Aspirin in water for plants

Aspirin For Plant Growth – Tips On Using Aspirin In The Garden

An aspirin a day may do more than keep the doctor away. Did you know that using aspirin in the garden can have a beneficial effect on many of your plants? Acetylsalicylic acid is the active ingredient in aspirin and is derived from salicylic acid, which is naturally found in willow bark, and many other trees. This natural cure all really can boost the health of your plants. Try aspirin water for plants and see if your yields and overall plant health don’t improve.

Theory Behind Aspirin for Plant Growth

The use of aspirin on plants appears to be beneficial but the question is, why? Apparently, plants produce minute amounts of salicylic acid on their own when they are stressed. This tiny amount helps plants cope when they are under insect attack, dry, underfed or maybe even experiencing a disease issue. The component helps boost the plant’s immune system, just like it does for us.

  • A diluted solution of aspirin water for plants provided accelerated germination and some resistance to disease and pests.
  • Aspirin in vegetable gardens has been shown to increase plant size and yield.

Sound like a miracle? There

is real science behind the claims. The United States Department of Agriculture found that salicylic acid produced an enhanced immune response in plants of the nightshade family. The enhanced response helped prepare the plant for microbial or insect attack. The substance also seems to keep cut flowers living longer too. Salicylic acid appears to block the plant’s release of a hormone that impels death after cutting. The cut flowers will die eventually but, usually, you can add some time by the use of aspirin on plants.

Gardeners at the University of Rhode Island sprayed a mixture of aspirin water on their vegetable gardens and found that plants grew more quickly and were more fruitful than a control group left untreated. Aspirin in vegetable gardens produced healthier plants than the control group. The team used a rate of three aspirins (250 to 500 milligrams) mixed with 4 gallons of water. They sprayed this every three weeks throughout the growing season. The vegetables were grown in raised beds with drip irrigation and compost-rich soil, which probably aided the effects found from using aspirin for plant growth.

How to Use Aspirin in the Garden

There are some potential side effects if aspirin is used improperly. Plants may develop brown spots and appear to have burnt foliage. The best way to protect against this is to spray early in the morning so plant leaves have a chance to dry off before evening.

It is also best to spray early to avoid harming any beneficial insects. Bees and other pollinators are most active once sun has touched the plants, so a period of time prior to that sun’s kiss is the best.

Watch plants for their response to the treatment. Not all plants may be suitable for the aspirin regimen, but it has been shown that the nightshade family (eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes) do benefit greatly.

Best of all, aspirin is fairly inexpensive and won’t harm plants if applied properly. As with all drugs, follow the directions and application rates and you may find yourself with bigger tomatoes and bushels of potatoes.

How Does Aspirin Affect Plant Growth Essay – Running Head…

HOW DOES ASPIRIN WATER AFFECT PLANT GROWTH? 2 Abstract Humans have been using salicylic acid from plants for centuries to help heal ailments for pain and swelling. Aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, is very similar to salicylic acid in plants. Farmers and gardeners need to find new ways to grow plants in a faster amount of time and have a bigger yield of crop to help sustain the planet. In this study the effects of aspirin have been tested on plant growth. The plants tested in this experiment that are watered with aspirin water are expected to be bigger and healthier than the plants watered with regular water. To test the effects, two mint plants were watered with bottled water that aspirin had been dissolved in and to compare, two mint plants were watered with regular bottled water. The plants were then observed for 28 days to measure any noticeable growth or changes in the plants health or appearance. After 28 days of observing time, both of the plants watered with aspirin water looked sick and one died. Both of the plants watered with regular water were healthy looking and had grown since being bought. As a result of the two mint plants not looking healthy and dying from being watered with aspirin water, the conclusion that was formulated was that, while plants use salicylic acid to repair themselves, the artificially produced acetylsalicylic acid is ultimately not the right choice of medicine to help plants be bigger and healthier.


Popping an aspirin into a vase of water reputedly keeps cut flowers
fresh. Now there is scientific support for the idea. Two teams of scientists
working independently have found that salicylic acid – the active component
of aspirin – triggers a plant’s defences against disease.

The discovery raises the possibility of protecting plants from fungal,
bacterial and viral infections by activating a plant’s natural defences.
It also suggests that salicylic acide behaves like a hormone, and may trigger
other processes inside plants.

