently use cornmeal gluten on weeds, they will gradually cease growing. If you want to take it for a spin, make sure that your cornmeal gluten has at least 60% protein in it, and sprinkle it around when weeds begin to grow. This could mean early spring. Don’t put it around seeds that you want to grow! It can kill them off. 

Bonus: ants can’t digest cornmeal gluten, so if you have an ant problem, go ahead and sprinkle it wherever you see them marching. It won’t affect your mature plants.

Myth: Who wants to try the DIY urine fertilizer? Though it may be a startling proposition, it is supposed to be chock full of nutrients that plants need.

Truth: If you dilute it well (one part urine, 30-50 parts water), it becomes a well-balanced source of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and trace elements. No need to worry if you are taking vitamins or medication that don’t seem plant friendly; it’s so diluted that any extra ingredients are negligible. Make sure it is fresh! Otherwise, it turns into ammonia at about the 24-hour mark. Apply to the base of your plants once per month, or more frequently if you have rain. We linked an article here so you can read up on it. 

Do you have a myth that you busted or proved to be true? Let us know in the comments below. 

We myth you! See you next thyme,

The Team at My Thyme Gardens

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