How Your Garden Grows: The Impact Of Sound On Plants

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February 6, 2019

There’s a theory that you can give your gardens a boost by singing or talking to your plants. When my three-year-old learned about this recently, he began belting out a tune by Nirvana to one of my houseplants. Yes, Nirvana. I have a pretty cool kid.

Like humans, plants are living things, and they need to be nurtured and well cared for to thrive. But does the sound of our voices encourage our gardens to grow?

Many studies have looked at that very question, and although there’s no firm conclusion, some evidence suggests that when singing or talking to a plant, carbon dioxide is expelled in its direction. Plants, of course, need CO2 for photosynthesis, a process that helps them grow.

So, much to my son’s disappointment, Kurt Cobain may not be the answer.

They’re Just Like Us

But more scientific work is emerging suggesting that plants aren’t all that different from people, adjusting themselves to conditions based on the sounds they hear, or rather, feel.

Plants don’t have ears, but it’s believed they react to the vibrations felt on their leaves and flowers.

Plants and Pollinators

Not yet published in a scientific journal, a recent experiment out of Tel Aviv University suggests that flowers can “hear” animals and insects, and will even sweeten their nectar when a buzzing bee approaches.

The research team used beach evening primroses and looked for reactions to the air vibrations of a bee’s wingbeats. The results are nothing short of incredible! As the buzzing sound bounced off the flowers’ petals, the sugar concentration in its nectar increased by 20%.

When the flower was covered with a glass jar, the vibrations weren’t felt, and the nectar’s sweetness remained the same.

Plants and Water

In addition to the sounds of pollinating insects, another research team believes our gardens may perk up when water begins to gurgle.

Scientific American says biologist Monica Gagliano and her team from the University of Western Australia used pea seedlines placed in pots shaped like an upside-down Y. One of the pot’s arms was put into a tray of water, and the other arm in dry soil.

As if using sound waves to find the all-important H2O, the roots grew towards the arm that had been placed in liquid.

When the arm was placed in moistened soil, the roots preferred that over just plain water, obviously, the smarter choice!  

Plants and Predators

Leaf vibrations may even signal approaching predators, helping plants boost their natural defense mechanisms.

Experts have proven that when a plant is attacked for the first time by something, such as a hungry caterpillar, it doesn’t respond right away.

But the next time a caterpillar comes along, its defense chemicals slip into high gear, transforming its leaves from a 5-star meal into a toxic, unpalatable experience.

Biologists from the University of Missouri say this “priming” process is triggered by sound. With one group of plants, they mimicked the sounds of a chewing caterpillar and vibrated it off their leaves. Another group of plants was left alone.

Published in the journal Oecologia, the findings reveal that the plants exposed to the chewing noises produced higher levels of chemicals to fight off the insects than the group that grew in silence.

Plants and Bullies

Taking the idea that our gardens can hear a little further, IKEA has done an interesting study to prove just how harmful bullying can be.

Just like us, our plants might be hurt by unkind words and actions.

The Bully A Plant experiment, conducted at a school in the United Arab Emirates, involved two identical IKEA plants. For 30 days, students at the school were asked to compliment one of the plants, and bully or insult the other.

IKEA admits it wasn’t the most scientific of experiments, but both plants received the same amount of sun, water, and nutrition.

After a month, the plant that had heard only kind words was thriving. The plant that had been taunted was wilting and drooping.

A Gentle Nudge

So, whether you’re singing, talking, or buzzing around, know that various sounds can very well have an impact on how your garden grows.

For an interesting read, take a look at Sound Gardening Advice: Talk To Your Plants, by Cosmic Knot. You can find it on page 102 of Garden Culture Magazine, Issue 22.   

Catherine Sherriffs
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Catherine Sherriffs

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her two young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.
Catherine Sherriffs
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