• Kate Neilson

Treating your plants like humans can help keep them alive

From singing to your plant-friends and having in depth conversations, to sharing a cup of joe and feeding them your birth control pills.

When I arrive home to my apartment of an evening I greet all my friends.

"Hello Lilly, Sophie, Celia, Diana, Kurt, Esmerelda and Franklet," I say, as I toss my bag onto the nearest surface and head straight for the fridge in pursuit of a snack.

No, I'm not talking to my seven housemates (I live alone); I'm greeting my beautiful plant friends. Yes, I'm that crazy woman who spouts bafflegab to inanimate objects. I sometimes pat them, stroke their leaves and I always apologise when I accidentally knock them over during a drunken escapade gone wrong. So what, get over it.

I take great joy in carving out ten minutes of my week to measure their moisture levels, dampen their soil and lightly mist their foliage. It might have something to do with entering the age of motherhood (everyone I know is cooking up a baby or has recently popped one out), so caring for something fulfils a deep (and necessary) need hidden somewhere inside me; right between my insane jealousy tendencies and my lactose intolerance, I'm guessing.

But it turns out I might actually be onto something with all this plant-based socialising I'm involving myself in. In fact, my penchant for a little plant chatter might just be the thing causing them to thrive.

Does talking to your plants make a difference?

This theory was first proposed way back in the ye old days. In 1848 German professor Gustav Fechner published a book called Nanna (Soul-life of Plants) suggesting that plants could benefit, and grow faster, from the sound of a human conversation. Since then, others have supported Fechner's theory, publishing many books of their own.

Former Head of Penn State University's horticulture department, Rich Marini, said in a 2008 paper that there wasn't a lot of research in this space [at the time] but said there was evidence to show that plants responded to sound.

"Plants react readily to a host of environmental stimuli, as the ability to respond to changing environments is vital to their survival," he explains.​​

"Wind or vibration will induce changes in plant growth. Since sound is essentially vibration, my guess is that vibration is causing a response [in growth]."

Other theories out there claim that the carbon dioxide levels that come out of the human mouth when talking could have something to do with the increased growth rate, but Marini didn't jump on that train.

"People would have to speak to their plants for at least several hours a day to enhance photosynthesis enough to influence plant growth." I don't know about you, but I ain't got that kind of time.

Should you play music to your plants?

Researchers from South Korea's National Institute of Agricultural Biotechnology were able to find a connection between the genes of a plant that respond to light and music that's played at 70 decibels, which Marini says mimics the level of a normal conversation. But if you're Janis from Friends, all of your plants are likely dead.

Not only do plants apparently enjoy listening to a good tune, they have a specific preference. Some researchers say the violin is best pick, others suggest jazz music in general will get your plants going.

Science students conducted an experiment with two groups of plants. One group was played Hayden, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert – all those classical music male folk – and the plants responded positively, winding themselves around the speakers – kind of like they were giving them a big old hug. The other group of plants were played exclusively rock music and they started growing away from the speakers up a wall, as if they were trying to get the fuck out of there.

Of course, for the non-scientists amongst us, we turn to platforms like Spotify to tend to our plant friend's listening needs. Here's a great one I found.

Feeding your plants human food

Just as you can't shake your morning latte habit, plants too have a bit of a thing for caffeine. If you have acid-loving plants (here's a list of a few), then you may find they benefit from a few coffee grounds in their fertiliser.

According to The Spruce, "Coffee grounds are a good source of nitrogen in your compost pile or when added directly to the garden. If added in fairly large amounts, they can raise the acidity level of the soil for acid-lovers such as blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Coffee grounds sprinkled over the ground around acid-loving plants serve as a mild acid fertiliser for them. And worms seem to love them, either in your garden or outdoor compost pile."

Apparently, it's also a good way to keep the slugs at bay. We're talking coffee grounds only people, milks and creams will only kill the poor babies. Like me, your plants are lactose intolerant.

One of the more unconventional methods I found on the internet was feeding your plants old birth control pills. Apparently, by adding a few pills to the soil every two to three months, or mixing 1 pill into 3 litres of water, can be beneficial; the oestrogen or oxytocin may aid in creating growth hormones in the plant.

Of course, this could be an old wives tale and if you're planning on eating the plants then this method would be ill advised... but hey, it's interesting nonetheless.

Kate Neilson is the founding editor of Twenty Something Humans. She lives in her Sydney apartment with ten plant friends and has managed to keep them all alive this year. You can lurk her @katiepotatierose.

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