For Better Gardens and Happier Gardening, Beware of These 8 Social Media Trends

Social media is a highlight reel: The things you see don’t always represent the entire picture or, in some cases, reality at all. 

So while you can get good, thorough online gardening advice from sources who actually specialize in it, it pays to take some of the other guidance with a grain of salt (just not Epsom salts, as we’ll discuss in a second).

Here are eight social media trends to be leery of.

  • The Epsom salts cure-all. The reason gardeners reach for Epsom salts is rooted in chemistry: in water, it breaks down into magnesium and sulfate. Since magnesium is a secondary macronutrient that plays a role in chlorophyll production, photosynthesis, and enzyme function, it stands to reason that Epsom salts can help magnesium-depleted soil. But the truth is, the effect is minimal, and it would be far better to apply a balanced fertilizer.  As for the promises influencers make — Epsom salts can do everything from grow bigger flowers to prevent tomato blossom end-rot — not only are they overblown, in many cases they’re incorrect. Tomato blossom end-rot is associated with calcium deficiency, not a lack of magnesium.
  • Aesthetics over everything. For the sake of a good Insta photo, aesthetics are often prioritized over plant well-being. Beware of bloggers who encourage look-alikes by posting a photo of succulents or other plants crammed into a small pot, with a caption reading something like, "Loving my new succulent garden! So easy to care for and adds a pop of color to my apartment!" Overcrowding restricts root growth, hinders plants’ ability to access water and nutrients, increases susceptibility to pests and diseases, and generally amounts to plant abuse. 
  • Giving props to invasive plants. Because of their appearance or low maintenance requirements, invasive plants are taking over social feeds like kudzu on an evergreen. But kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata, also known as Asian arrowroot) is more than a vine gone viral. It’s a cold-hearted killer, smothering trees, if not entire landscapes. Other trendy invasive plants include English ivy (which can climb trees, block the sun, and slow plant growth); Ailanthus altissima (Tree of Heaven) which, despite its angelic name, crowds out native species and secretes a toxic chemical into the soil that inhibits the growth of surrounding plants; and certain honeysuckle varieties that outcompete native species and disrupt the food chain for the birds and insects who depend on those plants.
  • DIY weed killers. Vinegar, salt, boiling water, and dish soap are all touted as weed killers, and they can be slightly but temporarily effective (they don’t kill the root, so the weed will just regrow). The bigger problem is that those substances — whether used alone or in combination — often do more harm than good. They’re non-selective, damaging desirable plants as well as weeds; this issue is compounded when there’s no controlled application method like there is with a commercial product. In addition, the acidity of vinegar can alter soil pH while salt can leave the soil unsuitable for future planting. As if that’s not bad enough, there are DIY solutions that call for bleach or ammonia (NEVER mix the two), which can cause serious environmental harm and irritate skin and eyes on contact, without doing much to permanently kill their intended target. 
  • DIY seed bombs. DIY seed bombs (typically a mixture of wildflower or native plants seeds held together with a binder like compost or powdered clay then formed into a ball and tossed onto bare soil) might seem like a fun and easy way to “garden,” but they aren’t likely to germinate. They can dry out quickly,  seeds aren’t planted at an appropriate depth, and if the bomb lands on a rock or debris instead of the ground, there’s probably no hope for it.
  • The “No Effort” Garden. I can hear you lol’ing from here. The "no-effort garden" trend on social media promotes the idea of having a beautiful and thriving garden without putting in a lot of time or work or having much in the way of expertise. It often features visually appealing gardens that seem to flourish with minimal intervention. Gardening is a joyful, fulfilling pastime, but if you put in no effort you’ll get nothing in return. 
  • Coffee Grounds for Acid-Loving Plants. While coffee grounds can be beneficial in compost, using them directly around acid-loving plants like blueberries or azaleas can have mixed results at best. The acidity of used coffee grounds is relatively weak and might not have a significant impact on soil pH, especially in well-draining soils.
  • "Perfect Lawn" Expectations. Many online lawn photos show professionally landscaped yards that cost a ton to create and require significant resources to maintain, which is unrealistic for most homeowners. On top of that, the photos themselves may have been touched up — or considerably altered (think deep green fake). Yes, every lawn needs to be watered, mowed, and generally cared for, but excessive mowing and herbicide use can harm the environment and beneficial insects. 

The Upside

The good news is that even a casual review of online platforms will show positive trends emerging online that promote sustainable gardening practices, including native plant gardening that benefits the local ecosystem; pollinator-friendly gardens that attract butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects; and sustainable landscaping practices, such as rainwater harvesting, composting, and water-wise gardening.

As for many of those other sites, the best advice is to scroll on by. 

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