Busting Seven Common Yard and Garden Myths

How did you learn about yard care and gardening? Chances are, it’s mainly been a process of self-education and trial-and-error experience. Nothing wrong with that! But the down side is you’ve probably accepted some common misconceptions and bad information as fact. Don’t be down on yourself – you’re far from alone. However, it’s time to bust these myths and replace them with the truth so your Central Florida yard and garden can thrive at their very best!

  1. Poinsettias are Poisonous

This popular myth gets circulated during holiday season, making some people reluctant to add these colorful potted plants to their outdoor and indoor décor. There’s no reason to deny yourself the charm that poinsettias bring this time of year! According to University of Florida IFAS Gardening Solutions, poinsettias are not poisonous. Like most plants, they contain toxins, but not in dangerously high concentrations. Some individuals are mildly allergic to their milky sap, but opportunities for it to make enough contact with skin to cause a reaction are pretty slim.

“That said, keeping poinsettias out of reach is still a good idea. Sensitivity to chemicals varies by size, age, health, and other factors. Cats and dogs that eat poinsettia may suffer some mild side effects, like diarrhea and drooling. These symptoms are not usually severe enough for a trip to the vet. Poinsettia sap does contain latex, too. Gardeners, children, and pets with latex allergies should avoid handling them. Otherwise, practice common sense and caution and enjoy your holiday poinsettias.”

However, some plants that are poisonous often go under the radar. Lilies, holly and mistletoe – which are used in garlands and wreaths – are all more toxic than poinsettias, and not a good choice for homes with children or pets. When in doubt, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. For pets, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435.

  1. Spanish Moss Kills Trees

New residents to The Sunshine State might be wary of the clumps of Spanish moss hanging off of tree limbs. Even some longtime Floridians may still believe that Spanish moss is parasitic, and saps nutrients from trees. Not so! In fact, it is a harmless air plant called an epiphyte. It clings to branches, but the roots do not pierce the bark or rob the tree of any nutrients.

This myth probably started because people noticed that trees in decline are festooned in numerous clumps of Spanish moss, and they assumed the moss was the cause. As Gardening Solutions explains, as large trees die from other causes, they lose leaves. “Fewer leaves means that more light filters through the canopy. Spanish moss, like all other plants, harness the energy of light to grow. In this case, more light means more Spanish moss.”

However, heavy loads of Spanish moss can weigh down tree limbs. If you’re concerned – or just don’t like how it looks – it can be removed by hand. Because Spanish moss harbors insects, spiders, small snakes and bats, you may want to call an arborist for this task.

  1. Planting Marigolds in Your Yard Deters Nematodes

Bright orange marigolds are a great addition to any garden! But if your main motivation in planting these cheerful annuals is to keep destructive nematodes at bay, you need to be satisfied with their aesthetic benefits. Gardeners who seek non-chemical means of controlling pests are sure to be disappointed, as the popular myth is that marigolds produce the chemical alpha-terthienyl – which has been shown to reduce certain populations of plant-parasitic nematodes.

Unfortunately, planting marigolds next to vulnerable plants does nothing to protect them. To ward off nematodes, marigolds must be planted as a cover crop at least two months before planting the plants or vegetables you want. And if you’ve heard that tilling old marigolds or their byproducts into the soil will release alpha-terthienyl, that’s a myth, as well. The chemical must be produced by living marigold roots, and becomes inactive when exposed to sunlight. For those committed to non-pesticide nematode treatments, Gardening Solutions provides instructions for soil solarization.

  1. Dish Soap Makes a Great DIY Aphid Spray

Unlike the marigold myth that doesn’t keep nematodes away but does no harm, using dish detergent diluted with water to combat aphids is very likely to injure plants. This myth gained popularity for two main reasons. One, mixing a homemade spray using a common item seems more economical than buying a brand-name pesticide. Two, dish detergent doesn’t seem to be as toxic to the environment as a brand-name pesticide. Moreover, this DIY “remedy” has gained a lot of exposure on the internet, which perpetuates its undeserved popularity.

However, dish detergents are synthetically produced and chemically designed to be powerful cleaners – which means they’re definitely not non-chemical. As their purpose is to cut through grease, they can easily destroy the cuticle of a plant’s leaf. In the interest of saving a bit of money, you could kill your plants – which you’ll have to pay even more to replace.

  1. Coffee Grounds and Banana Peels Make Good Fertilizer

This is another myth that’s popular because it appeals to people who are economically and ecologically minded. You already have the coffee grounds and banana peels, so why just throw them away when they can enrich your soil? The problem is, they can’t. At least, not in their basic form.

According to Doug Jimerson of Costa Farms, “Although both banana peels and coffee grounds are organic in nature, they can do more harm than good if you just spread them around your plants. That’s because, as they decay, they’ll tie up valuable nitrogen in the soil, depriving your plants of food. It’s fine to use these materials, but be sure to compost them first before spreading in the garden.”

  1. Plants That Aren’t Thriving Need to be Fertilized

What’s the first thing you think of when you see a puny-looking plant in your yard? It must be undernourished! If you look at plants like they’re people, it’s logical to assume that a wan plant needs more food – which, in the plant world, is fertilizer.

As Jimerson writes, “While a good bowl of chicken soup may help us when we feel ill, feeding a plant when it’s not happy is the wrong thing you can do. Trying to process a sudden feast of fertilizer will stress the plant and may make things worse. Try to figure out what’s wrong with your plant before you force feed it a big banquet.”

  1. Use a Pruning Sealer/Paint Immediately After Pruning Trees

This is a common practice in some states, the purpose of which is to prevent Bretziella fagacearuma fungus that causes a disease called oak wilt. However, this disease is not found in Florida. As Gardening Solutions points out, in Texas – where oak wilt is most common – immediately painting pruning cuts is a common practice. However, research has yet to show how effective this actually is.

“In Florida painting fresh cuts is not necessary. In fact, UF/IFAS does not recommend this for any tree species. Healthy trees can seal their wounds on their own. They also have plenty of chemical defenses against disease. If a cut is going to decay, paint will not prevent the process. If moisture gets trapped beneath the paint layer, it may even speed decay.”

To prevent the spread of disease in your yard, Gardening Solutions provides the following tips:

  • Scout often to look for signs of disease.
  • Treat or remove diseased branches quickly.
  • When pruning branches, disinfect your garden tools between each plant.
  • Ultimately, prevention is better than treatment. Keep your landscape healthy!

The Take-Home Message

There’s a good deal to learn about yard care and gardening in Central Florida! To learn more about what not to do in your yard, our blog post – “How to Avoid Common Landscaping and Yard Care Mistakes” – provides some more valuable pointers!

But the bottom line is that cultivating and maintaining your property as a personal haven, place for entertaining and envy of the neighborhood requires planning and work. Our experienced professionals at Daniel’s Lawn Service & Pressure Washing can help on both fronts! We provide landscape design, tree installation, tree trimming, yard maintenance, pressure washing and so much more. Contact us today so we can do the work, and you can do the enjoying! We proudly serve all of Central Florida – including Orlando, Sanford, Longwood and Lake Mary! We look forward to helping you achieve your goals and bring your vision to life!