9 Common Gardening Misconceptions

by Jan Cashman

A tree branch that is 2 feet off the ground this year will move higher up the trunk as the tree grows; crabgrass is prevalent in Bozeman area lawns;ants are needed to open peony blossoms. None of these are true. There are a lot of misconceptions about gardening. Some are harmless, but others, if taken as fact, can cause you to do harm to your plants. Here are more gardening misconceptions that you may have believed were true:

  1. All Newly Planted Trees Should Be Staked

    Don’t stake if you don’t have to. It is thought that tree trunks grow stronger without stakes as trees establish. You should stake trees if 1) you live in a windy area, 2) the tree is top heavy (very tall or has a small root system in comparison to its top), 3) you are planting it on a city boulevard where vandalism could be a problem. Check often to make sure the trunk of the tree is not being strangled by the strap or hose attached to the stake. We recommend leaving stakes on no longer than 2 years.

  2. Add sand to clay soils to improve them.

    Adding sand to clay soils can make your soil worse by binding with the clay to make your soillike concrete. Adding organic matter, such as peat moss, compost, or well-rotted manure, is a better way to improve clay soils

  3. If a plant is listed for hardiness in Zones 2 or 3, we can grow it here.

    Hardiness zones are determined only by the average high and low temperature in an area. There are other factors that affect which trees and plants will survive and grow in an area, such as length of the growing season, soil type, rainfall, humidity, snow cover, temperature fluctuations, and elevation. Some trees and shrubs listed as hardy in Zone 3, or even 2, might not thrive here, while others listed as Zone 4 or even 5 will do well.

  4. If a little water (or fertilizer or herbicide or insecticide) is good for the plant, more must be better.

    Too much water can be just as harmful to trees as not enough. Often we find the planting hole full of water when we are removing a dead tree, because the sprinkler system runs too much and the soil drains poorly.

    Too much fertilizer can also be harmful. In newly plantedplants, too much Nitrogen encourages leaf growth before the root system can handle it. Over fertilized plants eventually decline. Do not fertilize trees after the beginning of July because new leaf growth will be encouraged when the tree should be starting dormancy.

    Always follow label instructions for herbicides and insecticides. Some herbicides, such as Dicamba, when applied too often to kill broadleaf weeds in your lawn,will persist in the soil.

    Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides can get into water sources and pollute the environment.

  5. You don’t need to water drought tolerant plants.

    Even drought tolerant plants may need supplemental water until they get established, especially when the weather is hot and dry.

  6. Trees need to be fertilized every year to keep them healthy.

    Most of the time, trees get the nutrients they need from the soil in which they are planted. Have your soil tested to find out if it is deficient in essential nutrients and needs fertilizer.

  7. Ants will eat your plants, so get rid of them.

    Ants don’t eat plants. They are, for the most part, beneficial to soils because they loosen them. If you find ants on your trees and shrubs, they are probably feeding on the honeydew produced by aphids—and aphids do damage your plants. Control large populations of aphids on the stems and leaves of your plants with either insecticidal soap or malathion before they do serious damage.

  8. Paint all pruning wounds with tree paint.

    Research has shown that the tree will heal itself from a wound and tree paints are not necessary.

  9. A “No Maintenance” landscape.

    There is no such thing as a “No Maintenance” landscape; even paving your whole yard would require some upkeep. A sprinkler or drip system can cut down on time dragging hoses around, but the system needs to be checked to be sure sprinkler heads are working, and adjusted to compensate for rainy or hot weather. Mulched shrub beds with fabric under the mulch to keep weeds down are one way to lower maintenance. But, after a while, weeds will grow on top of the fabric. Lawns need fertilizer, weed control, and mowing, so many people think that eliminating grass will lessen maintenance, but replacing grass with ground covers and flower beds that need to be kept weed free can be more work than mowing.

Just because someone says it, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Investigate gardening hints and stories before you make them part of your gardening routine.