Gardener’s Old Wives Tales

These gardening stories have been passed on for millennia, some are outrageous, many wise advise, some folklore and fables based on the weather, agriculture, different parts of the country, imported practises from other parts of the world – a real mish-mash.

It’s like family secret cookery recipes, some do stay as secrets especially in the way giant or show vegetables are grown. Most are shared with fellow gardeners as folk in horticulture love to share their expertise, seeds, cuttings/off shoots, young plants and excess produce. The stories shared in the local pub or over a cup of tea or something stronger down at the allotment, or over the garden fence/gate!! So which are sound gardening advice or not?

The humble spud or potato, plant your first Earlies at Easter:

The Easter feast moves as you all know, potatoes are tender and very susceptible to frost so this advice needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. If the ground is cold and frosty, there is no point in planting potatoes. I can remember many Easters with snow!! Wait till the ground warms up?

Don’t water plants in bright/hot sunshine?

As a youngster I remember being told this but in practise another myth. If you see a dry, wilting plant in a pot, do you leave it to die? Of course you don’t. On tender glasshouse crops scorching can occur if you water over the foliage on exceptionally hot days, so as long as you water the compost around the base of the plant it will recover quickly – hydrangeas, indoor azaleas for example. The best policy is to water early in the morning or evening – less evaporation. A proper soaking and not over the foliage, can encourage fungal diseases.

Tie up your Daffodils?

This is definitely not good practise. Narcissus need to die back naturally. The leaves cannot photosynthesise properly if knotted up. Better to water and feed after flowering to build up the bulb for next year, use a high potash feed.

Crocs/gravel in the bottom of pots for drainage?

Research carried out shows this isn’t effective infact it makes drainage worse! One piece of broken pot over the drainage hole to stop the soil coming out. If you need more drainage for certain plants mix horticultural grit or perlite with your compost and use pot feet under the pots to raise them off the ground.

Compost and bone meal in a hole when you plant trees and shrubs?

Since I went to College some 34 years ago, things have changed a lot and you never stop learning in horticulture. Compost and bone meal in the planting hole is now proven not to work and can harm! Bone meal can burn roots and inhibit mycorrhizal fungi which are beneficial in producing a secondary root system on trees and shrubs. The compost can act like a sump holding excess water, this rots and the tree sinks down so the stem ends up below the original planting level. Stem rots, collar rot, I have seen this happen and it can take 10 years to show. Stressed trees and shrubs can also be more prone to honey fungus.

Dig a square hole, loosen the bottom soil and the corners to help roots punch out in the corners. Loosen roots on a container grown tree if spiralling round the pot. Place tree in the hole making sure the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil. Add some Rootgrow around the root ball – not too much. Back fill with the original soil, firm in with the heel of your boot, level off soil. Add mulch to the surface with some slow release fertiliser.

Stake the tree at 45 degrees and tie with the stake pointing into the prevailing wind, not an upright stake next to the rootball! Give a good soak, 2 gallons of water! A weekly watering depending on the rootball size, and even more in windy or dry weather conditions is vital.

One little story before I go which creates a wonderful picture. The old gardeners on the allotment would judge the temperature of the soil suitable for planting out, by dropping their trousers and pants and sitting on the soil!! If it felt too cold – too early to sow!!

The preferred option now is use the back of your hand or a soil thermometer, its far more hygienic and less chance of upsetting the neighbours!


Do you know any Old Wives Tales when it comes to gardening which you could share in the comment section below?


Happy Gardening!

Peter Mills


Peter Mills Gardening

The following two tabs change content below.

Peter Mills

I love everything to do with natural history, wildlife, biodiversity and of course horticulture - basically the big outdoors. I grew up with very good teachers namely my parents and my French grandfather who was a superb grower of vegetables. At Hadlow College I studied a three year OND in Horticulture. I had a market stall selling plants. Went onto wholesaling house plants to florists and garden centres across southern England. In 1986 I joined Clandon Park Garden Centre as manager. Whilst there I started my career as a gardening radio presenter with the BBC Southern Counties Radio. This continued for 15 years, building up valuable contacts with the RHS Wisley, live broadcasts from Chelsea & Hampton Court Flower shows, South of England & Surrey County shows etc. Since 1998 I have been self-employed, working as a Head Gardener and in private gardens . Through the RHS Advisory Department at Wisley I advise on horticultural problems in members gardens, including pest & disease problems, lawn-care advice, pruning of wisterias, fruit trees, roses, wildlife gardening, growing fruit & vegetables, creating wildflower meadows, identifying plants and control of pernicious weeds. I am an extremely lucky guy who loves what I do and the trade called Horticulture!

Leave a Comment!

Not a member?

You need to be a member to interact with Silversurfers. Joining is free and simple to do. Click the button below to join today!

Click here if you have forgotten your password

Community Terms & Conditions

Content standards

These content standards apply to any and all material which you contribute to our site (contributions), and to any interactive services associated with it.

You must comply with the spirit of the following standards as well as the letter. The standards apply to each part of any contribution as well as to its whole.

Contributions must:

be accurate (where they state facts); be genuinely held (where they state opinions); and comply with applicable law in the UK and in any country from which they are posted.

Contributions must not:

contain any material which is defamatory of any person; or contain any material which is obscene, offensive, hateful or inflammatory; or promote sexually explicit material; or promote violence; promote discrimination based on race, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or age; or infringe any copyright, database right or trade mark of any other person; or be likely to deceive any person; or be made in breach of any legal duty owed to a third party, such as a contractual duty or a duty of confidence; or promote any illegal activity; or be threatening, abuse or invade another’s privacy, or cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety; or be likely to harass, upset, embarrass, alarm or annoy any other person; or be used to impersonate any person, or to misrepresent your identity or affiliation with any person; or give the impression that they emanate from us, if this is not the case; or advocate, promote or assist any unlawful act such as (by way of example only) copyright infringement or computer misuse.

Nurturing a safe environment

Our Silversurfers community is designed to foster friendships, based on trust, honesty, integrity and loyalty and is underpinned by these values.

We don't tolerate swearing, and reserve the right to remove any posts which we feel may offend others... let's keep it friendly!