Plants have long been known to make their own aspirin. The name salicylic
comes from the willow tree, Salix, which North American Indians used to
make headache remedies. But until recently no one knew what plants used
their natural aspirin for.

Over the past 20 years, scientists have found that plants are sensitive
to synthetic aspirin. The substance can, among other things, cause plants
to open pores in their leaves, leak nutrients from their roots, grow leaves,
and sometimes flower.

The first breakthrough in understanding aspirin’s action in plants came
with a very unusual plant: the voodoo lily, Sauromatum guttatum. Its cornet-shaped
blooms heat up rapidly as they become fertile. The heat vaporises compounds
which give off the pungent aroma of rotting meat, and this entices carrion
flies which pollinate the flowers. This botanical furnace depends on the
voodoo lily undergoing a phenomenal rate of respiration – as fast as that
of a hummingbird in flight (New Scientist, 9 May 1985, p 22).

Three years ago, a group of plant scientists led by Ilya Raskin, at
Du Pont’s agricultural laboratory in Delaware, discovered a surge of salicylic
acid in the voodoo lily the day before flowering. Using a sensitive analytical
technique, they discovered that the level of salicylic acid in the plant
leapt almost 100 times and triggered the explosion of respiration (Science,
vol 237, p 1601).

This established salicylic acid as a powerful chemical signal, albeit
in a rather quirky plant. But what role might salicylic acid have in less
exotic plants?

Plants have a kind of ‘immune system’ with which they fight diseases.
When fungi, bacteria or viruses infect a plant, they often trigger a signal
which travels to uninfected leaves where it stimulates the production of
disease-fighting proteins. This mechanism of disease resistance, and the
signal which prepares the plant’s defences, had been a mystery to biologists.

A promising clue came to light, however, in 1979. Raymond White at Britain’s
Rothamsted research station was able to prevent tobacco mosaic viruses from
multiplying by injecting the infected plants with aspirin. The aspirin appeared
to trigger the production of a group of disease fighting proteins (Virology,
vol 99, p 410).

Building on this and his own discovery with the voodoo lily, Raskin
continued the work with graduate student Jocelyn Malamy and her colleagues
at Rutgers University, New Jersey. They measured the levels of salicylic
acid in tobacco plants that were infected with tobacco mosaic virus. Before
any signs of infection or resistance were detected, salicylic acid levels
surged almost five-fold throughout the plants. This surge then set off the
manufacture of the disease-fighting proteins.

Raskin and his colleagues found further proof of the importance of salicylic
acid in the plant immune response. The salicylic ‘punch’ occurred only in
the varieties of tobacco which are naturally resistant to the mosaic virus.
The level of salicylic acid hardly changed in the varieties which had succumbed
to the disease (Science, vol 260, p 1002).

Another group of biologists, led by Jean Pierre Metraux from Ciba-Geigy’s
laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, reached similar conclusions when they
were looking for the natural signals that trigger disease resistance in
cucumber plants. ‘We were only looking inside the plant phloem (sugar-conducting
channels) and found salicylic acid by mistake – we had no preconceived idea
what the signal might be,’ says Metraux.

The group identified the salicylic acid signal in infected cucumber
plants by looking for a surge of any chemical before they saw signs of disease
or of resistance (Science, vol 250, p 1004).

Metraux says that although the work is still basic research, there are
potential commercial spin-offs: ‘Ciba-Geigy would like to develop a new
strategy for crop protection. The idea would be to develop chemicals to
trigger the natural disease resistance in plants, from the outside.’

Alternatively, Raskin envisages plants being bred to produce high levels
of salicylic acid: ‘We could find the enzymes that synthesise salicylic
acid and express them in susceptible plants.’ Or bacteria could be used
instead. The bacteria that lived around plant roots and help feed them also
make quite large amounts of their own salicylic acid. So, by encouraging
root feeding bacteria, researchers may help the plant’s disease resistance.

Raskin sees this work as the first step in discovering the role of salicylic
acid in plants. ‘Our goal is to show that it’s an important regulator in
plants in a number of different effects.’ He adds that he already has tentative
evidence that salicylic acid prepares plant defences against physical stresses.

These extraordinary discoveries have now highlighted salicylic acid
as a plant hormone with powers we have only just started to appreciate.

