Does Talking to Plants Help?

by Ken Lain, The Mountain Gardener, Watters Garden Center

Research shows plants have a calming effect on their gardener. They are understanding. They refrain from arguing, asking difficult questions or interrupting. It’s no wonder many gardeners talk to plants.

A survey of 1,250 gardeners found 50% spent time talking to their plants (Trees.com). Researchers have proven sound affects plants, with further study needed for the human voice.

A 2003 study in the Journal of Ultrasonics found cabbage growth increased when classical music was played. They equally liked the sound of birds, insects and running water.

The International Journal of Integrative Sciences’ innovation and technology researchers exposed marigold and chickpea plants to soothing Indian music and another set to the sound of traffic. Both varieties gained height, increased foliage and looked healthier when music played four hours per day.

Plants subjected to traffic noise did not fare as well.

“While sound matters to plants, we don’t know if talking to them makes them grow differently,” says Heide Appel, professor of environmental sciences at the University of Toledo. “Plants respond to vibrations in their environment, which causes them to grow and become more resistant to falling over.”

Research absolutely shows taking care of plants is beneficial to our well-being. The same Trees.com survey asked why gardeners spoke to their plants: “Because it helped their own mental health.”

The Journal of HortScience found planting young plants reduced mental stress and anxiety in young adults. Spending an hour gardening improves mood and reduces stress among healthy women in a 2022 PLoS One study.

“Talking to plants is a way of talking to ourselves,” says Kenneth Yeager, director of the Stress Trauma and Resilience Program at Ohio State University. “As we talk to our plants, we’re talking to ourselves, formalizing our thought process. Putting our thoughts and feelings into words is therapeutic.”

Talking to plants is low-risk. “Plants don’t judge,” says Elizabeth Diehl, director of therapeutic horticulture at the Wilmot Botanical Gardens College of Medicine at the University of Florida. “You can be who you want to be and say what you want. They are happy to be with you; you’re taking care of them.”

While the published research is elusive to the specific benefits to plants of the human voice, gardeners understand. People talk to things they care about. Talking to plants is a practice of gratitude and appreciation.