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26.01.2023

Top 10 Garden and Wildlife Myths – Busted

Top ten gardening myths - did you believe any of these?

Did you believe any of these popular gardening myths? It’s okay, we won’t judge you!

Myth 1: Cutting earthworms in half makes two new worms

We aren’t really sure where this one came from, but no, cutting a worm in half won’t make it into two worms! If an earthworms tail is cut off, it can regenerate it, which is probably the origin of this myth. An earthworm has a band around it called the clitellum, and this is at the head end of the worm. So this half can survive and may grow a new tail, although it is likely to be small and stunted. A fun worm fact though: the planarium flatworm (phylum Platyhelminthes) can regrow an entire body from a small piece, and even regrow a head, retaining its old memories (how do they know?). These are a completely different species to earthworms, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.

Myth 2: Putting stones in the bottom of a pot helps the soil drain

Some say to throw a few stones or broken crockery into the bottom of a plant pot to improve drainage, especially if that plant pot does not have holes in the bottom. It does make a kind of sense when you think about it, but it actually does nothing to assist with drainage. The water will still sit in the bottom of the pot whether there are stones in there or not, and can lead to root rot which could kill your plants. The best thing to do is ensure that the plant pot has holes in the bottom so excess water can drain out.

Myth 3: Compost tea is better than compost/adds more nutrients

Using regular compost is better than compost tea.

What is compost tea? It’s basically a brew made from compost ingredients and water, which people spray onto the plants as they grow. Compost tea is hugely popular, but there’s little evidence to suggest that compost tea is any better than just mixing in solid compost with your soil. Plants take in nutrients from the soil through their roots, not their leaves, so it’s hard to see how spraying compost tea onto the leaves could convey those nutrients. Compost tea could even increase the chances of plant diseases and may even be harmful to humans as it encourages microbe growth on edible parts of the plant. You are much better off using organic fertiliser, or mixing store-bought compost or homemade, well-rotted compost into your soil.

Myth 4: Growing seeds directly in bananas/other banana-related shenanigans

You’ve probably seen plenty of videos online telling you that you can grow a plant by jamming a seed into a whole, fresh banana, especially on those ubiquitous ‘5 minute craft’ videos. Other similar ‘gardening hacks’ involve burying a whole banana or banana peels underneath a rosebush or other plants. The reality is that you are better off just eating the banana yourself and composting the peel. There is a grain of truth to the banana-related gardening tips. Bananas are rich in potassium which is good for plants, but they need to be fully decomposed before the plants can obtain the potassium from bananas. Burying whole banana peels into the soil can actually be counterproductive, as microorganisms in the soil will use a lot of nitrogen from the soil breaking the banana peels down. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for plants, so leave them out of the soil and just add banana peels to your compost heap along with other plant matter and kitchen waste.

Myth 5: Touching a baby animal means its mother will abandon it

Handling a baby bird won't remove its scent, but you still shouldn't do it.

We have been told as kids to never touch a baby bird or other wild baby animal, as the mother won’t be able to tell that it’s her baby if we ‘make it smell like a human’. This simply isn’t true – just touching a baby animal won’t be enough to remove their natural scent. Animals can easily identify their own young and use more than just their sense of smell – they can see, too! This was most likely to keep us from grabbing at baby animals when we were young, than to avoid the baby animal being abandoned. You might see a lot of very young birds just on the ground during springtime. If they have feathers, they are fledglings who have been learning to fly and their parents aren’t far away, keeping a close watch on their young. You should still avoid touching any wild animal unless it is in immediate danger, for example in the middle of a road, as handling or picking them up can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. If you find an injured wild animal, you can always contact the RSPCA.

