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Friday, June 14, 2024
Growing Together: Myth-busting some common garden ‘wives’ tales’
One gardening myth circulating online states that you can create a weeping tree by tying the branches down with heavy weights. In fact, weeping is generally caused by a mutation that does not grow true from seeds - very few trees "weep" in nature. (JOANNE YOUNG)

This past week, I was reading through a gardening-type forum where you could ask your questions and other fellow gardeners could offer their advice.

I love publications such as “The Farmer’s Almanac,” which are filled with “old wives’ tales,” many of which are true.

I find that is one thing that gardeners are never short on: giving free advice.

Unfortunately, the advice isn’t always based on facts, but sometimes just hearsay. Here are some of those gardening myths.

1. To create a weeping tree, tie the branches down with heavy weights.

What? This was the advice that I read on this gardening forum this past week. Interesting response but totally wrong.

The person had posted online that they have a weeping pea tree, but some of its branches are now growing straight up.

The advice that they received was to tie bricks to the tip of the branches and that will help those branches to weep over.

Although it is true that tying a brick to a branch will cause it to hang down, and as attractive as a bunch of bricks hanging from a tree could be, that is not the answer. Do not try this at home!

Weeping trees have branches that droop toward the ground. They often carry the cultivar name “pendula” because of their hanging branches.

Very few trees weep naturally. Weeping is generally caused by a mutation that does not grow true from seeds.

Weeping trees are often grafted onto the straight species of rootstock because the straight species is usually more vigorous than the mutation.

So, when you see branches growing straight up on your weeping tree, these would be shoots that are coming out from below the grafted area.

Follow these straight branches back to where they originate from and prune them off. If the straight branches remain on the plant, they will be taking away energy from the other branches.

2. Ants help peonies’ flowers to open.

Put another way – your peony flowers will not open if you have no ants in your garden.

Over the years, I have heard this too many times to count. This, too, is false.

Ants are not required for peonies’ buds to open. The ants are attracted to the sugary nectar produced by the peony buds.

The nectar is a good food source for the ants, but peony buds will open without the presence of ants.  

3. Water plants daily.

While container plants may need daily watering, those in the landscape do not.

It is better to water once or twice a week and to water deeply. Shallow watering encourages roots to stay up near the surface. 

Instead, you want the roots to grow deep, looking for their own source of moisture so plants are more self-sufficient during dry periods. 

4. Adding sand to clay soil improves drainage.

If you have ever gardened in clay soil you will know how hard it is to dig and that it does not allow for good drainage.

That is because clay particles are extremely fine and pack together tightly allowing no air gaps.

Many people think that adding sand to heavy clay soil will it easier to dig and speed up drainage. This, too, is a myth.

The tiny clay particles will fill in the gaps between the sand particles, resulting in a concrete type of mix.

To improve the clay soil, you need to be adding compost. Compost is a mix of decomposing plant material.

This material is chalked full of nutrients and moisture and will add in longer fibre-like material that will help to break apart the clay particles.

You can mix compost into the soil of a new bed area or top dress with compost around existing plants.

Another myth involving clay soil is that adding gravel to the bottom of the planting hole will improve drainage, but it just creates a good area where the water will collect at the base of the plant. This is not what you want to happen. 

Happy gardening.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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