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Does talking to your plants really help them grow?

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Most gardeners know what plants need to grow healthy. The obvious are air, light, water and nutrients. But what about the debatable; talking to your plants! Is there some truth about this or is it just an old wives tale?

Some of us will remember back in 1986 when Prince Charles commented in a television interview “I just come and talk to the plants, really. Very important to talk to them; they respond." A lot of people thought he was crazy and he did get a lot of ridicule for it, but is he right?

This topic actually dates back to 1848 when German professor Gustav Fechner published a book called Nanna (Soul-life of plants). He believed that by talking to your plants and showing them attention you could promote a healthy and happy plant. Since then, many more books have been written and studies have taken place on this making it an interesting topic around the world.

In 2004, the Discovery channel’s show Mythbusters did an experiment to explore the possibility that plants could respond to speech. They set up seven greenhouses, four of which were equipped with stereos playing looped recordings. Two were of negative speech, while two were of positive speech. The fifth greenhouse had classical music playing, while the sixth had heavy metal. A seventh greenhouse, set up as the control specimen, had no music. The team found that the plants in the four greenhouses with recordings grew faster than the control plants, and that the plants in the greenhouses with music grew even faster. The plants exposed to heavy metal grew the best out of all.

The Royal Horticultural Society conducted a scientific experiment they called ‘The Voice of Wisley experiment’. This was a month-long study into what affect the human voice had on the growing of tomato plants. Gardeners selected ten recorded voices that played for eight hours a day through a headphone attached to the plant pot near the root system of the plants. Two control plants were not read to. Experts measured the plants growth rates before, during and after each session and compared them to those grown in silence. The winner was Sarah Darwin, whose great - great grandfather was the legendary botanist Charles Darwin. She read a passage from one of Darwin’s books ‘On the origin of species’, and beat the nine other ‘voices’. Her tomato plant grew approximately two inches higher than the rest. This experiment also found that female voices had the edge over male voices with their plants growing an average of one inch taller than the males. Researchers were unsure why this was, but concluded that as sound, just like any other environmental factor has an effect on plant growth; it could be related to women's greater range of pitch or tone that affects the sound waves that hit the plant.

Some researchers believe that talking to plants may stimulate growth because of the carbon dioxide produced when people exhale as they speak. Since plants take in carbon dioxide, some scientists believe carbon dioxide could explain the benefit that speaking to plants seems to provide. But, the RHS experiment didn’t actually talk directly to the plant but through headphones so does that kind of quash that theory?

Are you doubtful? If so, you’re not alone. Maybe you could do your own experiment and find out for yourself, or better still get the kids involved and set up a little project for them to do, most kids love experimenting.

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So, is it as daft as it sounds? Well maybe…. if your plants start talking back to you but that’s another story!