Aspirin tablets can be used for growing healthy and productive plants, and it really WORKS. Here’re some of the best ASPIRIN uses in the garden!

1. Increases the growth and productivity of plants

At the University of Rhode Island, gardeners made a solution containing 4 crushed aspirin tablets and 4 gallons of water and then sprayed the solution on their vegetable gardens every three weeks throughout the growing season. At the end of the season, they found that the treated plants grew more quickly and were more fruitful than the group that was left untreated.

They concluded that aspirin leads to increased vitamin C content and greater growth in plants.

The science behind this claim

Aspirin contains an active ingredient known as salicylic acid. It is derived from willow bark. This acid enhances the immune system of plants (Plants prepare it naturally but in lower amounts) especially those in the nightshade family. Plants subjected to it get the boost in immunity power, which helps them in combating with pests and microbial attack and prevents the formation of fungus leading to increased growth rate of plants. Visit the New Scientist to learn more about this in detail.

Also Read: Ways To Keep Your Plants Healthy

2. It helps plants combating fungal diseases

Verticillium and fusarium wilt are common fungal diseases widely distributed in soil and can wipe out an entire crop in a matter of days. Fortunately, according to a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture, the use of aspirin spray can significantly reduce the spread of fungus on the plant. It is also helpful in blight. Visit the Dailymail to learn to learn how Aspirin helps tomatoes!

Apparently, plants produce small amounts of salicylic acid naturally especially when they are stressed. The salicylic acid creates a systematically acquired resistance protecting the plants against microbial attack, drought, and even insect attack. Since salicylic acid is the active ingredient in aspirin, when a solution of aspirin is sprayed on the plants, the amount of salicylic acid in the plants is increased which in turn boosts their immune system protecting the seedlings and plants from soil-borne diseases, bacteria, and fungi.

Gardeners can spray their plants with a solution of aspirin tablet mixed in distilled water. The drug is especially effective in warding off diseases in the nightshade family which include tomatoes or potatoes. You can also soak the seeds in the aspirin solution just before sowing to improve germination.

3. Help cut plants and flowers to last longer

Are you wondering how you can keep your cut flowers looking fresh for a long time? It is possible by adding aspirin to the vase water. To achieve this, crush an aspirin tablet, dissolve it in water and add the solution to a vase. Visit Lifehacker to learn more!

According to Judy Jernstedt, the professor in plant and soil department at the University of California, Davis, the salicylic acid reduces the production of ethylene. With reduced ethylene present, floral wilting is delayed, and the cut plants can last longer.

Also, the anti-fungal properties of salicylic acid that dissolve into the vase water slows down the growth of mold which if it enters the flower stem can clog the vascular tissue leading to the death of the flower. For longer lasting fresh flowers, be sure to change the water regularly.

4. Propagate plants from cuttings successfully

Rooting hormone helps in propagating plants from cuttings and using it improves the success rate. Take a cup of distilled water and dissolve one uncoated aspirin tablet and then keep the cut end of the plant in this rooting solution for a few hours before planting. It’ll work!

Instead of using willow bark, which contains growth hormones, you can use aspirin to prepare your own rooting solution. It contains the same salicylic acid that is found in willows and works the same.

You should be careful when using aspirin in the garden as too much can burn or damage the plants. Improper use may lead to the development of brown spots that makes them appear to have burnt foliage. This guide on how to properly use aspirin in the garden can help prevent any damage to the plants.

The Right Dosage

The right dosage of aspirin should not be more than a tablet for each liter of water. Begin by crushing the tablet and ensure it is well dissolved before spraying. *It has been observed by gardeners that aspirin dissolves well in distilled water!

When spraying, do it in the morning as plants tend to absorb best at this time. Also, spraying in the morning helps to avoid harming the beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators, which are active later and it gives the plants a chance to dry too.

You should also pay attention to the response of the plants to the treatment as not all plants are suitable for aspirin treatment. Plants in the nightshade family, of course, such as tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and eggplants benefit greatly from aspirin regimen.

In the garden, take two aspirin and give them to your plants

We use aspirin for common aches and pains. Some folks like to crush an aspirin, dissolve it in water and use the water to extend the life of cut flowers.

We use aspirin for common aches and pains. Some folks like to crush an aspirin, dissolve it in water and use the water to extend the life of cut flowers.

