The classic book The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird documents many scientific, statistically-significant studies done on the fascinating relationship between sound and music and plants.
The right sounds can produce tremendous improvements in growth, and the wrong sounds can do just the opposite. Plants are more aware of their surroundings than we think, probably much more so than us!
Here, I just want to give you a taste of what some researchers have observed with respect to plants and music, and sound and plants. This has direct implications for organic gardening.
Dorothy Retallack did many controlled greenhouse experiments with different genres of music and plants.
She found after 2 weeks, plants physically leaned 15 to 20 degrees towards a radio playing classical and jazz music, while they scramble to grow away from rock music and become sick. Marigolds “listening” to rock music died within 2 weeks, whereas those in the classical music room 6 feet away were flowering.
But by far the most noticeable positive reactions were to classical Indian music for plants. A researcher in India also had success with Indian music...
T.C. Singh, head of the department of botany at Annamalai University, did many experiments with Indian plants and music, with amazing results.
Eventually, he stimulated rice harvests that were from 25-60% higher than average, and nearly 50% higher for peanuts and tobacco. Experiments were done on many other plants and had “proven beyond any shadow of doubt that harmonic sound waves affect the growth, flowering, fruiting, and seed-yields of plants”.
George Smith, skeptical botanist and agricultural researcher, planted corn and soybeans in separate greenhouses under controlled conditions and began to experiment with music and plants.
In one greenhouse, he played George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” 24 hours a day, producing thicker, greener plants that weighed 40% more for corn and 24% more for soy. He went on to produce amazing corn harvests using ear-splitting continuous notes at high and low pitches.
Two researchers at the University of Ottawa did trials with high-frequency vibrations in wheat. Plants responded best to a frequency of 5000 cycles a second. They were baffled and could not explain why audible sound had nearly doubled wheat harvests.
Peter Belton, researcher for Canada's Department of Agriculture, controlled the European corn-borer moth by broadcasting ultrasonic waves. 50% of the corn was damaged in the control plot, and only 5% in the plot with sound. The sound plot also had 60% fewer larvae and was 3” taller on average.
George Milstein found that a continuous low hum at 3000 cycles per second accelerated the growth of most of his plants and even caused some of them to bloom six full months ahead of their normal schedule. On the other hand, he was quite adamant that music for plants couldn't possibly have an effect, as they "can't hear."
Of course, many people think this is all bologni, especially when it comes to plants responding to music. Scientists often think it is possible, but that it must all be happening purely because of “physics” and not because plants prefer Debussy to Dylan.
It is romantic to think of plants having a taste more for the “intellectual” music, and I strongly believe this relationship between plants and music is possible after all of my studies into the amazing world of plants, but in terms of music, I don’t know enough to argue one way or the other. Same goes for whether or not my plants know what I'm thinking.
Still, I’m now always more apt to listen to a sitar or string quartet over a stratocaster when I’m out pulling weeds in my organic garden.