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10 Landscaping and Gardening Myths You Need to Stop Believing

A lot of good gardening advice has been passed down through the generations, but some erroneous recommendations have trickled down as well. Here are 10 landscaping and garden myths that can be laid to rest.

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treeNancy Tripp Photography/Shutterstock

Myth: You Can’t Grow Anything Near a Black Walnut Tree.

Truth: While the roots of black walnut (Juglans nigra) do release an allelopathic chemical known as juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants, there are many plants that will grow beneath and near black walnut trees. Examples include tulips, daffodils, Japanese maple, lilac, and flowers such as foxglove, purple coneflower, begonia and impatiens. Your local cooperative extension will have a complete list for your region. Read our 10 tips for landscaping around a tree.

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grassM. Cornelius/Shutterstock

Myth: Compost Piles Smell Something Awful.

Truth: If your compost pile has anything but a pleasant earthy smell, it is not being properly worked. Anaerobic composting means there is a lack of oxygen in the pile. It will still break down—slowly—but will have a swampy smell. Turn the pile regularly to introduce oxygen to help mitigate any odor. Add leaves and a few shovels full of soil to keep materials from turning slimy. Learn how to compost the right way.

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rakeIFaritovna/Shutterstock

Myth: Leaving Grass Clippings on the Lawn Will Cause Thatch To Build Up.

Truth: Grass clippings do not contribute to thatch—a thick layer of dead plant debris that makes it difficult for new turf to emerge. In fact, it’s advised to leave your grass clippings in place, rather than bagging them, especially if you have a mulching mower. It saves labor and the clippings are a free source of nitrogen for your lawn.

For the best-looking grass, always keep your lawn mower blade sharp. Here’s how to sharpen it yourself.

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barkFrank Chen Photography/Shutterstock

Myth: You Should Paint Tree Wounds After Pruning.

Truth: This is an old practice that has fallen out of favor. In most cases, it serves no purpose and may actually negatively affect sealing of the wound. However, there are exceptions: If you are pruning a tree that could be threatened by disease-carrying beetles attracted to a fresh wound, tree-wound paint can help. Consider it for oaks and birch trees in particular. Check out how to trim trees without hurting the tree.

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tomatoesCosmin Sava/Shutterstock

Myth: To ripen green tomatoes, set them on a sunny window sill.

Truth: Sunlight is not needed. The best place to ripen tomatoes is in a cool basement. Wrap green tomatoes individually in newspaper, which will help contain the ethylene gas that is given off by fruit and hastens ripening. Read our best advice on growing tomatoes.

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flower OgnjenO/Shutterstock

Myth: The Reason Pepper Plants Aren’t Setting Fruit Is Because the Soil Is Too Rich.

Truth: While an overly rich soil will favor foliage over flowers, it won’t stop pepper plants from bearing fruit altogether. More likely it’s due to weather. A hot, drying wind will cause flowers to drop off. Also, many pepper plants are very temperature sensitive, so flowers will drop off below 55 degrees F. or above 85 degrees F. Here are fruits that many people think are vegetables.

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chipsPeter Dean/Shutterstock

Myth: Wood Chips Make the Best Mulch.

Truth: That depends on where you’re using them. They are wonderful for a naturalistic garden, but hold too much moisture for cacti and succulents. There are caveats, too. Don’t spread them too heavily (no more than three inches thick) and don’t pile them against plant stems (they can cause problems with bugs and rot).

New to gardening? Check out these 10 seriously useful gardening tips.

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soilLosonsky/Shutterstock

Myth: For the Best Garden Soil, Cultivate Regularly.

Truth: Some cultivation is helpful with heavy or compacted soils. But too much can turn the topsoil into a powdery dust that repels water and is not conducive to root growth. Also, frequent cultivation exposes more of the soil to the sun, which can dry it out and cut down of the amount of beneficial microbes. Learn how to prep soil for a vegetable garden.

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cardboardPaket/Shutterstock

Myth: Newspaper and Cardboard Are a Great Weed Barrier.

Truth: In certain situations, these materials can be used as a weed barrier and then covered with wood chips. The problem is, they can impede water penetration and gas exchange if they become too wet or too dry—or if they’re applied too heavily. Use no more than four to six sheets of newspaper or one layer of cardboard as a sheet mulch. Here are our best tips for getting rid of weeds.

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hoseYuliYanna/Shutterstock

Myth: Water Plants Daily.

Truth: While container plants may need daily watering, those in the landscape do not. It is better to water a couple times a week and to irrigate deeply. Shallow watering encourages roots to stay up near the surface. Instead, you want roots to grow deep so plants are more self-sufficient during dry periods. Obviously, cacti and succulents need infrequent watering. Here are 14 tips for planting succulents outdoors.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 25 years' experience in horticultural communications, including editing a national magazine and creating print and online gardening content for a national retailer. He grew up across the street from a park arboretum and has a lifelong passion for gardening in general and trees in particular. In addition to his journalism degree, he has studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.