Dis­pelling some gar­den­ing myths

The Sudbury Star - - TRAVEL - MARK and BEN CULLEN Mark Cullen is an ex­pert gar­dener, au­thor, broad­caster, tree ad­vo­cate and Mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth­gen­er­a­tion ur­ban gar­dener and grad­u­ate of Univer­sity of Guelph and Dal­housie Univer­sity in Hal­i­fax. Fol­low

In gar­den­ing, there is al­ways a ten­sion be­tween lore and sci­ence. We hear about it all the time.

One per­son will chal­lenge some­thing that we say based on what they learned at the knee of their grand­mother (lore). An­other will ques­tion our “au­thor­ity” based on sci­ence.

We have re­spect for all sec­ond opin­ions, re­gard­less of whether they are grounded in sci­ence or anec­dotes.

One per­son who has ded­i­cated a lot of time to dis­pelling the per­sis­tent myths of gar­den­ing is Guelph writer Robert Pavlis. Pavlis was trained in chem­istry and bio­chem­istry and gar­dened for more than 30 years be­fore sell­ing his soft­ware busi­ness to fo­cus more on his gar­den­ing pas­sion.

To­day, he ap­plies his sci­en­tific mind to chal­leng­ing gar­den myths through aca­demic re­search and trial in his six-acre pri­vate gar­den of more than 3,000 peren­ni­als. He writes about his find­ings on his web­site www.gar­den­myths.com and in his re­cent book Gar­den Myths: Learn the truth be­hind ur­ban le­gends and hor­ti­cul­tural mys­ter­ies.

Ben sat down with Robert to dis­cuss some of these myths.

Make your Christ­mas tree go the dis­tance

We agree that there is noth­ing like a real Christ­mas tree. We run into lore where tree preser­va­tion is con­cerned. Peo­ple have tried to pro­long cut-tree fresh­ness us­ing tree preser­va­tives, mo­lasses, su­gar, bleach, soft drinks, as­pirin, honey and fer­til­izer. Pavlis puts it bluntly: “None of these prod­ucts work. Test­ing has shown that none of these ad­di­tives work bet­ter than just plain old wa­ter.”

So, what can you do to make your tree last as long as pos­si­ble, other than just adding wa­ter? Ac­cord­ing to Pavlis, “Make a fresh cut when you set it up and get it in wa­ter right away. Do not re­move any of the bark. Don’t let the tree dry out. Keep the tree away from fire places, heat vents and other warm ar­eas.”

Does cut­ting the tree on an an­gle, to max­i­mize the amount of wood avail­able for wa­ter up­take help at all? Over to Pavlis, “No, cut­ting on an an­gle will do noth­ing to im­prove wa­ter up­take. In fact, an an­gled cut runs the risk of be­ing ex­posed when the wa­ter level drops which will ac­tu­ally make the tree dry out faster”. Noted — keep it per­pen­dic­u­lar. Are poin­set­tias poi­sonous? “No,” says Pavlis, “you would have to eat an en­tire plant to even get a stom­ach ache. So, would a cat or a dog. The poin­set­tia is a Eu­phor­bia, a genus of plants that have a white milky sap. Some peo­ple do have an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to the sap when they get it on their skin and it is very likely to ir­ri­tate the mouth.”

We didn’t ask if it was worth al­lergy test­ing the dog.

How can I max­i­mize the bloom of my Christ­mas cac­tus in time for Christ­mas?

We have heard of peo­ple lock­ing their Christ­mas cac­tus in a dark closet for 12 hours ev­ery night to try and max­i­mize blooms. Pavlis? “Myth.” Let the cac­tus be free. “A dark pe­riod of 12 hours will help, but they don’t need to­tal dark­ness,” which hap­pens to be about the length of night around Christ­mas.

He adds, “The first thing to re­al­ize is that the most com­mon Christ­mas cac­tus sold is a mis­la­beled Thanks­giv­ing cac­tus (Sch­lum­berg­era trun­cate), which blooms in mid fall. The Christ­mas cac­tus (Sch­lum­berg­era x buck­leyi) blooms right around Christ­mas. These are ap­prox­i­mate bloom times and, in the home, they bloom when they get the con­di­tions they need.”

The trick, then, is to make sure those con­di­tions are met.

“The most crit­i­cal re­quire­ment for set­ting buds is low tem­per­a­tures. The typ­i­cal cool fall tem­per­a­tures work well. Leave them near a win­dow or in cool porch for six weeks and they will set buds. Let­ting them dry out be­tween wa­ter­ing will also en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of buds,” Pavlis says.

So, let that be a gift — some sci­en­tific sup­port for best prac­tices as you meet with rel­a­tives dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. And if that’s not enough, con­sider buy­ing the book.

Gar­den Myths

By Robert Pavlis ISBN: 978-1542465229 Pub­lisher: CreateS­pace In­de­pen­dent Pub­lish­ing

Price: $20


One per­son who has ded­i­cated a lot of time to dis­pelling the per­sis­tent myths of gar­den­ing is Guelph writer Robert Pavlis. His new book is Gar­den Myths: Learn the truth be­hind ur­ban le­gends and hor­ti­cul­tural mys­ter­ies.

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