Can You Trust Gardening Memes?

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Robert Pavlis

Memes have become very popular because their image fits nicely in most social media platforms, and they present information in a brief catchy format that is easy to share. Who has time to actually read and understand a topic?

Unfortunately, some are made by people who know very little about gardening or don’t take the time to check their facts. To catch your attention, authors use short catchy phrases that skip the important details. The result are memes that are wrong, or at best misleading.

Can You Trust Gardening Memes?
Can You Trust Gardening Memes?

What Is A Meme?

“A meme is a virally transmitted image embellished with text, usually sharing pointed commentary on cultural symbols, social ideas, or current events. ”

There are two types of gardening memes. Some are just funny statements about life, like the one pictured above. They don’t contain garden information and aren’t misleading. The other kind try to educate gardeners and these are generally wrong.

Compost Science for Gardeners by Robert Pavlis

To be effect they need to be simple and carry a strong opinion that people can connect with. Then they actively spread the meme through their online social media platforms.

I will have a look at some common gardening memes and analyze them.

Dandelions Are A Bees First Food

This one has been floating around for years. It claims that dandelions are important for bees because they are their first food. I have reviewed this in detail in Are Dandelions Really Important to Bees?

Dandelions are not a first food for bees in most locations, but trees and many flowers are. Dandelion pollen is also of poor quality for bees.

Dandelions are NOT a bees first food
Dandelions are NOT a bees first food

Soil Is An Antidepressant

Gardeners enjoy getting their hands dirty and so it is easy to convince them that soil has beneficial properties like being an antidepressant. The bacteria Mycobacterium vacii does not even exist! Serotonin has been well studied and is known as the “feel-good hormone”. It plays a key role in staving off anxiety and depression. However, there is no evidence that any soil organism produces any compound that will increase your serotonin level.

Enjoy the garden and walking in the woods, but it is not because soil is an antidepressant.

Soil is NOT an antidepressant
Soil is NOT an antidepressant

Do Crushed Tomato Leaves Kill Aphids?

Gardeners fall of any kind of DIY control for pests. Did you know that crushed tomato leaves get rid of pests?

There is always a bit of science in these memes. Tomatoes do produce a compound called tomatine and it does repel insects a bit. At 1,000 ppm tomatine reduced the number of aphids by 28%, but it was not nearly as effective as garlic or Neem. But tomatine is not very soluble in water, so extracting it from leaves using water will probably result in a mixture that is less than 1 ppm. If 1,000 ppm is not very effect, than 1 ppm is useless. It is a dumb idea presented in a catchy meme.

The other clue is that aphids are a pest on tomatoes!

Crushed tomatoes leaves do NOT prevent aphids
Crushed tomatoes leaves do NOT prevent aphids

Opossums Eat Ticks

Such cute little animals – surely they are good for the garden?

Do they eat a lot of ticks? Turns out they don’t. They will eat some if they happen to find them while grooming, but they don’t eat many. Scientists who looked that the stomach content of wild opossums found almost no ticks. They are not tick eating machines.

What about rabies? Opossums can get rabies and several other diseases, but they seem to be less affected by rabies than other animals.

Opossums do NOT eat a lot of ticks
Opossums do NOT eat a lot of ticks

Neonicotinoids Are Killing The Bees

There is so much press about “dying bees”. The bees are dying! Oh no – we will run out of food. Then gardeners found out that Home Depot sprayed their garden plants with neonicotinoids and people went crazy and refused to buy their plants. I wish people would take a moment and check the facts – good thing you have Garden Myths to do that for you. By the way, all growers of horticultural plants spray their plants. If they didn’t, people would not buy them.

First of all the bees are not dying any more than usual. There were a couple of down years in North America. The number of honeybees globally has been steadily growingcheck out the graph here. Granted there are honey bee deaths every winter and the most probable cause is varroa mites. Scientists understand that well. Pesticide problems are way down the list of possible causes.

