Dispelling Common Gardening Myths

Unravel a few homespun, green-thumb myths with the help of some expert gardeners.

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Heads of Broccoli Broccoli shows you can grow green during the chilly days of winter.

Myth No. 1: You can't grow vegetables in the winter.

Truth: According to Fred Hoffman, if you live in a milder climate where winter temperatures rarely drop below 25 degrees, you can grow a wide variety of winter crops, including broccoli and lettuce, with just a little bit of protection such as row covers or straw. Straw may not weigh much, but it's no lightweight at shielding vegetables at the onset of cold weather.

Hoffman recommends adding as much as 12 inches of straw to protect your plants in the wintertime. If frost is expected, put a row cover over most of your plants. A row cover can provide 5 to 10 degrees protection and keep the bad bugs out while still permitting air and water. Stake the row cover at the corners to secure in place.

There are also all kinds of neat season extenders such as a water-warming device. The sun heats the water by day, then at night, the heat is slowly released, offering 15 or more degrees protection. The payoff of taking a little extra care to grow winter veggies is a healthier, tastier crop - better than anything you could get at the grocery store.

Myth No. 2: Worm droppings on the lawn are harmful.

Truth: "Earthworms are the best things that could happen to your lawn," Fred says. Below the surface, they're aereating and feeding the soil at the same time through their worm castings. And those piles of dirt on top of your lawn are exactly that. If the castings bother you, rake the piles into the lawn to move the castings back where they belong.

Myth No. 3: Grass should be watered everyday in the summer.

Truth: Too much water can kill a lawn. The lawn's roots need a period of dryness to be healthy and stave off insects and disease. An application of water two to three times a week equaling about 1-1/2 to two inches during the summer is ideal.

If you're not sure how much water the grass is getting, try the glass-in-the-grass test. Set five or six glasses throughout the lawn. Turn on the sprinklers for however long you usually water. Use a ruler to determine how much water is collected in the glasses.

In about a half hour, Fred's test glasses have accumulated around one inch of water, which means he should water his lawn twice a week for about a half hour each time.

Myth No. 4: New seeds must be purchased every year.

Truth: If stored properly, seeds can last up to five years. The trick is to keep them away from heat, air and light. One good seed-storing container is a simple canning jar. Fill the jar with seeds, add a lid and tighten the ring. Store the jar in a cool, dry place. You can use an airtight plastic container for storage as well. Place the seeds, packet and all, into the container, close the lid and store the container in a cool, dry place. Or try Fred's suck, seal and store method by using a vacuum sealer.

"I pour the seeds into a plastic bag, suck the air out and store in a cool, dry place."

Myth 5: Vitamin B-1 prevents transplant shock.

Truth: University research shows that thiamine, or Vitamin B1, does nothing to aid transplant shock. Fred suggests you'd be better off using a complete fertilizer, and that's a cheaper option, too. "For example, when transplanting my purple smoke tree (Cotinus), I use native soils since the tree will have to acclimate to it anyway." Then he gives it its first meal, an ounce of fish emulsion and an ounce of liquid seaweed mixed with a gallon of water. This mixture is not a myth, but just a tried-and-true method that Hoffman says he knows will work.

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