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Gardening myths and misinformation persist

One of the more whimsical solutions I've seen to our August sun: Lace tablecloths strung on stakes over a community
garden plot. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Poor or outdated advice keeps getting passed on, unfortunately

Gardening is an anecdotal art. Knowledge is passed along to home gardeners from family members, neighbors, the folks at the nursery and, nowadays, friends on social media. But that information isn't necessarily the best answer, and might be downright wrong. Information also changes as new research is done. Example: Early in my gardening career I doused each new plant with vitamin B1, because I was told it prevented transplant shock. But research no longer supports that practice, UC and other experts say.

Here are a few myths that are bad advice:

Myth #1: If your plant is droopy, it needs water.

Water is not the answer to every problem. Check the soil moisture first! And not just on the top, look several inches down where the roots are. Get a moisture meter to make that even easier. And realize that lots of things cause plants to droop, but sometimes it's just how they cope with hot weather (tomatoes and squash are known for this). In that case, they should look perky again in the morning. If not, and the soil is dry, THEN give them some water.

Myth #2: Use neem oil to fix whatever's wrong with that plant.

Not even close. Neem oil is a botanical oil, derived from the tropical neem plant. As such, it's considered a low-toxicity pesticide. It's effective as a fungicide to cure powdery mildew, and is listed as a miticide and insecticide for a number of pests.  But it doesn't kill caterpillars, for example, and it is considered a moderate threat to honeybees. For it to be effective against fungus, you have to thoroughly spray the plant, and may have to come back as soon as every seven days.  And you generally kill only the insects -- whiteflies, for example -- that are directly sprayed. So research your problem -- it may not require a pesticide, and we lovers of nature should aim to avoid pesticides if possible. If you do decide to use neem oil, READ THE LABEL first. If your problem or pest is not on the label, back away: It's unlawful to apply a pesticide for an unlisted use.

Myth #3: Anything grows in Sacramento.

Well, we can grow a lot of things here, certainly.  Against the odds and the zone charts, gardeners here even manage to grow things like bananas and bougainvillea. But should you? It might be a personal challenge, sure, but also may take more resources and cash -- not to mention weather protection, pesticides and fertilizers -- than is wise.

Myth #4: "Full sun" means "full sunlight."

Oh, has this one been a hard lesson over the years. A lot of plants that enjoy summer temps cannot handle the intensity of Sacramento sunlight in mid to late afternoon. Tomatoes burst, peppers and melons get sunburned, and rosebuds blow out in hours. I've learned to be prepared with shade cloth, at the very least, or put plants in places where there will be some afternoon shade, such as against a fence.

Myth #5: Clay soil is bad soil.

We have a lot of clay in the Sacramento region. As noted, a lot of things grow well here. So, gee, somehow people have learned to use this supposedly bad soil to yield lots of crops, trees and flowers. The reality is clay is challenging -- especially when it dries brick-hard in mid-summer -- but it's not bad. It is composed of tiny particles. When it does get water, it holds it really well, unlike sand, which lets water slip right through it. This water-holding property is especially good for summer crops like tomatoes, corn and squash. If you work some compost or other organic material into clay, those tiny particles break up a bit, letting in air and giving roots an easier time when growing.

Do you have a garden myth you've learned is fiction? Share it with us at Sacramento Digs Gardening,


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Garden Checklist for week of April 21

This week there’s plenty to keep gardeners busy. With no rain in the immediate forecast, remember to irrigate any new transplants.

* Weed, weed, weed! Get them before they flower and go to seed.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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