Garden Products You Should NOT Buy

There are virtually no regulations on gardening products. Manufacturers can say just about anything about their products even if the claims are not true. They don’t need to back up their claims with scientific evidence. As a result of this, there are useless products on the market. Some don’t work at all, and some are just bad ideas.

Over the years I have written about many such products. This post is a list of all of those products, making it easy for you to find them. For more information on any item, just click on the title link.

Bone meal organic fertilizer
Bone meal organic fertilizer

Bone Meal Organic Fertilizer

Bone meal is a organic fertilizer that is routinely recommended for gardens and especially for planting bulbs. It is a good source of phosphorus but most gardens have enough phosphorus. Most gardeners should not be adding phosphorus.




Jiffy pellets do not decompose
Jiffy pellets do not decompose

Jiffy Peat Pellets

Jiffy peat pellets, also called Jiffy pellets and Jiffy-7, are a convenient way to start seeds. Just add water to the small pellets and they expand, ready for us. This all sounds like a good idea, but how well do plants grow? Are the pellets bio-degradable in the garden?




vitamin b1 for plants
Vitamin B1 for plants

Vitamin B1 for Plants

Vitamin B1 is that miracle drug that makes all plants grow bigger especially after transplanting. It is added to several different kinds of fertilizer and plant additives. Guess what – it doesn’t work.




landscape fabric - weed barrier
Landscape fabric – weed barrier

Landscape Fabric – Weed Barrier Cloth

Landscape fabric, weed barrier and weed barrier fabric are names for the same product. They are advertised to keep weeds out of the garden, but they don’t work. They also prevent water from reaching your plant roots.




square foot gardening
Square foot gardening box

Square Foot Gardening Box

The idea of square foot gardening has become popular over the last few years and some of the underlying concepts of the this gardening technique make sense. Buying a plastic box to do this kind of gardening makes NO sense at all.




fish fertilizer
Fish fertilizer

Fish Fertilizer – Is it Worth Buying?

Fish fertilizer is reported to offer special benefits due to the proteins and oils, but your plants can’t use these until they are converted to nutrients in the soil–lust like any other organic fertilizer. On a $/lb nitrogen basis, fish fertilizer is a ridiculous price. Unless you have cheap access to fish, other organic fertilizers are a much better buy and offer the same benefits.



anvil secateurs (pruners)
Anvil secateurs (pruners)

Anvil or Bypass Secateurs

There are two types of secateurs, also called pruners; bypass and anvil. If you are using an anvil pruner for most of your pruning needs – you are using the wrong tool.




electronic soil pH meter
Soil pH meter

Soil pH Testers

Soil pH testers that are sold for garden use do not have enough accuracy to be of much help.




mycorrhizae fungi
Mycorrhizae fungi

Mycorrhizal Fungi Inoculant Products

There is no doubt that mycorrhizae play an important role in plant growth. They grow naturally in your soil and you don’t need to buy them for your garden.




Hand garden cultivator
Hand garden cultivator

Hand Garden Cultivator

This garden tool is designed for weeding and loosening the surface of your soil. You see them everywhere and I always wondered why people buy them??? I’ve never found any use for them.




Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)
Goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria)

Invasive Plants

This is a list of invasive plants you should never, never, never add to your garden–unless you want them everywhere.





Blossom end rot in tomatoes
blossom end rot in tomatoes

Blossom End Rot Sprays

Blossom End Rot is not caused by a calcium deficiency, as believed by most people. Consequently Blossom End Rot sprays that apply calcium can not work. See the post on the real cause of Blossom End Rot for details.




Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate Perky-pet
Hummingbird Nectar Concentrate Perky-Pet

Hummingbird Nectar Food

Hummingbird nectar food is easy and cheap to make and you don’t need the red colored dye. There is no point in buying a commercial product.





Miracle-Gro orchid media
Miracle-Gro orchid media

Orchid Media in White Plastic Bags

This orchid product has the consistency of soil, and is far too fine for growing orchids, which need a very airy chunky media. If you can’t see inside the bag don’t buy it.




Sunlight calculator
Sunlight calculator

Sunlight Calculator

The sunlight calculator is a fancy electronic way to look at the shady areas in your garden. You can easily do the same thing with paper and pencil – I’ll show you how.




Dog Rocks
Dog Rocks

Dog Rocks

Dog Rocks are sold to reduce the nitrates in drinking water, thereby reducing burnt lawn spots from your dog. They do not work!




Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist
Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist

Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist

Miracle-Gro Orchid Plant Food Mist is a foliar spray for orchids. Foliar sprays do not work well on orchids and this is an extremely expensive way to buy fertilizer. I’ll show you how to save $2,440.