But some experimentation is going on that calls for using aspirin on plants to prevent or lessen the damage caused by disease. Some of the info is academic; some is anecdotal. All of it is fascinating.

The Agricultural Research Service has been experimenting on the use of salicylic acid solutions to protect potatoes from a disease transmitted by a beetle. Salicylic acid is the key component of aspirin that reduces inflammation and pain response in humans. In plants, researchers credit salicylic acid with triggering systemic acquired resistance (SAR), a kind of general readiness state that primes plant defenses against pending microbial or insect attack. Some describe it as boosting a plant’s immune system.

This piggy-backs on work down in the first decade of this century by Rebecca Brown, professor of plant sciences at the University of Rhode Island. Talking about her research in Fine Gardening magazine in 2006, Brown described spraying tomato plants with an aspirin solution as a protection against disease. This was compared to a commercial product called Messenger that triggers a similar response to aspirin in plants.

Brown noted that all the plants grew equally well. She also mentioned the aspirin-treated plants had more, but smaller, fruit.

Other folks are more enthusiastic. Some Master Gardener blogs compare the use of an aspirin solution to that of willow water. Old-timers used to use willow water to help cuttings develop roots. You chop up a bucket of willow leaves and twigs and cover the plant material with water. Let it set for 24-48 hours. Then, use the water on cutting beds or to water newly set plants.

Supporters of aspirin water say they get the same results — healthy plants, better root systems and greater disease resistance. Some gardeners even advocate gently watering seeds with aspirin water before you cover them in the garden.

If you would like to give this a try this season, any aspirin product will work, say both scientists and gardeners. The solution is 250 to 500 milligrams (one or two regular aspirin tablets) of aspirin per gallon of water. Treatments are made once every three weeks throughout the growing season. Here’s a word of warning — more is not better. Whether you use the solution as a foliar spray or soil drench, too much aspirin can burn the plant up.

If you do try it or have tried it in the past, let me know how it works out.

How Does Aspirin Work in Plants and Humans?


Millions of people rely on aspirin to treat their headaches, fevers, and other ailments. But most people do not know that the active ingredient in aspirin was first discovered in plants. In humans, the body converts aspirin into a substance called salicylic acid (SA). Plants make SA. They use it to help defend themselves against infection. To discover how SA works in plants, we used powerful methods to identify over two dozen proteins that bind to SA. SA binding changes the activities of these proteins. SA and related compounds also bind to multiple proteins in humans. We discovered several new human proteins that can bind SA. These proteins are associated with very common, devastating human diseases. In addition, we identified several new versions of SA that bind to these proteins more strongly than SA does. As a result, these versions of SA inhibit the disease-associated activities of these proteins better than SA. This gives hope that better aspirin-like drugs can be made.

What is Aspirin?

Aspirin is the most used medicine worldwide. About 80 million pounds of aspirin are produced and 100 billion tablets consumed each year. Aspirin reduces pain, fever, and inflammation. It lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and certain cancers.

After more than a century of human use, researchers are still discovering how aspirin affects the body.

For thousands of years, people in many different cultures used plants containing aspirin-like compounds. For example, about 2500 years ago the Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed willow bark to treat fever and pain. For centuries in Europe, people grew meadowsweet to treat pain and inflammation. Willow and meadowsweet contain high levels of aspirin-like compounds called salicin and methyl salicylate, respectively. Aspirin, salicin, and methyl salicylate are all rapidly converted into a substance called salicylic acid (SA for short) in the human body.

By the 1800s, scientists knew that SA was the component derived from plants that relieved pain and fever. However, its long-term use at high doses caused stomach problems in some people. In 1897, a chemist at a company called Bayer added a chemical modification called an acetyl group (CH3CO) to SA, turning it into acetyl salicylic acid. Bayer called this new substance aspirin. Aspirin causes fewer stomach problems. The chemical structure of aspirin, SA, and other similar substances are shown in Figure 1.

