Is sugar water good for plants?

Water the Plants! Add Sugar? Would Adding Sugar to the Water Increase the Growth of Plants?

Questions for Background Research:

  • What gives green plants their green color?
  • How do green plants obtain their food?
  • What is photosynthesis?
  • What is chlorophyll?
  • Are all sugars the same?
  • How do plants store sugar?
  • What are some of the methods being used to increase plant growth?
  • What is a control in an experiment?
  • Of what value is a control in this experiment?

On the information level, this experiment serves to acquaint students with basic information on the basic processes of the growth of green plants. Plants produce their own food by the process known as photosynthesis. The word photo synthesis when broken down into its component syllables yields photo meaning light and synthesis meaning putting together and thereby informs us that plants require light in order to produce their own food. Plants trap the sunlight and produce carbohydrates (sugars and starches) which in turn are converted into energy. It would seem logical to assume that were we to add sugar such as glucose to the water which plants require , we would increase the growth of the plant . Logical, yes? Will it work? Let us find out!

This science fair experiment also serves to acquaint students with the essential processes of sciencing such as the importance of the use of a control, of identifying dependent and independent variables, of data collection, of pictorial and or graphic presentation of data and of being able to make better judgments as to the validity and reliability of their findings. They take on the role of scientists and in the process they learn to act as one.


  • six geranium plants of approximately the same size
  • sugar
  • water
  • a beaker
  • a graduated cylinder
  • a table spoon
  • a metric ruler
  • paper towels
  • a camera (if you wish to take photos of the procedure and the results).
  • These are all readily available from the local gardener, Home Depot or Wal-Mart’s.

Experimental Procedure:

  1. Gather all the materials you will need for this project. These include six geranium plants of approximately the same size, sugar, water, a beaker, a graduated cylinder, a tablespoon , a pen, labels, tape, paper towels and a camera (if you wish to take photos of the procedure and of the results).
  2. Copy the charts provided on the next page so that you can record the data on a daily basis and summarize your findings at the close of this project.
  3. Divide the geranium plants into 2 groups, one will serve as the experimental group and the other will serve as a control group. Label the plants in each group .The experimental group may be #1EXP, #2EXP and #3EXP, the control group may be #1CON, #2CON, and #3CON.
  4. Find a location where all of the plants can receive an equal exposure the sunlight. Place the plants there for the duration of the project, the next 14 days. You may wish to start taking photos now.
  5. Make up a sugar solution using four tablespoons of granulated sugar to every 32 ounces of water. In watering the plants you will give each plant the same amount of water. You can make the sugar solutions as you need them each day for 14 days. The control group will receive only water; however it will be the same amount of water as the experimental group.
  6. Observe all the plants and in your data chart record the height of each plant, the number of leaves and any additional observations that you think are worth noting. Continue this procedure for 14 days.
  7. Review all the recorded data and the photos you have taken. What are your conclusions? Write up your report. Make certain to include all of your research, your charts and your bibliography.
  8. Has this project given you any new ideas about further project for the coming year? If so, start planning now. Good Luck!

The Daily Chart of Observations

Plants Height of Plants Number of Leaves Other
Plants Average Height Average # of Leaves Other Data
Experimental Group
Control Group

Terms/Concepts: Green plants, photosynthesis, glucose, carbohydrates, starches, energy, hormones, plant respiration.

Towle, A. Modern Biology, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich 1991

Research on Sugar Application to Crops

May 27, 2015

Numerous studies have shown that application of a sugar solution resulted in an increase of beneficial insects. (Photo by Rachel Stevens taken immediately after sugar application to corn.)

Also view Nebraska research results on applying sugar to crops.

Sugar application to crops has held recent interest for some growers and those in the ag industry. Application of sugar to crops is not new; however, minimal scientific research has been shared in Extension resources regarding this practice. The intent of this article is to highlight some of the research that has been conducted.

