Garden Hacks? Hah!

Pinterest garden hacks

Pinterest is a wonderful source of information. Some of it is even true.

I enjoy browsing Pinterest. I’ve discovered delicious recipes (check out these amazing pork chops with pear chutney!). I’ve gathered ideas that making grandparenting more fun. I love seeing what my adult daughters have pinned recently.

I just don’t believe everything I see there.

Pinterest is great for party themes, recipes, and decorating ideas. People share the most adorable craft ideas (mine attempts would never come out so well, but crafting isn’t my forte). However, it’s probably not a good place to go for advice on relationship issues, or nutrition, or anything science-y.

When it comes to bad advice, “garden hacks” top the list. You can learn all sorts of things that just aren’t true—or worse. Sometimes you’re just wasting money. But some of the advice will damage your plants or soil, perhaps permanently. Here are some so-called garden tips that I found in a quick Pinterest search. You’ve probably seen them all, there or on Facebook (another source of dubious advice).

Take the perennial suggestion to use Epsom salts as fertilizer. Epsom salts are comprised of magnesium, sulfur and oxygen, MgSO4. Unless your soil is deficient in magnesium—very rare in the US—adding more will do absolutely nothing for your plants.

Then there’s the use of vinegar as a weed killer. It might wilt the leaves, but weeds are more stubborn than that. They’ll just grow back. You have to get to the root of the problem to win the weed battle.

Almost every post on container gardening recommends putting rocks (or gravel, or Styrofoam peanuts, etc.) in the bottom of the pot before adding soil. This sounds logical, but in fact it makes drainage worse, not better. Just fill the pot with potting soil. If necessary, use a small piece of screening or a coffee filter over the drainage hole to keep the soil from washing out.

Beer will not make your lawn greener.

Growing those “mosquito-repellant” plants won’t do anything to repel mosquitoes.

Baking soda will not improve your tomatoes. It “sweetens” the soil (i.e., makes the soil more alkaline), not your tomatoes. It won’t make your roses bloom more. It doesn’t deter hungry critters. And I fail to see how it can both be used to kill weeds and be used on desirable plants to as a pesticide.

There are no scientific studies showing that planting by the moon results in a better garden or bigger harvest. the anecdotal evidence contradicts itself. One person plants at one moon phase and reports success. Another person plants at a different phase and also reports success. Could it be that they’re both just diligent gardeners?

Don’t start seedlings in egg shells or cartons. Those containers are too small and the seedlings can’t develop a good root system in them.

The only ingredient helpful in homemade “Miracle Grow” is the ammonia, which provides nitrogen.

When fertilizing, just add nitrogen. It doesn’t linger in the soil, so we usually have to add some more each year. However, it’s generally a bad idea to fertilize with phosphate or potassium. Most soils have plenty, and adding more can cause severe problems as they reach toxic levels. If in doubt, get a soil test.

Tagetes - Marigolds @SantaFeGreenhouses 2008jun28 LAH 107

Marigolds will not keep pests away from your plants. In fact, most advice on companion planting is based on a pseudoscience popularized in the early 20th century, and has no basis in fact.

Putting egg shells, coffee grounds, and banana peels in a blender doesn’t turn them into a plant-saving super-fertilizer.

I could go on and on. Here’s a post that has so many fake facts in it, I hardly know where to begin: “101 Gardening Secrets the Experts Never Tell You.” (Maybe a good starting point is the title—the “experts” don’t have a conspiracy; they aren’t trying to make you fail at gardening. Maybe the experts don’t tell you these things because they aren’t true!) When reading any advice online, you’ve got to have your filters on!

So where do we go for good garden advice? I highly recommend The Gardening Professors—their Facebook blog, their Facebook page, and their website. All their advice is backed by scientific studies—done by professionals, published in peer-reviewed journals. I’ll also put in a shameless plug for my other blog, Mountain Plover. I typically cover garden-related topics on Thursdays, and I have addressed most, if not all, of these garden hacks in the past few years. See you there!

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