Busting Myths

by Andrea Laine EMGV

One of the things we master gardener bloggers take pride in doing is busting gardening myths. Our approach to accomplishing that is by presenting readers with a common problem or challenge, describing our firsthand experiences, and then sharing recommended solutions from the agricultural research-scientists associated with NC State Extension Services and nearby states that share our climate, soil and other growing conditions.

The approach we generally avoid is saying, “Hey, so-and-so said do this and here’s why you should not follow their advice!” I’m about to break with that tradition because of a gardening “how-to” piece I just read in an international newspaper with a large circulation.

The piece illustrated how to carve a garden out of your lawn using wet layers of newspaper, several sheets thick, and mulch on top. So far, so good. Where it goes astray is instructing you to plant immediately afterward by cutting holes through the paper and through the sod. Why bother with the paper if you’re going to need to cut the sod anyway? And, guess what, sod is a living being, too. While it is still trying to live under that newspaper it is competing with your annuals or vegetables for water and nutrients. For best results, leave that newspaper and mulch in place, untouched (except for watering) for six months, so whatever was underneath (sod or weeds) ceases to grow and is well on its way to breaking down into compost. By the way, cardboard works as well as newspapers*.

The newspaper and writer had good intentions. We are living in unusual times — people across the US and around the world — are staying home to minimize the spread of Covid-19. It is springtime and people are gardening; even people who rarely if ever gardened before. That’s great!!! Gardening has many benefits to our physical and mental well-being, and to the environment.

Anything worth doing is worth doing right. So, whether your motivation to garden is putting food on your table, enjoying pretty flowers in your landscape, or sprucing up the yard or lawn to help pass time while you are staying home, master gardeners can teach you how to do it right. Let the over-simplified instructions and pretty pictures in mainstream newspapers, magazines and social media inspire you. When you are ready to take action, seek out sources devoted to the area of gardening that you are most enthusiastic about. NC State Extension’s archive of horticulture publications and fact sheets is a great place to begin. (After following this blog, of course!) And you can always send us a question at durhammastergardener@gmail.com.

Further Reading

*Consider planting a container garden while waiting for your newspaper to breakdown.

Horticulture publications and fact sheets from NC State Extension

Better ways to carve a garden out of your lawn or over a bed of weeds

Extension’s Durham County Center news and information