  • Figure 1 – Chemical structures of salicylic acid (SA) and its man-made and natural relatives.
  • The central part of the SA compound is a phenyl ring composed of six carbon (C) atoms at positions 1 through 6 connected to each other by single (–) or double (=) bonds. Attached to the C atom at position 1 is a carboxyl group (COOH). Attached to the C atom at position 2 is a hydroxyl group (OH). This is the SA core structure. It is highlighted in pink. All the other SA-related compounds contain this SA core plus one or more “add ons.” For example, acetyl salicylic acid or aspirin has an acetyl group (CH3CO) added on to the hydroxyl group at position 2. The presence of these different “add ons” affects how tightly different proteins bind to them and, therefore, how well or effectively they can change the activity of the bound protein. For example, the “add ons” at position 3 in amorfrutin B1 and in acetyl 3-aminoethyl SA enable our two newly identified SA targets in humans—glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase and high mobility group box 1—to binding much more tightly to these SA-related compounds than to SA.

What is SA and What are Its Functions in Plants?

All plants produce SA. SA functions as an important hormone in plants. Hormones are compounds that control biological processes. Some of the many processes that SA affects in plants are shown in Figure 2. Importantly, SA controls the plant’s immune responses to infection.

  • Figure 2 – Some of the roles of salicylic acid in plants.

Most hormones affect biological processes in plants and animals by binding to one or a small number of proteins, called receptors. Surprisingly, SA appears to act differently. We used new laboratory methods to sift through most of the 20,000 different proteins in a plant cell. We discovered dozens of proteins that bind SA. Binding to SA alters the activity of these proteins . We refer to the proteins that bind to SA as SA-binding proteins (SABPs) or SA targets.

The strength or tightness of the SABP’s binding to SA is called affinity. Some SABPs have high affinity for SA, that is, they bind SA tightly. This means that even when levels of SA are low, these SABPs will be bound to SA, which changes their activities. Other SABPs have low affinity. As a result, they bind SA and change their activity only when SA levels are high. Importantly, SA levels in plants can vary greatly. SA levels in plants can be different from one location to another within one cell, they can vary in different plant tissues, at different developmental stages of the plant, or when the plant is responding to different environmental cues, such as infection. This means that the activities of the various SABPs will be affected differently, depending on where they are located, the developmental stage of the plant, and the external/environmental conditions. This combination of SABPs with a wide range of affinities for SA and the varying SA levels within the plant means that there are many different ways that SA can affect plants.

Why Does SA Affect Humans?

So why does a plant hormone have so many effects on humans? The majority of animals, including humans, eat plants. This exposes them to SA and related compounds on a regular basis. In addition, some studies suggest that animals produce their own SA from compounds present in high amounts in certain foods. The continued presence of SA in the bodies of animals, resulting from both diet and possibly their own production of SA, might have led, over time, to the evolution of multiple SA targets in animals. If future studies confirm this hypothesis, then even more SA targets present in both plants and animals will be identified. Learning more about these targets will help scientists determine the mechanisms through which SA functions. This knowledge should provide clues for creating highly successful strategies to control disease in plants and animals.

How Does Aspirin Work in Humans?

In the 1970s, scientists thought that they had figured out how aspirin works. What they discovered was only a small part of what SA does and how it does it. In the early 1970s, English scientist John Vane and his coworkers discovered that aspirin stops the activity of certain proteins called cyclooxygenases. Cyclooxygenases make substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like compounds that can cause pain, fever, and inflammation. This important discovery won Vane the Nobel Prize in 1982. Since this discovery, most scientists and physicians have believed that aspirin works by stopping the activity of cyclooxygenases.

The idea that aspirin’s only function in human/animals is to block cyclooxygenases ignores four important facts (Figure 3). First and most importantly, even though SA is not very good at inhibiting the cyclooxygenases, aspirin and SA have nearly the same effects on the symptoms of humans/animals who receive it. Second, in humans, aspirin is converted within minutes into SA. SA is stable for many hours. Third, long before there was aspirin, SA was the major drug used to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation. Fourth, even before there was man-made SA, plants containing high levels of SA and related compounds were used for thousands of years by many different cultures to reduce pain, fever, and inflammation. They are still being used today. Thus, there must be other targets, in addition to the cyclooxygenases, through which SA and aspirin express their many positive effects.

  • Figure 3 – Why aspirin must have targets in addition to the cyclooxygenases.

What Else Does Aspirin or SA Do?

