Fake news in the gardening world

Fake news is something we hear a lot lately, whether it’s the words themselves or the actual news. Although the internet can be a wonderful place where you can learn lots of new and interesting things, but it’s also a place where anyone can publish what they want without being an expert or checking their facts, thus spreading fake news.

This applies to the gardening world, too. Although we gardeners and Plant Geeks can be a little sceptical at the best of times, there are those of us who would happily believe even the most farfetched April Fools’ Day prank. Therefore, it’s time to sort out the fact from the fiction with a post about the fake news I’ve spotted lately.

1. Imposter plants on eBay

No, you can’t really grow rainbow tomatoes or kiwi strawberries – but eBay sellers will tell you that you can! Beware of these freaky Photoshopped images. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Do yourself a favour and save your time and money by avoiding these fakes.

2. Get sweeter tomatoes by adding sugar to the soil

Fake News - Tomatoes and sugar

Sure, when it comes to coffee or wine, and many other edible plants, soil content plays a large part in how the end product will taste.

But adding sugar to tomatoes? Nah. You’ll just be wasting the white stuff.

If you want sweeter tomatoes, opt for a sweeter variety. It’s usually all about genetics. Take a look at this very situation on Quora.

3. Cacti do well in the bathroom

Fake News - Cacti bathroom

If you’ve heard this, you’ve been misinformed. Some people think that cacti do well in bathrooms because they like the humidity. Unfortunately, that’s just not true.

Most cacti (besides jungle cacti) are native to desert landscapes, which means that they prefer dry conditions with well draining soil and infrequent watering.

If you want plants that will do well in your bathroom, look for plants which are native to rainforests.

4. You can determine the sex of a pepper by counting its bumps

Fake News - Pepper bumps

If you turn over a pepper, you’ll see that it has large bumps on its bottom – sometimes three, sometimes four.

The ‘fake news’ is that you can determine whether a pepper is male (if it has three bumps) or female (if it has four).  Apparently, female peppers are sweeter, whereas male peppers are less so and therefore better for cooking.

There’s so much wrong with this. Firstly, peppers can have anywhere between two and fives bumps. Secondly, peppers are both male and female. Thirdly, just like tomatoes, the sweetness of peppers depends on the variety, but also the weather and the age of the fruit.

5. Potting mix causes Legionnaires’ Disease

Fake News - Potting mix

A story was reported in 2018 about a man in New Zealand who sadly died, allegedly, from contracting Legionnaires’ Disease from potting mix.

There was much scaremongering, telling gardeners to take extra precautions when handling potting mix, or even avoiding the stuff altogether.

Unfortunately, none of the reports detail whether the potting mix was tested, or whether the man contracted the disease from another source. There is little research into the risk of contracting Legionnaires’ Disease from potting mix, and also very few cases where a person has died from the disease after supposedly coming into contact with potting soil.

There have been tests of potting mix in various countries, which have revealed that the bacteria which causes the disease is present. However, it has also been found in old potted plants as well as soil in the ground. It’s important to remember that soil contains many different types of bacteria, so you should be careful whatever you’re handling. There is more detail on this topic here.

What fake news of the plant world have you read lately? Let me know in the comments section!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. gothboyuk says:

    With regards to the Legionnaires Disease issue, I have a few thoughts. I used to work in both the regulation & assessment of industrial property that had the potential to be a Legionnaires risk. These are places where waters are kept for long periods at an elevated temperature but one that isn’t hot enough to kill the bacteria. Things like cooling towers, air-conditioning & showers fed by hot water tanks are all risks. The main way to catch it is via inhalation so anything producing a vapour is dodgy.

    Now, if we consider the compost source from the story I can see it as a realistic scenario if the compost was kept warm & wet somewhere like a conservatory or greenhouse. That would allow a reservoir of the bacteria to form. Breathing in (a lot) of dust & vapour from the compost could be a source, as could direct contact if you had an open wound.

    In reality the risk from compost is almost negligible unless you have kept it in warm & wet conditions. My main concern is handling compost with an open wound. You shouldn’t really handle anything with an uncovered wound & I’d suggest that barrier gloves are a basic safety measure that should be considered in those circumstances, even if it is covered. That’s not just for Legionella though because there’s a lot of other things that soil carries, & always has.

    TL;DR – Don’t panic, carry on as usual but he sensible if you have a wound. 👍

    1. gothboyuk says:

      *”be sensible”, not “he sensible”. 😏

  2. Cheryl Williams says:

    Hi, I’m interested in buying some Rainbow Chilli plants (not seeds). What time of the year is best to get them and what are the best growing conditions (indoor?). Thank you.

  3. I like the idea of the rainbow tomatoes, but otherwise, I haven’t heard fake gardening news, not that I’m aware of, anyway.

  4. KimGrows says:

    I’m inclined to think that ‘willy chillies’ are fake news as well – I grew some last year and they just looked like your average chilli pepper sadly!

  5. Brian Wilson says:

    On the subject of Legionnaires Disease, I am always wary of using clients hose pipes as they are often left rolled up with water left in the pipe for who knows how long, some over winter in a warm shed as many people aren’t aware of how to use the connectors properly.

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