Califonia Bountiful

New for 2015: Garden myths uprooted

Jan./Feb. 2015 California Bountiful magazine

The truth behind gardening advice

Myth: Always put gravel at the bottom of the pot for better drainage and to keep the soil from slipping out of the hole when watering.

Uprooted: You don't need to put anything over the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot for container plants. The myth is that the gravel will prevent rot at the bottom of the pot, but the exact opposite occurs: Instead of excess water draining out the hole, it puddles around the gravel so the plant roots are literally sitting in water. For great drainage, I use a coarse potting or planting mix, one with plenty of organic matter, in my pots.

Myth: All trees need to be staked when they are planted.

Uprooted: A tree does not need to be staked unless it cannot stand on its own, and even then, the staking should be temporary. Most people are guilty of three staking sins:

  •  Leaving the nursery stake tied against the tree trunk at planting time—A tree needs to be able to move to develop its "muscles" so it can withstand wind and driving rain without toppling. That nursery stake is used because potted trees are often pencil thin and have to be staked to stand up in their pots. Once planted, check the tree to see if it stands upright without support. If it stands without leaning, don't stake it.
  • Staking the tree improperly—If the tree needs stakes, place two wooden stakes (never use fencing t-posts) 12 to 18 inches away from the root ball. Use strips of nylon pantyhose or gardening tape to tie the tree to the stakes. Loop the ties around the tree trunk and the stakes at the lowest possible spot that holds the tree upright. The tree should be able to bend and move, but not flop over. To find this point, start at the base of the tree and run your hand up the trunk. When you come to the spot where you can hold the tree straight, put the ties there. The stakes should be just a few inches taller than the spot where the ties are placed, and certainly not tall enough to interfere with the tree canopy.
  • Leaving stakes on too long—Remove the stakes after a year unless the tree is still unable to support itself. Most people never remove the stakes, and an arborist I know said that's like wearing a cast all your life.

Proper planting, proper staking and proper care produce a tree with a strong trunk and root system that will be able to withstand most anything Mother Nature tosses its way. Look at how palm trees withstand hurricane-force winds: No one ever stakes a palm tree.


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