To find the additional targets of SA/aspirin in humans, we used the same methods that we previously used to search for SA targets in plants. We discovered several new targets. Importantly, these targets are associated with some of the most common and devastating human diseases. These targets include glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPDH), a very important protein needed for cells to produce energy . Some plant and animal viruses, including viruses that cause stunting (slowed growth) in tomato plants and those that cause a liver disease called hepatitis in humans, use GAPDH to reproduce inside the host cell. In our experiments, we showed that plant GAPDH binds to SA, and this binding blocks the growth of a virus called tomato bushy stunt virus . We believe that SA will also suppress reproduction of hepatitis virus. Also, GAPDH is a major suspect in several brain diseases. These brain diseases include Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases. We found that human GAPDH also binds to SA, and this binding helps to prevent the brain cells from dying .

Our search for SA targets also uncovered another protein, called high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1). This protein exists in high levels in the nucleus of cells, where the DNA (genetic material) is located. HMGB1 helps pack DNA into the nucleus. When HMGB1 leaks out of cells because tissues are damaged, it activates the immune system in animals. Specifically, HMGB1 recruits immune cells to the damaged tissue. HMGB1 also stimulates the immune cells to produce proteins which stimulate inflammation. The resulting inflammation protects the damaged tissue against infection. However, sometimes the body does not properly control inflammation. This can lead to the development of many inflammation-associated diseases. These include heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disorders, and certain cancers. We discovered that HMGB1 binds SA, and this binding blocks the pro-inflammatory activities of HMGB1 .

All cells with a nucleus, including plant cells, have HMGB1-related proteins. We discovered that plant HMGB3 also activates immune responses in plants when it is released from cells. Like human HMGB1, HMGB3 binds SA. This binding blocks the ability of HMGB3 to activate the plant’s immune responses . Interestingly, both HMGBs and GAPDH have similar activities in plants and humans. These activities are suppressed by SA.

Hope for a Better Aspirin!

Our studies with human HMBG1 and GAPDH led to the discovery of new man-made and natural compounds created from SA. HMBG1 and GAPDH bind to these new SA-related compounds tighter than they bind to SA. As a result, these new SA-related compounds are 10–100 times more potent than SA in altering the activities of HMBG1 and GAPDH. The natural SA-related compounds are called amorfrutins. Amorfrutins come from the Chinese medicinal plant Glycyrrhiza foetida. This plant is commonly called licorice. A man-made compound called acetyl 3-aminoethyl SA was designed based on the structure of the amorfrutins. Both amorfrutins and acetyl 3-aminoethyl SA contain similar chemical “add ons” attached to them on C atom at position 3 (Figure 1). HMGB1 and GAPDH bind to these new compounds tighter than they bind to SA because of these add ons. As a result, these new SA-related compounds are more potent inhibitors of HMGB1 and GAPDH. This discovery shows that the development of SA-based drugs that work better than SA itself is possible.


Inflammation: Is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants. It is a protective response involving immune cells.

Hormones: Are substances produced in an organism and transported in tissue fluids, such as blood in animal or sap in plants, to stimulate specific cells or tissues into action.

Cyclooxygenases: Are proteins which make prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins: Are hormone-like substances that participate in a wide range of body functions, including modulation of inflammation.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


The authors thank Dr. Hyong Woo Choi for assistance in preparing the figures. The work summarized above that was carried out by the author and his coworkers was funded by the US National Science Foundation grant numbers MCB-9310371, MCB-9904660, IBN-0110272, IBN-0241531, DBI-0500550, IOS-052360, and IOS-0820405.

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With spring just around the corner, now is a great time to get an early start on taking hardwood cuttings, like figs and roses, as well as sowing seeds of long-season crops, such as chillies and aubergines. If you are keen to up your chances in the dark days of February, there is an easy home remedy that could dramatically boost your success rate.

Simply take a teaspoon of cinnamon from your spice rack and pop it into a litre of lukewarm water. Drop in half a 300mg soluble aspirin tablet, give the mixture a good stir, let it cool to room temperature and you are done. When it comes to planting time, soak your seeds and cuttings in this solution for an hour or two beforehand. This will potentially give you higher germination rates, lower risks of infections and improve the plants’ overall vigour. In fact, just watering newly sown seeds or cuttings with this bit of kitchen chemistry may be enough to trigger these benefits. It’s like having green fingers in a bottle.

