Fact or fiction: Is advice hurting your plants?

By Marilyn McKinley

Ohio certified volunteer naturalist

Everyone wants to find a sure-fire way to keep their garden looking and producing its best, while decreasing the amount of work, cost and time spent. We often rely on information from friends and family. They swear by their best garden tip, telling you it has worked for generations. But are you doing more harm than good if you follow their advice? That’s why we need to rely more on fact-based, university researched information. Times have changed, products have changed, and plants themselves have been hybridized and have changed.

So here are a few commonly trusted garden hints you may have heard, and the truth, based on science and research:

Don’t plant spring bulbs too early; they will come up before winter and be damaged by cold temps. Fact: This rarely is an issue, with one exception — grape hyacinths, whose newly established bulbs may send up shoots in the fall. Best to start planting spring bulbs when you start pulling out annuals and when nighttime temps are in the mid- to lower 50s. The most common bulbs will do best when they have some time to establish a good root system. But you can plant anytime until the ground freezes. Be sure to plant at recommended depths.

Frost kills the weeds, no need to pull them out in the fall. Oh how I wish this one were true. Many annual weeds have done their dirty work and have dropped seeds just waiting for the right temps next spring to start the cycle all over again. Dig out perennial weeds in the fall before they have a chance to spread roots for next year.

Don’t add compost in the fall. In truth, fall is the best time to spread compost. The rain and snow of winter will help carry needed nutrients into the soil. Soil is usually drier in the fall, making it easier to work in without compacting the soil.

Feed your lawn only in the spring. Truth – feeding the cool-season grasses in late summer or fall is best. Wait until nighttime temperatures are in the 50s. With adequate rainfall or watering, roots have a chance to absorb nutrients and will have a head start next spring.

Visit the master gardeners and OSU-certified naturalist volunteers booth in Building 44 at the Canfield Fair for more facts about gardening, birds and wildlife.

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