Photo of Monticello vegetable garden by Amy C. Evans
I tell people I know just enough about gardening to make me dangerous.
I am not a Master Gardener. I am more of a makeshift gardener. And the danger is that you will learn something from me that is wrong.
There is already plenty of garden misinformation out there, and Scott Aker, horticulturalist with the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., is determined to keep people like me from making matters worse.
At a recent symposium, Aker addressed what he called "garden myths."
Here are some of them.
Double digging is the best way to improve soil.
"Save your back," said Aker.
The fact is, the more you dig, the more damage you do to the quality of your soil because you are disturbing the oxygen and organic matter that is near the surface of your garden. The more you disrupt the soil layers by digging, the more likely you are to bring the infertile sub-soil to the top.
My garden has great draining. The water runs right off!
In fact that indicates very poor drainage, said Aker. The water is not working its way through the layers of soil, because it can't. There is no internal drainage.
To improve the drainage in your yard or garden, add organic matter to ease the soil compaction. Plant in raised beds. Or install perforated pipe, Aker said.
Fertilizers with lots of phosphorus stimulate the growth of roots and flowers.
"Phosphorus doesn't make your plants more energetic," said Aker. In addition, phosphorus doesn't leach out of the soil. If you used it before, it is still there.
The best thing to do is have your soil tested (Everybody says this, but hardly anybody does this), and find out what amendments the soil needs.
The best practice? Aker advises using a slow-release source of nutrients and the best source of that is organic matter, such as compost.
Beans don't like onions.
Aker laughed openly at the notion of companion planting - that certain flowers and vegetables do best when planted near each other, and others do not.
"Gardening is not that complicated," he said. "Plants aren't like our children who don't get along in the back seat of the car."
Instead, he advises, plant with diversity in mind. And rotate your crops.
Tune in to Garden Variety tomorrow and, with Aker's expert help, we will do some more myth-busting.