Myth 6: Houseplants purify air/suffocate you in your sleep

So we all know that plants ‘breathe’ in carbon dioxide and ‘breathe’ out oxygen, so it would make sense that having some plants around the house increases the oxygen levels, right? And they do – but by such a tiny amount that it is negligible. There are plenty of great reasons to have houseplants around, but purifying the air is sadly not a claim they can make. Some people claim that house plants remove VOCs (volatile organic compounds) from the air, but while studies show that they can do this in laboratory conditions, these studies were done in such a small, enclosed environment that it couldn’t possibly translate to a whole house or even one room. The flipside of such claims is that during night time, when plants aren’t performing photosynthesis, they are expelling CO2 and taking in oxygen, meaning that you shouldn’t have plants in your bedroom while you sleep. Once again, this is so negligible that it won’t make any difference to the oxygen available in the room for us to breathe. So feel free to fill your house with as many plants as possible (we do!), but don’t expect them to transform your air quality or oxygen levels.

Myth 7: ‘Natural’ pesticides and weed killers are safer

We all know how pesticides and weed killers are harmful to the environment and even the local ecosystem of your own garden. But are ‘natural’ versions of these products any better? Just because something contains natural ingredients doesn’t mean it can’t harm animals or insects. Lots of people use vinegar in their garden as a natural weed killer, but it is toxic to frogs and toads and is just as bad for the plants you are trying to grow as the weeds. Pyrethrum is a common ingredient in pesticides and is derived from the chrysanthemum plant, but it is deadly to bees and other pollinators, fish and other aquatic life. Its also toxic to dogs and cats, so it’s best to avoid any products that contain pyrethrum. Always remember: weedkiller is just plant killer, and pesticides don’t discriminate between ‘helpful’ insects and pests!

Myth 8: Watering plants on a sunny day can burn the leaves

Most gardeners will tell you to water your plants early in the morning, or in the evening after the sun has gone down. There are some good reasons for this, but they aren’t to do with your plant leaves getting sunburned! Some people think that the water drops on foliage will magnify the sun’s rays and lead to burning, but the truth is that the water will evaporate long before this could occur. A good reason to avoid watering plants in the heat of the day is efficiency. Less water will evaporate and more water will make it into the soil at cooler times, so it’s still a good idea to avoid watering during the hottest part of the day.

Myth 9: Bees and bee stings – so many myths

Not all bees sting, and not all bees die when they sting.

There are kind of a lot of myths about bees in general, so we will focus on myths about bee stings right now. You may have heard that bees can only sting once in their lives, and that stinging actually kills them – this is sort of a half truth. Some species of bee don’t actually have a stinger, and in the species that do have this defence mechanism, it’s only the females that do sting. Honeybees will unfortunately die if they do use their stinger on thick skinned creatures like us humans and other mammals. They have a barbed stinger that gets ripped out as they try to fly away, as it is attached to their abdomen and internal organs. In contrast, bumblebees have a smooth stinger which doesn’t get wedged in the skin, so they can sting again and again without dying. Most bees aren’t really aggressive, so unless they feel under threat, they won’t usually sting.

Myth 10: You can just throw wildflower seeds anywhere

It’s very common to see wildflowers springing up just about anywhere, from paths and roadsides to wiggling their way up through cracks in concrete. However, their tenacity doesn’t mean that we can just throw a few seeds on the ground anywhere and consider them planted. There are a lot of videos online of people scattering seeds wherever they go, even while on a skateboard or out of a car window. We love their enthusiasm, but this isn’t the greatest way of planting wildflowers. A few might grow, but a lot of seeds will be blown away or even eaten by birds. This won’t hurt anything, but it’s pretty inefficient. Check out our guide to planting wildflowers to find out the best way to effectively grow a wildflower patch! If you don’t have the time or space, remember you can always let us do it for you! For just £10, we will plant a square metre of 500 wildflowers – go to https://www.mysquaremetre.co.uk/offset-your-carbon/ to find out more.

Sources:

https://www.livescience.com/38371-two-worms-worm-cut-in-half.html

https://www.gardenmyths.com/compost-tea-does-it-work/

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/gardening-trends/banana-peels-in-garden/

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/injured-and-baby-birds/baby-birds/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/houseplants-dont-purify-indoor-air

https://www.sgaonline.org.au/ggp-product-ingredient-review-pyrethrum-insecticide/

https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1469-8137.2009.03150.x

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