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Playing Music to Help Plants Grow: The Ideas of Dorothy Retallack

Paul has been passionate about growing and cooking his own food for many years. Born in the UK, he now lives in North Central Florida.

Many people believe that playing music to plants can help them to thrive.  The idea is rooted in the work and experiments of Dorothy Retallack, who covered the subject in the 1970s.  She concluded that only some types of music are good for plants.

Many people believe that playing music to plants can help them to thrive. The idea is rooted in the work and experiments of Dorothy Retallack, who covered the subject in the 1970s. She concluded that only some types of music are good for plants.

Playing plants music to help them grow is an idea that first gained popularity in the 1970s after the publication of the book: The Sound of Music and Plants, by Dorothy Retallack in 1973.

Retallack did various experiments in order to find out the effect of what happens if you play plants music. She experimented with the length of time that music was played and also attempted to discover the style of music plants like most.

Dorothy Retallack’s experiments took place at the Colorado Women's College in Denver and involved three Biotronic Control Chambers. She placed plants in each chamber and played the plants music and sounds through speakers.

In one series of early experiments she played the note F for extended periods of time, but most of her later focus was on the effects of different styles of music.

The Main Findings of Dorothy Retallack

Retallack essentially split the music into three categories: postive, neutral, and negative.

The Best Music for Plant Growth

According to Retallack, the most positive music for plant growth is soothing, positive music. Plants don't like harsh, heavy, angry or discordant sounds. Three or four hours of music is the optimum amount, according to Retallack. Play plants music for longer than this and the effects tend to always be negative, whatever style of music is played.

Examples of positive, soothing music include older classical works, such as those composed by J S Bach. Smooth and melodic jazz music, such as material by the instrumentalist and singer, Louis Armstrong, is also good. Certain styles of World Music, such as Indian sitar music was also found to have a positive effect.

Neutral Music

Certain music was recorded by Retallack as not having either a positive or negative effect when used to help plants grow. Country and Western music was one such style that fitted into this category.

Negative Music

Harsh and discordant music was believed to be bad for plants by Retallack. Heavy rock music, for example, she concluded had a detrimental effect on plant development. Examples of this type of music that she played her plants were Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix. Discordant modern classical music, such as Arnold Schoenberg, also seemed to be bad for plants and she believed should be avoided.

Summary of Retallack's Findings

Mustical Genre or TypeExamplesEffect on Plant Growth

Soothing, melodic classical music and jazz.

Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald.

Positive

Country and Western,

Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Charlie Pride.

Neutral

Heavy metal, punk rock, discordant or harsh music generally.

Led Zeppelin, The Sex Pistols, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against The Machine.

Negative

Criticisms of Dorothy Retallack's Work

Although Dorothy Retallack went to great lengths to make her experiments scientific, the experimental conditions that Retallack used were not thorough and consistent enough to be fully scientific, according to some critics.

She was also a rather eccentric lady with strong personal biases. She thought that plants were capable of ESP, for instance, and speculated that the reason why plants didn’t like heavy rock music was because of the lyrics.

Critics have also pointed out that the styles of music that Reallack said that plants liked and disliked conformed to her own musical tastes.

"Why do people write books? Many reasons, of course. In my case it is to put down chronologically the story of the phenomenon of the effect of music on plants and to clear up some misconceptions and misquotes which cannot help but happen when the various news media and publications excerpt from a long article about the report of my experiments."

— Dorothy Retallack, from the foreword to The Sound of Music and Plants

The cover of Retallack's book, written in 1973, detailing her ideas, experiments, and conclusions.  The book remains popular with many gardeners, despite some criticism of Retallack's adherence to scientific method.

The cover of Retallack's book, written in 1973, detailing her ideas, experiments, and conclusions. The book remains popular with many gardeners, despite some criticism of Retallack's adherence to scientific method.

© 2017 Paul Goodman

Comments

Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on May 31, 2017:

Wow this is an interesting topic. Thanks for sharing. I wonder if Retallack's research has since been recreated in a more scientific way.

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