Bananas for soil

Gardeners pass wisdom down from one generation to the next.  This can be wonderful but sometimes the “wisdom” can lead to practices that are not only incorrect but also potentially harmful. 

My plant looks sick so it must be missing some nutrient. I will feed it fertilizer. This way of thinking is incorrect.  Even if a plant is suffering from a lack of minerals, feeding it will not change the existing flowers, leaves, and so forth. Adding fertilizer at this point may even damage the roots. Usually, the problem is watering, soil that is compacted around the roots, the amount of light the plant receives, insect damage, or disease. Make a practice of examining plants on a regular basis whether they grow indoors or out. Most problems are avoidable.

Organic pesticides are better than synthetic pesticides (also called “chemicals”) because they are natural.  Please understand that both synthetic and organic (meaning derived from a living plant) have the potential to give you unwanted results. Being “natural” does not prevent this. I have had gardeners tell me they use neem oil (from a neem tree) because it only damages harmful insects. Not true! As a beekeeper, I never use it as it kills all insects. What to do? Use pesticides as a last resort, not a first choice. Identify the problem before you reach for any pesticide. Then follow directions exactly.

Sprinkle sugar around your tomato plants to guarantee sweet-tasting tomatoes. I must admit I’ve responded to this with, “You’re kidding me, right?” The sweetness of a tomato is the result of its chemistry, not sweet soil. Studies indicate that small tomato varieties are the sweetest. Letting them ripen on the vine yields sweeter tomatoes as well.

Cutting an earthworm in two pieces is okay because now there will be two earthworms. Caring gardeners feel badly if they cut through an earthworm, so I wish this statement were true. The head end of the worm will grow a new tail, but the tail end will not grow a new head end. It will die.  Sorry...

Bury banana peels near your rose bushes or other plants because they are high in potassium. Well, yes, they are high in potassium, but it’s better to put the peels in your compost bin unless you cut them in very small pieces and mix them in the soil. Keep in mind that while potassium promotes root growth to make stronger rose plants, it does not enhance flower growth. That comes from phosphorus.     

Don’t water when the sun is shining; the droplets will act magnifying glasses and burn holes in the leaves. You don’t believe this, do you? I grew up hearing this. Finally, I put droplets of water on leaves in the middle of a hot summer day. They were fine.         

My garden plants are not doing well. I plan to add Epsom salts to the soil. Why? Please have a soil test done periodically. I suggest going to the website Dairy One,scrolling to the bottom of the page, and choosing soil test. The website gives information on how to take a soil sample for testing. Fees may apply for testing but it’s a small expense potentially harming or killing plants by guessing and adding unproven substances to your soil.

Thank you so very much for your questions and comments.  I love hearing from you: 


Carol Ann Harlos is an award-winning retired math and science teacher, Master Gardener, beekeeper, writer, and speaker. She tends extensive gardens, including herbs, and loves learning from others and sharing her knowledge.


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