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Marin IJ Articles

Garden tips from the Internet – fact or fiction?

  • Jane Scurich
  • Phalaenopsis should be planted in a well-draining potting medium, and water should flow through the container. Do not allow plants to sit in water.
    Phalaenopsis should be planted in a well-draining potting medium, and water should flow through the container. Do not allow plants to sit in water.
    Ever wander through social media sites and wonder if you can really propagate roses by inserting cuttings into a tomato? How about "Magical DIY Fertilizer" or "Only garlic! Orchids immediately grow on branches and bloom year-round!" It's easy to get lost among the thousands of videos offering can't-fail garden tips and endless broccoli in seven days!

    Just how much scientific research goes into these instant success stories?

    Let's examine some of this advice:

    • "Place 1 piece under the orchid! Suddenly grows 100 branches and blooms all year round!"
      The "piece" referred to here is banana peel. The recipe involves fermenting banana peel with molasses in water then using this liquid as a magic organic fertilizer.
      Banana peels are actually beneficial to the garden when they are added to your compost. No need to slice and dice and wait three weeks for the magic to brew! Just toss the peels into your home compost bin or add to your green can.
    • "Use watermelon peels to make organic liquid fertilizer with magical effects on plants."
      No magic required: Add watermelon rinds to your compost! Or invert melon rinds and place in your garden as traps for snails and slugs. Scrape off the accumulated snails and slugs daily and destroy them.  
    • "Watering orchids with ice cubes" and "Fertilize your orchids with a solution of rice water and garlic (or ginger)."
      Ice cubes continue to be a controversial topic. Many online sites recommend three ice cubes, once per week, offer the proper amount of moisture and prevent overwatering.
      Orchids are tropical plants, and ice cubes can lower their temperature. It has been shown that ice cubes can harm the leaves and lead to crown or root rot over time. Water your plant "weakly weekly." Once a week, water with half or quarter-strength balanced, urea-free orchid fertilizer, allowing the water to flow through the pot. Do not leave the plant sitting in a puddle.
    • Numerous social media posts promote using your pasta cooking water to water plants.
      Most cooks salt their pasta water rather heavily; some chefs say, "Pasta water should be as salty as the sea." The amount of salt in the water could be unhealthy for your soil and cause wilted or stunted growth. Even in a drought situation, watering plants with heavily salted water is not recommended. 
    • Photo: Alice Cason
      Photo: Alice Cason
      "Chemical Free"

      Really??? And what would that be? Everything that exists is composed of chemicals – water, air, plants, our bodies – all composed of chemicals.
      This term is frequently used in marketing to make us feel secure that the product is healthy, safe, free of toxins, or environmentally friendly. But, it is not chemical free. 
    • Random garden advisors recommend "natural" weed control using common household products such as baking soda, vinegar, or dish soap in a solution.
      While these mixtures may not contain toxic chemicals, none of these products successfully kill weeds, but they can add a significant amount of sodium to the soil. Mulch garden areas well to inhibit the growth of weeds while also improving soil structure and providing other benefits. 

    Watching videos filled with interesting characters presenting gardening tales passed down from grandma or picked from other social media sources can be a fun way to fill the day and plan an "instant" and "magical" garden. Still, there's a better and more reliable channel. Spend some time on the Marin Master Gardeners video site www.youtube.com/c/UCMarinMasterGardeners. Science based gardening advice is scripted, fact-checked, staged, videoed, edited, and presented by UC Marin Master Gardeners. Recently released topics include "Earth Friendly Gardening," "Advice for Planting Natives and Succulents," and "How to Attract Birds to Your Garden." More than thirty timely videos will help you learn about best practices for gardening in our Mediterranean climate.  

    Take a spin around the recently redesigned Marin Master Gardener website, www.marinmg.ucanr.edu, which offers tips on selecting plants for Marin's microclimates, seeding, soil prep, irrigation… and much much more. Visit https://marinmg.ucanr.edu/EDIBLES/EDIBLES_GROW_SHEETS/?uid=71&ds=996 for tips on growing healthy, productive tomatoes.