Environment Garden Myths Gardening Home remedies Pesticides

Gardening Tip: If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!

20170408E.jpgHere’s a principle about laidback gardening that I don’t emphasize nearly enough: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

When a plant performs well for you or a gardening technique works in your case, even though experts say it shouldn’t, don’t change anything. And that applies even if I’m the so-called expert!

Plants and gardening are full of surprises and often things that shouldn’t work do. For example, I’ve seen:

  • Roses blooming quite nicely in a woodland even though “everybody knows” that they need to be planted in full sun.
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) positively thriving in zone 3, whereas in theory it’s not reliably hardy beyond zone 5.
  • African violets full of flowers that their owners claimed were fertilized with…birth control pills!

The gardening world is jam-packed with these exceptions. Sometimes really good overall garden conditions can compensate for a weak point, for example, but other times the result is simply a total mystery. However, if it works, does it matter? Just keep on trucking!

He Said, She Said

Of course, sometimes conflicting gardening advice is simply due to two different points of view on how things should be done and both methods work. Here’s one example.

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Sure you can root cuttings in water… but you’ll get better results if you root them in potting mix.

It’s easy enough to prove that softwood cuttings root significantly better when rooted in potting soil under high humidity (under a plastic dome or inside a clear plastic bag) then when placed in a glass of water. Try a side-by-side experiment at home with cuttings from the same plant and you’ll see: soil-grown plants started “under glass” (the term used for starting them inside a mini-greenhouse) inevitably grow faster with greater vigor and are less subject to rot than cuttings rooted in water. But cuttings rooted in water often do well enough too, especially easy-to-root plants, like philodendrons and coleus. So, if it works for you, keep at it!

Just Don’t Poison Anybody

I have a hard time, however, stomaching home remedies that could have serious consequences… and there are a surprising number of them. Yes, they often work, but the risks just aren’t worth taking.

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Insecticide made from cigarette butts: who are you trying to kill? The pest or yourself?

For example, homemade nicotine insecticides, popularly made from tobacco or cigarette butts, are just too toxic to be used safely. Imagine! A spoonful of many of these homemade concoctions could easily to kill a child! Yet there are still many people who use such nicotine pesticides without even wearing protective clothing. If that’s your case, may I suggest you stop immediately?

Another example is the popular technique of placing mothballs in the garden to keep away cats, groundhogs, deer, etc. Yes, it may sometimes be effective and you may be pleased with the result… until your dog eats them and dies. And young children in the neighborhood could mistake them for candy! No, the risk is just too great!


When you garden, no, you shouldn’t mess with success. As long as you’re pleased with the results, just keep at it… but do make sure what you’re doing is safe!20170408E

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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