Sugar Sources

Many sources of sugar are available in the market for growers to use. These range from granulated beet or cane sugar, brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, products with other plant-based sugars, and various types of molasses. A study1 was conducted by researchers in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Indiana in 2010 comparing different sources of sugar and an untreated check in soybeans. Their treatments were:

  1. Untreated Check
  2. Granulated cane sugar (100% sucrose) applied at V4
  3. High fructose corn syrup (11 g glucose/fructose per 30 mL) applied at V4
  4. Molasses (28 g sucrose per 30 mL) applied at V4
  5. Blackstrap molasses (26 g sucrose per 30 mL) applied at V4
  6. Granulated cane sugar (100% sucrose) applied at R1
  7. Blackstrap molasses (26 g sucrose per 30 mL) applied at R1
  8. Granulated cane sugar (100% sucrose) applied at V4 and R1
  9. Blackstrap molasses (26 g sucrose per 30 mL) applied at V4 and R1

All treatments were applied at the equivalent rate of 3 lb sugar/acre and diluted in tap water for a final total spray solution of 15 to 20 gal/acre. The V4 and R1 growth stages were selected to coincide with common glyphosate application times. Research results did not find a statistical yield increase with sugar application and there were no statistical differences among sugar sources in relation to yield. Results can be seen in Figure 1.

Another study2 in 2013 looked at sugar application to corn and soybeans. An untreated check was compared to two sugar sources in corn (dextrose and sucrose) which were applied at 4 lb/ac in 20 gallons of solution at V5 corn. In the soybean study, an untreated check was compared to sucrose application at 4 lb/ac at R2 and Headline fungicide at 9 oz/ac applied at R3, both in 20 gallons of solution. The results showed no significant yield differences between the treatments for corn, agreeing with the above-mentioned study with no differences between sugar sources. There was a statistical yield increase for the Headline application in soybeans compared to the sugar application and the untreated check.

Sugar Solution Applications and Beneficial Insects

Numerous studies have shown application of a sugar solution resulted in an increase of beneficial insects. The following are a few selected examples.

Researchers at Utah State University called the application of a sugar-water solution “artificial honeydew” and examined the reaction of beneficial insects to this solution applied to alfalfa. In one study3, plots received one of the following treatments:

  1. nothing,
  2. a sugar-water solution,
  3. a protein supplement in water, or
  4. the combination of a sugar-protein supplement-water solution.

Adult lacewings and lady beetles always responded positively to the application of the sugar-water solution as did other beneficial insects such as an adult weevil parasitoid, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, and adult hover flies. There wasn’t a consistent positive reaction of beneficial insects to the application of the protein supplement.

Applications of a sugar-water solution were also made in Honduras to corn with beneficial insect counts made immediately and one week after application4. Beneficial insects were 70% higher in sugar-treated plots than in untreated plots immediately after application and twice as high in sugar-treated plots one week after application. Researchers also found an 18% reduction in fall armyworm infestation and a 35% reduction in leaf area damaged by fall armyworm in the sugar-treated plots. They suggested sugar applications to corn allowed for natural enemies to be concentrated and resulted in a reduction of fall armyworm infestation and damage.

USDA-ARS entomologists5 found that lady beetles consuming sugar increased the survival rate of the females and resulted in increased egg production as compared to beetles who were not provided sugar in their diets. They also measured the frequency of feeding and analyzed the gut contents of beetles who fed in soybean plots where sugar was applied versus untreated checks in South Dakota, Maryland, and Kentucky. More lady beetles were found in the sugar-treated plots than in the untreated plots. The researchers suggested sugar-feeding is very important for lady beetle populations and a possible way to help maintain beneficial species in agroecosystems.

In another study6, lady beetles stayed 20-30% longer in plots where sugar-water was applied than in untreated plots. In the first four to six hours after spraying a sugar solution, lady beetles in the sugar-treated plots rose by a factor of 10-20.