What about those sprayed garden plants? It’s a non-issue. The amount of pesticide in any one plant added to your garden will not harm things. If you are really concerned about harming bees – don’t let it flower the first year. By the second year the pesticide will be all but gone. For more details see The Unrealistic Concern About Neonics and Horticultural Plants.

What if we lost the pollinators, how would that affect our food supply? In North America about 30% of our food is pollinated. Globally, 10% is pollinated. We won’t starve without pollinators; you just won’t be able to eat almonds.

This meme is correct in one respect. Bee deaths are no longer a mystery with respect to neonics – we know they are not the problem.

Neonicotinoids are NOT killing honeybees
Neonicotinoids are NOT killing honeybees

Looking For More Memes

If you find other gardening memes of a suspicious nature, please post a link to them in comments below.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

16 thoughts on “Can You Trust Gardening Memes?”

  1. I just read a new article by an Aussie amateur beekeeper repeating the old claims that “there are no bees in parts of East China” and about “worldwide bee decline”. Are there any scientific references that disprove those claims?
    I’m skeptical about the no bees in East China claims – considering China is by far the world’s biggest honey producer (about a quarter of the world’s total)

    • What kind of bees are being discussed? Any such discussion needs to either identify honeybees or native bees. If the author did not do this they should not be writing about bees.

      Native bees are declining. Honeybees are not.

      “there are no bees in parts of East China” – what does that mean? I am sure you can find a place in East China with no honey bees, and probably also with no native bees. It does not say in East China – it says “pats of” East China.

      • He repeated the old story that we probably all saw on TV about a decade ago about the “bees are dying”, and repeated the part about “farmers in East China had to hand pollinate the pear and apple trees because there’s no bees”. So I presume he’s talking about honey bees, although I’m skeptical about his whole article, despite his claimed expertise in keeping backyard honey bees.
        Yes there’s probably not many bees in Central Shanghai, but the implication is that he’s talking about orchards. I suspect farmers in East China would bring honey beehives into their orchards if they required them. Another possibility is that hand-pollination is affordable there – but I’m only guessing.

  2. Good article: You’re Worrying About the Wrong Bees

    “Honey bees will be fine. They are a globally distributed, domesticated animal. Apis mellifera will not go extinct, and the species is not remotely threatened with extinction.

    The bees you should be concerned about are the 3,999 other bee species living in North America, most of which are solitary, stingless, ground-nesting bees you’ve never heard of. Incredible losses in native bee diversity are already happening.”

  3. After a “systematic review of the literature”, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that “most uses of neonicotiniod pesticides represent a risk to wild bees and honey bees”.
    In a paper published in 2019 in Scientific Reports, F. Muth and AS Leonard state “we uncovered dose-dependent detrimental effects on motivation to initiate foraging, amount of nectar collected and initiation of subsequent foraging bouts”.
    A Cornell College of Ag. paper concludes “an overall majority of lab and semi-field research demonstrates neonicotiniods can be harmful to honey bees, whilst the majority of field studies find only limited or no effect on honey bees. The majority of lab, semi-field and field studies report negative implications of neonicotiniods [on bumble bees].”
    So, not quite the simplistic and complacent picture you paint.

  4. “Bees are not dying any more than usual”.
    Yet according to the paper you link to, the US honey bee population has halved between 1960 and 2007. What, then, is “usual”?

  5. So when we see people hand pollinating pumpkins “because there’s not enough bees” are they actually doing anything useful?

  6. Great article and I appreciate your research and getting the facts out.

    I believe that there’s a reason people believe the myth about micobacterium vacii. I know first-hand that working in the soil will increase mood, but only because working in the garden is therapeutic for lots of people, including me. But, as you explain, it’s not because of any fictitious soil bacteria.

    Part of reason that it’s therapeutic is because sun exposure helps people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression that is not necessarily seasonal for some people. In addition, working and staying busy is helpful to most people who are depressed. It works very well for me.

    As far as the magical bacteria in the soil goes, I appreciate you getting the facts out, which you are particularly good at. I have referred several people to your web page, many of who seem to know more myths than facts when it comes to gardening.


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