I realise this may sound implausible to non-geeks, so here is the science. Aspirin is a synthetic copy of salicylic acid, a growth-regulating hormone found in plants, and has been shown to work in a very similar way. When applied to newly sown cuttings it can turn on the genes that express the plant’s defence system, helping them stave off infections (ie rotting), while also boosting the growth of roots in a similar way to hormone rooting powder.

In newly sown seeds it has a similar effect, which has been demonstrated in a wide range of plants to induce a state known as “systemic acquired resistance” (SAR) in which the plants become more resistant to cold, heat, disease, pests and drought. And it has been widely used in commercial horticulture and agriculture for exactly these purposes.

Cinnamon works in a different way. It is the bark of a tropical tree that has evolved a range of potent natural antifungal and antibacterial chemicals to stave off the rampant growth of pathogens in the tropical rainforest. By making an extract of its bark you are effectively hijacking these chemicals and deploying them to defend any young plant you apply this to. It can work wonders for damping off (a common fungal infection that can kill many seedlings) and prevent new cuttings from rotting in the cool conditions and low light levels at this time of year. In my experience this can almost double the survival rates of tricky to root plants.

Results will, of course, vary depending on the species you are growing, as they will with any shop-bought rooting hormone or germination aid. Seeing as this method is cheap, easy, non-toxic and backed by solid science, why not experiment for yourself?

Email James at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Botanygeek

Plants have the ability to activate a range of self-defences in response to attacks by pathogens and parasites.

The timing of these defence responses is very critical, as it can mean the difference between being able to cope with the parasite or pathogen … or succumbing to it.

Systemic acquired resistance (SAR) and induced systemic resistance (ISR) are two forms of resistance.

In both of these, the plant’s defences are preconditioned by prior infection or by treatment that results in its tolerance against subsequent attack by parasites or pathogens.

Induced systemic resistance was first observed more than 100 years ago, and to date, more than 30 species of plants have been found to have IRS responses.

Scientists had discovered some plants exhibited a hypersensitive reaction to disease that prevented its spread. They also found that the disease organism was not only localized, but the whole plant also became resistant to attack by that disease.

In a nutshell, when a plant is attacked by disease or insect, it starts to produce an abundance of certain chemical compounds. These compounds may cause resistance themselves or be the messenger that signals the plant to start producing other chemical compounds that will defend the plant against the disease or make it less of a dietary feast for insects.

Salicylic acid is one of these compounds, and it occurs naturally in many plants. It may well have evolved as a defence against insects.

Isolated from willow bark as far back as 1828, salicylic acid is chemically related to acetylsalicylic acid – or aspirin. (Bayer was the first to begin producing in 1859.)

Jump ahead to the 1990s, when scientists made the discovery that plants under attack by a disease increased their salicylic acid concentration a whopping 180 times. They also noticed a marked increase in other proteins that promoted disease resistance.

Curious about the benefits of aspirin water on plants, Martha McBurney, master gardener in charge of the demonstration vegetable garden at the University of Rhode Island, conducted some tests of her own.

After numerous trials, she found the correct dosage to be one and a half aspirin tablets (81-gram strength) dissolved into two gallons of water. (Note: aspirin must be the uncoated form and should not contain any other additives such as disprin.)

McBurney also added two tablespoons of yucca extract to help the aspirin water adhere to the leaves. A mild liquid soap can be substituted for the yucca extract.

She sprayed the plants every three weeks. By the end of the season, the plants that were sprayed with aspirin water were huge, green … and best of all, had no insects. McBurney also noted some disease problems present at the beginning of the trial appeared to have reversed themselves.

Another facet of her salicylic acid experiments was to spray aspirin water on seeds sowed directly in the ground. Her results were 100 per cent germination.

Salicylic acid is the truth behind an old wives’ tale – adding an aspirin to a vase of cut flowers will definitely keep the blooms fresh longer.

Cutting off the flower stalk triggers the plant into protecting its wound by producing a compound that not only assists the plant in fighting off bugs but also speeds up its aging and wilting process. An aspirin in the vase of water stops the production of that compound in the flower stems, which helps to keep the flowers looking lovely and fresh longer.

For the strictly organic gardeners amongst us … aspirin would not be a treatment option since it is largely synthetically produced.

Researchers are now conducting studies using pure willow extracts and comparing the results to those of the aspirin experiments.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her column appears every second Friday.

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