Role of Sugar in Plant Defense Signaling

A fascinating recent literature review7 shared the role of sugar in plant mechanisms such as photosynthesis, carbohydrate transport, growth and development, and roles in the plant defense system. It cites a 2007 study8 in rice that evaluated a number of factors including sucrose added to the root system of wild-type rice plants and sucrose sprayed on leaves of rice prior to being inoculated with the fungal pathogen causing rice blast. Sugar application to the root system resulted in over-expression of genes which induce defense mechanisms within the plant. Spraying a sugar solution to plants foliarly and via soil drench resulted in half the disease pressure as that in the control plants one week later. Fifteen days later, control plants exhibited severe disease compared to the sugar-treated plants, suggesting foliar application of sugar prior to an attack by a plant pathogen could signal plant defense responses resulting in increased plant resistance to the pathogen. The researchers noted that all the plants were at the four-leaf stage during this research and were curious if the induced resistance would continue in the plants as they matured.

In conclusion, research has shown no statistical difference among sugar sources when applied to corn or soybeans with no statistical yield increases. Numerous research studies have documented the increase of beneficial insects in fields and plots treated with a sugar-water solution, suggesting application of this solution as a biocontrol method for reducing pest populations. While there is yet much research to be done, sugar does play an important role in inducing plant defense responses and recent studies have shown reduced disease levels in rice after application of sugar prior to pathogen infection.


Special thanks to Bob Wright, Nebraska Extension Entomologist, for providing some of the entomology manuscripts for the author.

Jenny Rees
Nebraska Extension Educator

Not All Plant Food Sugars Are Created Equal

How Natural Sugar Balances Soil

Nature’s environmental remediation capacity originates from the sun which provides energy absorbed, carried through and stored in the plant. Plants store nectars/sugars in roots, fruits and seeds in forms of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and lipids, as well as vitamins. This plant food sugar derivatives reside solely inside fruits and seeds. Minerals absorbed by the plant are pushed to the outside to form a protective shell of cellulose fiber and a concentrated mineral salt layer to guard itself from pests and biological decomposition. Cellulose fiber also builds the plant’s resilient structure to function as protection against other environmental factors. When we plant a seed, the initial root and seedling development is fed by the carbohydrates and proteins stored in the endosperm of the seed.

All human and plant bio material is made up of 96.6% Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen (CHO) known as sugars and the remaining 3.4% salts are made up of trace essential macro micro minerals. Nature’s balance of salts to sugars is what fuels the plant’s bio-remediation process.

Water, along with the minerals it carries, flow upward through an open channel in the plant. Plant sugars flow downward from cell to cell in the phloem. As the plant photosynthates it transports sugars to all areas of the plant for cell maintenance and growth. When sufficient plant sugars are produced, they flow down to the roots to exude beyond, into the soil, to support the plant’s rhizosphere.

Exudates are clear acidic carbohydrates that feed symbiotic aerobic microbiology which protects and feeds the plant. Plant food sugar is exuded at the root tips and root hairs to provide carbohydrates for new cell development and elongation. Acidic sugars dissolve a path for new growth in front of the root tip. Sugars are also transported to each living cell in the plant for food. Fertilizer is not plant food. Plant food is Sugar. Mineral fertilizers may catalyze metabolic reactions, but sugars are virtually mineral free. Sugars are made from compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Likewise, mineral fertilizer does not feed the world, plant sugars do. Sugars are predominantly responsible for the sustenance of all beneficial life forms, even beneficial micro-biology.

Eco-Friendly Weed Control

By Melinda Myers – horticulturist and gardening expert
May 29, 2017

Don’t let lawn weeds get the best of you. These opportunistic plants find a weak spot in the lawn, infiltrate and begin the take over your grass. Take back the lawn with proper care. Your lawn will not only be greener and healthier, but good for the environment.

The grass and thatch layer act as a natural filter, helping to keep pollutants out of our groundwater and dust out of our atmosphere. They also reduce erosion, decrease noise and help keep our homes and landscapes cooler in summer. And a healthy lawn is the best defense against weeds.

Start by identifying the unwanted lawn invaders. Use them as a guide to improve your lawn’s health and beauty. Weeds appear and spread when the growing conditions are better for them than the grass. Correct the problem to reduce the weeds and improve the health of your lawn. Killing the weeds without fixing the underlying cause is only a temporary solution. Unless the cause is eliminated the weed problem will return.

Here are a few of the more common weeds, the cause and possible solutions for managing them out of the lawn.

