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Popular Gardening Hacks That Do NOT Work

With the rise in the popularity of the internet and social media, has come a wealth of gardening information and hacks. I should say gardening misinformation! I believe that the draw in our society to instant gratification has been the driving force behind these hacks. We want an easy, quick fix for everything. As an experienced gardener and master gardener, the claims of many of these gardening hacks make me crazy. And that, fellow gardeners, is the motivation behind this article – Popular Gardening Hacks That Do NOT Work.

Image of vinegar, Epsom salt, dish soap, table salt and baking soda with a forbidden symbol and the text - Not for Garden Use!

I realize my ideas may not be the most popular and maybe you’ve tried some of these hacks in your gardens and you think they work. But hear me out and hopefully, I can get you to rethink why you’re using these ideas in your gardens.

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Why These Kitchen Product Gardening Hacks Do Not Work

Coffee grounds aren’t completely useless in garden soil, but why are you using them?  Most gardening hacks say that using them improves the acidity of your garden soil. Any acid that was in those coffee grounds ended up in that cup of coffee you drank and there’s not much left in the grounds. Coffee grounds will not improve the acidity or pH of your garden soil. Dump those coffee grounds into your compost.

Banana peels are likewise harmless, but also useless buried in your garden or used to make banana peel compost tea. Plus, they take forever to break down. You don’t have to waste your time or put up with rotten banana peels to improve your garden soil or the health of your plant. Chop those banana peels up and throw them in the compost bin.

Baking soda is another one you’ll see being used over and over in gardening hacks. Garden soil or garden plants do not benefit from sodium bicarbonate! In fact, it can build up in garden soil and become harmful to plants. The craziest hack I’ve seen is to use baking soda in your compost to make it less smelly. If you’re doing compost correctly, it will not smell. Just skip the baking soda gardening hacks and save it for the cleaning hacks.

Why Using Eggshells in Your Garden is a Useless Gardening Hack

I will take some heat for this one, but in my opinion egg shells are useless in the garden. They don’t deter slugs and they don’t add calcium to your garden soil. Plus, they take years to break down. Go ahead and toss them in the compost, but even there I don’t believe they don’t add much benefit. 

Seedlings growing in eggshells - garden hacks that do not work.

Have you seen the pictures where eggshells (or egg cartons) are used for starting seeds? Oh my, where do I even begin? Neither eggshells or egg cartons are ideal for seed starting. First of all, they are too small and your little seedlings will quickly outgrow the confines of these small containers. Eggshells offer no drainage unless you’re lucky enough to be able to poke holes in the bottoms of your eggshells without cracking them into pieces. Don’t waste your time with this gardening hack! If you want to start seeds indoors, this article is full of step-by-step instructions and great tips.

Compost
Toss eggshells, coffee grounds and banana peels in the compost bin, along with other kitchen scraps.

Ugh! Dawn Dish Soap is The Worst Gardening Hack Ever

While we’re in the kitchen, let’s not forget about Dawn dish soap. I’ve seen so many “organic or natural” weed-killer recipes using Dawn dish soap that it’s becoming ridiculous! First of all, the ingredients in dish soap are not organic or natural – they are chemicals. If you don’t believe me, go read the ingredients list on the bottle of dish soap in your kitchen.

If you’re using dish soap for garden hacks, it doesn’t have to be “Dawn”. I keep waiting for a Dawn commercial to come out showing all the ways you can use it in the garden. 🤪

The idea of using dish soap in these concoctions is to thicken the mixture so that it clings to the plant or insect. That’s it! It is NOT organic or natural! Confession time, I do use a mix of dish soap and water to kill boxelder bugs and yes, it works. But, I would never use this to spray in my gardens or want it in my garden soil. 

Read this for practical ways to deal with insects in your gardens.

Why Using Vinegar as a Weed Killer is a Bad Idea

Gardeners, if you care at all about your soil, please do not use vinegar as a weed killer. Without going into too much of a rant, the DIY homemade mixture of table salt, vinegar, and dish soap is a very bad gardening hack. It’s definitely not natural, nor is it organic. Don’t use it on sidewalks or patios either because it can break down the concrete over time. If you use enough to kill the roots of the weeds you are spraying, you are also killing your garden soil. There are so many better ways to combat weeds in your gardens.

Vinegar, table salt, dish soap, epsom salt, baking soda on a kitchen counter.
Great for cleaning hacks! BAD for Gardening Hacks!

Bad Gardening Hacks Using Items From Your Medicine Cabinet 

Using Epsom salt in your garden for your roses, tomatoes or any other plant is not necessary and can harm your garden soil. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. How do you know your garden soil or plants need magnesium sulfate? Yes, it’s true, if used in the garden, that Epsom salt adds magnesium and sulfur to the soil. But, wait a minute, how do you know if your garden soil or plants need those things? They likely do not.

The only place this gardener will be using Epsom salts will be to add them to my bath to soak in after a hard day’s work in my gardens. Seriously, this is a great way for gardeners to use Epsom salt.

Another gardening hack is adding a few Tums (calcium carbonate) when you plant your tomatoes so they don’t get blossom end rot. Or bury a few Tums around a tomato plant with blossom end rot and it will cure it. If you experience blossom end rot on your tomatoes or any other vegetable in your garden, it is caused by irregular watering. Give your veggies space and make sure they are consistently watered and I’ll bet your problems with blossom end rot will go away. Save those Tums for your indigestion.

