Plants Love Classical Music… Not!

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This record was sold to stimulate plant growth.

This horticultural myth was really big in the 1980s when I first started gardening seriously. Plants, I heard, love classical music and grow better when you play it. And they absolutely hate acid rock which can actually kill them. Gardeners everywhere began piping Beethoven into their plant rooms or singing opera to them. Plant music records (see above) were even launched on the market.

And you still hear the idea today: just check out the Web (I found 5 million results when I typed “plants like classical music” into Google) and you’ll see. It appears everyone believes it. But it’s false.

The neat thing about this myth is that you can actually trace it back to its beginnings. In 1973, graduate student Dorothy Retallack published a paper in which she stated that her experiment showed plants grow better when exposed to classical music then when exposed to acid rock. The information rapidly went viral (to use today’s term)… or at least, as rapidly as it could in the pre-Internet 1970s. However, there are all sorts of things wrong with the initial experiment: too small a sample group (only 4 plants), unequal care in the 2 groups (they were grown in separate rooms with no special control of watering, fertilizer or even temperature) and could you even extrapolate from testing 4 plants that all plants like classical music?

But the most telling is the following: no one was able to replicate the experiment! Lots of studies have since been done and the results show that while plants may react somewhat to music (it seems that certain vibrations may stimulate denser growth, for example), it doesn’t seem to matter what kind, and just about any noise, including street sounds or a thundering jackhammer, will give similar results. In all cases, growing conditions in the test area had far more effect on plant growth than noise or music.

You can still play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D minor to your plants if you want to, just don’t expect amazing results… and if your tastes instead run to blasting heavy metal day and night from a boom box, it won’t bother them in the least.

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