The Right Way to Ripen Green Tomatoes and More Garden Myths Debunked

Gardeners all have tips but some are just wrong. Weed out the myths on how to ripen green tomatoes, what to plant near black walnut trees and more.

how to ripen green tomatoesFocus35/Getty Images
A row of ripening tomatoes from green to red

Myth: To Ripen Green Tomatoes, Set Them on a Sunny Windowsill

FACT: A common misconception on how ripen tomatoes is that you need a lot of light, but sunlight isn’t actually needed. For slow ripening, put tomatoes in a cool basement and wrap them individually in newspaper to contain the ethylene gas given off by the fruit that hastens ripening. Store both ripe and unripe fruits together for faster results.

Discover 12 more mistakes you’re making with your tomato garden.

Hand Holding Shovel Full of Compost, Home CompostingOnfokus/Getty Images

Myth: Compost Bins and Piles Smell Awful

FACT: If your compost pile has anything but a pleasant earthy smell, it’s not being properly worked. Get the basics to start composting for a healthy, stink-free pile. Anaerobic composting means there might be a lack of oxygen in the pile. It will break down—slowly—but will have a swampy smell. Turn the pile regularly to introduce oxygen and help mitigate any odor. Add dry leaves and a few shovels full of soil to keep composting materials from turning slimy. And never add raw meat, bones or pet waste to the pile.

Learn how to build a DIY compost bin.

Eastern black walnut fruitsnickkurzenko/Getty Images
Some plants will grow near black walnut trees

Myth: You Can’t Plant Anything Near a Black Walnut Tree

FACT: While black walnut trees do release an allelopathic chemical called juglone, which can inhibit the growth of some plants, many others are able to grow perfectly well beneath and near them. Zinnia, daylily, phlox, shasta daisy, begonia, Japanese maple, forsythia and purple coneflower all are capable of thriving near a black walnut tree. Your local cooperative extension or master gardener program will have a complete list for your region.

Discover 7 things you need to know before planting a tree.

NewspaperAdam Smigielski/Getty Images
Use newspaper and cardboard sparingly as weed barriers

Myth: Newspaper and Cardboard Are Superb Weed Barriers

FACT: In certain situations, newspaper and cardboard can be used as weed barriers and then covered with wood chips or organic mulch. The problem is, they can impede water penetration and gas exchange if they become too wet or too dry. The same goes if they’re applied too heavily. Use no more than four to six sheets of newspaper or one layer of cardboard as sheet mulch.

Should you use coffee grounds in the garden?

Senior Adults Pruning A Tree In Orchard.ArtistGNDphotography/Getty Images
Pruning trees in an orchard

Myth: You Should Paint Tree Wounds After Pruning

FACT: This is an old practice of tree care that has fallen out of favor. In most cases, painting a blemish doesn’t serve a purpose and may actually negatively affect the sealing of the wound. However, there are exceptions: If you are pruning a tree that could be threatened by the disease-carrying beetles attracted to a fresh wound, tree-wound paint can help. Consider it for the types of oaks that are susceptible to oak wilt in particular.

Here’s how to identify common tree diseases and what to do about them.

Senior Male Farmer in Coveralls Picking Weeds and Preparing Garden to Plant Plants - Stock PhotoCasarsaGuru/Getty Images
Gardener picking weeds before planting

Myth: For the Best Garden Soil, Be Sure to Cultivate Regularly

FACT: Some cultivation is helpful with heavy or compacted soils but too much can turn the topsoil into a powdery dust that repels water and is not conducive to root growth. Also, frequent cultivation exposes more of the soil to the sun, which can dry it out and cut down the amount of beneficial microbes.

Can you reuse potting soil in planters?

Placing Plant in the Dirtterminator1/Getty Images
Pepper plants don’t like cold weather

Myth: Pepper Plants Aren’t Producing Because the Soil is Too Rich

FACT: While overly rich soil will favor foliage over flowers, it won’t stop pepper plants from bearing fruit altogether. It’s more likely that a lack of flowering (and subsequent pepper production) is due to weather. A hot, drying wind will cause flowers to drop off. Also, many pepper plants are very temperature sensitive, so flowers will drop off below 55 degrees or above 85 degrees.

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Wood chips are a bad choice in a succulent garden

Myth: Wood Chips Make the Best Mulch

FACT: That depends on where and how you’re using them. Wood chips are a wonderful mulch for a natural garden, but they hold too much moisture in the soil for drought-tolerant cactuses and succulents. There are other caveats, too. Don’t spread the wood chips too heavily (no more than 3 inches thick) and don’t pile them against plant stems or tree trunks—this can cause problems with insects and rot.

We asked a garden expert: Is it OK to use rubber mulch?

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A red wheelbarrow on a lawn with fresh grass clippings in summer.

Myth: Leaving Grass Clippings in Place Will Cause Lawn Thatch to Build Up

FACT: Short grass clippings do not contribute to lawn thatch—a thick layer of dead plant debris that makes it difficult for new turf to emerge. In fact, it’s advised to leave your grass clippings in place, rather than bagging them, especially if you have a mulching mower. It’s less work and the clippings are a free source of nitrogen for your lawn. For the best-looking grass, always keep lawn mower blades sharp.

Follow these 7 tips for growing a healthy lawn.

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Water plants deeply to help them grow strong roots

Myth: You Need to Water Plants Daily

FACT: Container plants may need a dousing daily, but those planted in landscapes do not. It’s better to water once or twice a week and to irrigate deeply. Shallow watering encourages roots to stay near the surface. Instead, you want roots to grow deep so plants are self-sufficient during dry periods. Obviously, cactuses and succulents need less water. Check the soil moisture before getting out the hose.

To make the watering job even easier, invest in these plant watering systems we love.

Luke Miller
Luke Miller is an award-winning garden editor with 30 years of experience in horticultural communications, most of it with Better Homes & Gardens special interest publications, Garden Gate magazine and Lowe’s Creative Ideas. He’s written about a number of gardening topics for Birds & Blooms, as well. Luke grew up next door to the Highland Park Arboretum in Rochester, New York. He has a lifelong passion for gardening, as well as a special affinity for trees. In addition to his journalism degree, he studied horticulture and is a Master Gardener.