More Myths and Gardening Hacks That Do Not Work

Pine needles will acidify the soil. Spread pine needles around plants like blueberries or other plants that thrive in acidic soil. Nope, sorry this is a myth. Even in the south where pine straw is a popular mulch, it does not change or acidify the soil. Pine needles do make beautiful mulch and they are a good brown item to add to your compost.

Let’s debunk a few gardening myths while we’re at it.

Water spots on plants from watering in the afternoon sun can cause burn spots on plant foliage because the water spot acts like a magnifying glass. NOT TRUE! I’ve seen this so many times on gardening forums and gardening Facebook groups.  I don’t know how to debunk this nonsense other than just to say, this is not true. If your plants need water, water them, and don’t let this crazy myth keep you from it.

You can get rid of slugs in your gardens by leaving saucers of beer in the garden. This is hilarious and in an effort to rid my hosta bed of slugs, I tried it. I also tried eggshells and they didn’t work either. The slugs laughed at me and continued to chow down on my hostas. I know I will have readers that say this works for them… but, I’m still doubtful. Sluggo works wonderfully!

Putting rocks in the bottom of containers with no drainage holes will help drainage. This makes no logical sense whatsoever, but I still see it all the time, especially on YouTube. Nothing takes the place of drainage holes in your containers. Don’t buy containers without drainage holes or use a drill to make some.

Another hack that drives me crazy is how to fill a large garden container or raised bed to save on the cost of soil. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this and I will give you a hint – plants do not like to grow in styrofoam, packing peanuts, tins cans, plastic pots, etc. Check out this post to learn the right way to fill large planters and raised beds.

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Image of epsom salts, vinegar, table salt, Dawn dish soap and baking soda with text overlay - 14 Popular Gardening Hacks that DO NOT work!

Just because landscapers do it, doesn’t mean it’s right!

If you hire a landscaper they will likely add landscape fabric before they plant to keep weeds out of the garden bed. If you are a gardener who likes to transplant perennials or add annuals to your landscaped areas, weed cloth will become your worst nightmare. Plus, it does not keep weeds out of your garden beds. See all the reasons not to use landscape fabric in your gardens in this article.

Another one that landscapers do all the time is what is known as volcano mulching. That’s where they pile mulch up around the base of a tree or plant in a volcano shape. Please don’t do this. I’m all for mulching garden beds, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Volcano mulching or using too much mulch can kill plants and trees. Learn all about mulching your gardens in this helpful article.

Your Soil is Everything to Your Garden and Gardening Hacks Can Ruin It

Many of these ridiculous hacks can alter the pH of your soil (and the ones that say they do, don’t) and won’t help or can become harmful to your garden plants, the soil, and the environment.

Always have your garden soil tested by a local service. Here in Minnesota, we can send soil samples to the University of Minnesota for testing. If this service isn’t available where you live, you can do a soil test yourself. Just know that it won’t be as accurate.

Without knowing the nutrients that are already in your soil, you have no way of knowing which fertilizers to add.

Social Media Gardening Hacks That Do Not Work

The word “hack” itself has many different meanings. Social media refers to “hacks” as simple or clever tips or techniques for accomplishing familiar tasks easier and faster. The word “hack” as social media describes it is a trend and probably won’t withstand the test of time. 

There are plenty of awesome gardeners on social media and I have some that I follow. That being said, if you are watching a YouTube gardening channel or TikTok, just because they show beautiful gardens doesn’t mean all of their information is correct. Look for experienced gardeners or master gardeners. And, if something sounds kooky or too good to be true, it probably is, so do your research.

Person looking at Pinterest on their tablet.

Many Pinterest headlines are to get clicks and that’s okay. I use Pinterest and Gingham Gardens gets many readers from Pinterest. That being said, I want anyone who comes to the website to find it helpful and full of great gardening tips and information they can count on. Just remember if a hack sounds quick or simple, it’s probably not anything you want to use in your garden.

Key Takeaways for Debunking Gardening Hacks or Myths

So this post wasn’t about all the pretty gardening things, but I’ve wanted to share my thoughts on crazy gardening hacks for a long time. 

Nobody wants to debunk our grandma or grandpa’s gardening advice, but if you find yourself saying, “Grandma always did it this way and she had a beautiful garden” do a little research for yourself.

If it sounds too easy or a quick remedy, it’s probably not a good idea to try it in your gardens.

Look for the words “natural” and “organic” in hack claims. Then ask yourself is it really?

If you see gardening tips that have the word “hack” attached to them, do your own research. The first place to start is a local university website that teaches horticulture, or your local garden extension service (see below). 

Each county within the United States has an Extension office, which is staffed with agents or master gardeners who work closely with university-based specialists to deliver answers to your questions about gardening, agriculture, and pest control. These county extension services are a wealth of solid information and a great resource for your gardening questions. You can find your local extension office here.

I hope you’ve learned how to process and think through some of the gardening hacks that do not work. Do you think I’m wrong on some of these? Or have I changed your mind? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.

Happy Gardening, 
Joanna

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