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59 thoughts on “Garden Products You Should NOT Buy”

  1. Dear Robert

    here is another product for your list:

    Sluggo the organic slug bait. Its active ingredient is 1% iron-III phoshate, which makes it organic.
    However (in Switzerland) these baits cost about twice that of standard well proven (non-branded) metaldehyd baits. I reckon the difference in price will be about the same in other countries.
    However for big slugs (Arion vulgaris) you require about 50kg/hectare of Sluggo to be effective. This is about 250 baits/m2

    Metaldehyde (at 3% concentration) on the other hand only requires 7kg/hectare = 40 baits/m2. So you require 5 times more bait at twice the price for the same amount. So this makes the iron-III phoshate 10 times more expensive. 5 times more bait also means 5 times more transportation. This may not be relevant for the home gardener, who only buys one packet of pellets at the time. The weight of the pellets is kind of neglegable compared to the weight of the car. But for the professional grower who is concerned about the carbon foot print this is not good news.

    However the worst thing is the iron-III phosphate pellets are significantly less effective. This is shown in this study that was performed and published in the reputable journal Crop Protection. You can download the paper with this link.

    The study was originally peformed to test whether iron-III-phosphate pellets are viable for organic farming. Ironically it was made by the Swiss Research Institute of Organic Agriculture.
    According to the study leaf loss of letuce was about 5 times higher with the organic pellets than with the metaldehyde pellets in the 1999 trials. Also marketable head size was only half of the metaldehyde trials. According to the study 1999 was a rather wet spring, so effective protection against slugs is even more important.

    Since the iron-III-phosphate does not work so well chelating some manufacturers add chelating agents to make them more effective.
    The chelating agents on the other hand ar potentially harmful to the earthworms. At least they are a lot more harmful to earthworms than metaldehyde. This is clearly shown in this study:

    This article on the hostalibrary also investigates the chelating agent problem also very thouroughly

    I have been using these organic pellets myself and I found them not to be very effective. My lettuce was gone in no time even when I used them organic pellets. Maybe I did not use enough pellets, I mean it is quite difficult to dose and 250 pcs/m2 is a lot. Only when I started to use the much cheaper metaldehyde pellets I was able to more or less erradicate the Arion vulgaris slugs.
    Metaldehyde pellets have become quite safe, because they contain Bitrex, so no mammal can actually swallow them. And in the ground metaldehyde decomposes over time to CO2 and water. So it is actually quite environmentally friendly.

    This could make a nice garden myth story. You can probably much better elaborated than I can.

    • Thanks for the info – I will add it to the list for a future post.

      I was under the impression that Metaldehyde was more toxic, but that may not be true.

  2. I read your article on phosphorus. I live in Western Australia and have been told, our soil is badly lacking in phosphorus, as our native trees don’t need it and a excess will kill them. In response, our farmers go overboard and layer the soil in it. They are turning our country into a desert as none of the natives will grow in that soil. I have seen a shrub die really fast, when I accidentally fertilized it with phosphorus. So it seems we need to add it to our garden beds, due to the lack in the soil, as long as we don’t add Natives to it as well. Is this fitting, with what you know or is your knowledge of Australian growing conditions limited? Interested to see what you think and if I have been living under a myth along with our farmers.

  3. Thanks! I concur!
    Q: Is there a place where the public can post ideas for myths to cover?
    I searched your website for two terms: 1) “biosolids” and 2) possible heavy metals (mostly from use of fly ash / flyash) in cement/cinder blocks (commonly used for raised beds and compost pile edges) and nothing showed up.
    I understand that your new book covers 120 myth topics, so I am not sure if these two topics were covered in those 120.

    • Except for comments there is no place to post suggestions – something I may add.

      These topics are not in my book, but are on my long list of future topics.

      Biosolids seem to be perfectly safe provided that the facility making it is doing proper testing. The problem is the governments are being extremely cautious about them and limiting their use. I don’t think the general public is ready to accept them.

      Cement/cinder blocks made today are perfectly safe to use in the garden. Ones made say 20 years ago might have leached some heavy metals, but that is checked for these days. I have to admit I have not researched these extensively.

      • It’s really checked for imports? Lead, cadmium, and similar are frequently problems with products originating from such places as China, Mexico, and India — like dishes (because of the lead frit), costume jewelry, and a host of other things. Even dumplings are made by breaking down cardboard with chemicals in China. Only a tiny fraction of importing cargo is inspected.

  4. Thank you for the information that you provide . I have only just discovered your site . I live in New Zealand and at the present time we are experiencing drought conditions in the North Island . We are all on rainwater tank supply and at the moment it’s a water crises . I Googled “is soapy water safe for plants ? ” I have read a few of your posts and I thank you for teaching me a few things . I will be following you in the future . Again Thank you

  5. Agree, agree, agree, and thank you for spreading the word.

    I’d only say one good use for landscaping fabric–I’ve found it excellent for lining solid-edged gravel paths, to keep the gravel out of the soil.

