In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
January, 2010
Regional Report

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Misting the foliage of orchids will not cause the leaves to have burned spots.

Dispelling Garden Myths

As we welcome a new year it's time to dispel some of those gardening myths that continue to confuse and frustrate gardeners. For the past 30 years of hosting the Gardening with an Altitude radio program, it seems that some gardening practices become embedded like fossils.

Sun and Water
I've had encounters with numerous callers who still believe that watering on a sunny day will burn a plant's leaves. An observant gardener or nature buff will see things differently. High country thunderstorms are frequent in the Rockies every summer and the sun will appear soon afterward. When was the last time you saw a forest littered with the carnage of leaves scorched by the sun shining through the fresh mist and rain droplets?

Plants are well adapted to deal with moisture on their foliage. Moisture helps cool plant tissues and reduces stress. In fact, watering your lawn during the heat of summer can help prevent undue stress and maintain better quality turf. If you find holes "burned" in the leaves, it is generally due to disease organisms or insect activity. It has nothing to do with sunlight shining through the water droplets.

Perhaps the only reason not to water in the heat of the day is that moisture is lost more quickly through evaporation. It is important to water when plants show signs of moisture stress, whether in the heat of the day or early morning or evening. Water thoroughly and deeply to maintain uniform soil moisture.

Potting up Plants
A common, but useless, practice involves placing a layer of gravel or sand in the bottoms of pots to provide drainage. When gravel is placed in the bottom of a pot you are taking away space for potting soil, as well as making the pot heavier. It is the hole in the bottom of the pot that allows water to flow through. In pots without drainage holes, a layer of sand or gravel will do no good. As the soil stays wet in the bottom of the pot, roots become waterlogged and rot occurs. A small piece of window screen placed over the drainage hole is all that's needed to keep the soil from sifting out. Remember, too, that if the pot sits in a shallow drainage saucer, don't allow this saucer to remain full of water or the roots at the bottom of the container can be damaged more rapidly. Empty the drainage saucers about 30 minutes after watering your plants.

Pruning Bare Root Plants
Another fallacy tells us that when planting bare root trees and shrubs it is necessary to prune away enough of the top branches to balance the top with the roots that were disturbed. A little common sense will disprove this myth. As a bare root plant begins to grow, it is already equipped to limit new shoot and leaf growth to the capacity of the root system. Pruning will only take away healthy buds and will rob the plant of stored energy. After the tree has grown for a season and acclimated from the stress of transplanting, you can begin pruning for balance and shape. A wise gardener will make as few cuts as possible.

I wish you a rewarding and fun garden season in 2010. Remember to be an observant gardener and you will learn to understand plant growth. Don't be dismayed by so many of those old garden myths. A little common sense will make your gardening endeavors more fun.


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