    Re: fish fertilizer–what do you recommend for fast acting liquid fertilizer? I would rather not use “fish emulsion”, but it’s been my go-to for small seedlings and young plants that need a touch of N to get going.

  6. I liked the advice about what not to put in your your garden, I’d add morning glories to that list. It took me three years of constantly pulling new growing plants to kill all of it after this invasive plant snuck under my fence from a neighbors yard and threatened to take over my climbing roses.

    • Invasiveness is regional and depends on climate. Also depends on species and cultivar. I have read many reports of it being a problem in warmer climates. In my zone 5 garden I have never seen it survive a winter.

      • I’m in Zone 6, southern Ontario. My blue Morning Glories seeds do not survive the winter and don’t germinate the next spring. But I once planted the wine/ purplish one and 3 years later, I am still pulling out the seedlings. I will never plant them again. Too much of a good thing. On the other hand, I have a friend who loves them and has them planted next to a fence which somewhat control their spread.

  7. Humic acids below a certain pH (pKa ~9) are humate salts to some degree depending on pH among other things. They are the same class of molecules in different ionization states. Same for so-called fulvic acids (lower molecular wieght), naphthenic acids [aromatic/polyaromatic], etc.. The real question is how one charcterizes this spectrum of organic molecules and from where the source is derived.

  8. Blossom End Rot is caused by insufficient Calcium reaching the area of the plant affected. It is not necessarily caused by a deficiency of calcium in the soil. I read your article and agreed, however your title was a bit misleading.

  9. Is it really worth purchasing a filter to reduce chlorine levels in tap water? They say it has a negative effect on soil microbes.

    I could only find one website quoting a study I could not confirm. There are numerous people speaking against the extra chlorine. Any thoughts would greatly be appreciated

    • There are two types of chlorine treatment used for drinking water. One uses a form of chlorine where it evaporates quickly and would not be a problem in gardens. I am not sure of the second form. The reference you included seems to have sound information in it. Bacteria are very resilient.

      I have never seen a study that shows chlorinated water is a problem in the garden. I would not buy a filter.

      • Chloramine are the second form. It is created by reacting Chlorine with Ammonia. Chloramine is not as effective a disinfectant as Chlorine but it is not a gas so it does not evaporate like Chlorine.

    • Hi.
      I live I Hartlepool UK.

      Our water has possibly the highest levels of naturally occurring Chlorine in the British Isles.

      Apart from exceptionally low levels of tooth decay we have no adverse effects to the composition of our soils and smile at people who wish to purchase Chlorine filters.

    • I would make sure that if you have a water softener using sodium that it doesn’t manage to get sodium into your water. Potassium chloride for softeners is available but it has disappeared for me locally, because people only look at the price tags.

      Similarly, try to avoid sodium from salt in deicers. My former neighbors refused to spend a bit more on non-sodium deicer so I had a lot of problems from soil salt level (from runoff and salt pieces that got pushed into the area).

    • I have only looked at humate type products briefly. Some comments:

      1) although people are calling these humates and trying to make claims they are like humus–they are NOT humus. Just because the names sound the same does not mean they are both good for the garden.
      2) I have not seen any serious horticulture source of information promote these products as being good for the garden.
      3) The information on the Teravita site is written to sound very scientific, but it’s not. There are no scientific references in peer reviewed publications which means scientists are not study this material–there is no interest. When I see this kind of pseudoscience I conclude that it is baloney written to sell a product.
      4) When I Google “what is humate” I found this site: the first paragraph of their definition is as follows:
      “Humate is the purest form of natural organic matter known to man and it is one of the most complex substances on earth. Humate is highly concentrated into a solid material, similar to coal. Humate is the generic name for soil humic substances. Humic acid is the chemical properties of humate. Humate and Humic acid are basically one in the same. Humate is essentially to life…for humans, animals and all the plants on this earth.”

      I then ask does this make sense? Is it believable?
      a) “Humate is the purest form of natural organic matter” – Any natural plant material would be just as pure – this is a stupid statement.
      b) ” solid material, similar to coal” – I can agree with this. many of the so called mineral humus like materials are essentially coal. There is no evidence they add any value to a garden.
      c) “Humate is the generic name for soil humic substances” – that is not true.
      d) “Humic acid is the chemical properties of humate” – No true. Humic acid is the name of a specific type of compound–it is a chemical, not a chemical property. The author does not understand very basic chemistry.
      e) “Humate and Humic acid are basically one in the same” – no they are quite different. If they were the same they would both be called Humic Acid. And if humate was humic acid, they it certainly would not be either soil humic , nor would it be a pure natural organic product.

      Clearly the people selling and promoting this product do not know what they are talking about. They are making up lies to make their product sound valuable and important. I would not buy it.


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