High populations and a variety of weeds mean you need to adjust your overall lawn care practices. Mow high and often, removing no more than 1/3 the total height of the grass at one time. Leave the clippings on the lawn in order to return water, nutrients and organic matter to the soil. This along with proper fertilization using a slow release nitrogen fertilizer with non leaching phosphorous, like Milorganite, can greatly reduce weeds.

Creeping Charley (above), also known as ground ivy, violets, and plantains usually get their foothold in the shade and then infiltrate the rest of the lawn. Take back those shady spots by growing a more shade tolerant grass like the cool season grass fescue or warm season St. Augustine grass. Mow high and fertilize less, only 1 to 2 pounds of nitrogen per growing season, than the sunny areas of your lawn. Or replace the lawn with shade tolerant ground-covers. Adjust your overall care to reclaim and maintain the rest of the lawn.

Knotweed and plantains often found growing next to walks and drives or other high traffic areas can also be found in lawns growing on heavy poorly prepared soils. These weeds thrive in compacted soil where lawn grasses fail. Reduce soil compaction and improve your lawn’s health with core aeration. Aerate lawns when actively growing in spring or fall. Or replace grass in high traffic areas with permeable pavers or stepping stones to eliminate the cause.

Nut sedge is a common weed in wet or poorly drained soils. Improve the drainage to manage this weed. It may mean core aerating the lawn and topdressing with compost, regrading or the installation of a rain garden to capture, filter and drain excess water back into the ground.

Clover (above) and black medic mean it’s time to get the soil tested and adjust fertilization. Both thrive when the lawn is starving. Clover was once included in lawn mixes because of its ability to capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil. If these weeds are present, boost the lawn’s diet starting this spring with a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer. It feeds slowly throughout the season, promoting slow steady growth that is more drought tolerant, disease resistant and better able to out compete the weeds.

Crabgrass and Goosegrass are common weeds that follow a hot dry summer. Mow high to shade the soil and prevent many of these annual grass weeds from sprouting. Corn gluten meal is an organic pre-emergent weed killer that can help reduce these and other weeds from sprouting. Apply in spring and fall applications to reduce weeds by as much as 80% in three years.

And, when mowing this year, consider an electric or push mower to manage your lawn in an even more Eco-friendly manner.

The Oasis Lawn & Tree Care Blog

When it comes to lawn care concerns, weeds are likely high on your list. Weeds popping up throughout the season take away from the overall beauty—and the enjoyment—of your lawn.

While you may have tried to get rid of weeds in the lawn, or maybe even hired a pro to handle it, there are some stubborn ones that just won’t seem to go away. You’re frustrated and you’re looking for a solution that will actually work.

The truth is, there could be a variety of reasons why weeds are sticking around. We’ll explore some of the most common reasons you may be struggling to get rid of weeds in your lawn, and what you can do about it.

1. Some Weeds Cannot Be Controlled Selectively

Weed control can be broken down into two main product categories: selective and non-selective. Selective weed controls, for the most part, will control one group of weeds without harming turfgrass, while non-selective weed control targets all vegetation (and will kill your turfgrass, too).

To protect your turfgrass, you want to choose selective control. For instance, the majority of broadleaf weeds (such as dandelions and clover) can be controlled by broadleaf weed control. There are also different variations of selective grassy weed control depending on what type of grassy weeds (such as crabgrass and nutsedge) you have in your yard.

The trouble is, some types of invasive weeds (like Bermudagrass and K-31 Tall Fescue) cannot be controlled selectively. This could be the reason why putting down certain products has not resulted in getting rid of weeds.

2. You’re Not Using the Best Weed Control Products

There are a lot more nuances involved in weed control than most people realize. To get rid of weeds in the lawn, you must be sure you’re using the right product on the right weed.

If you’re taking a DIY approach to lawn care, chances are, you’re using a granular product or one of the very few options of over-the-counter liquid materials that are available. Neither option is going to be as effective as the products professionals have access to. For liquid weed control options, there are dozens of professional products with different formulations of active ingredients, all of which perform differently. However, only a few of these are available to homeowners.

With a granular product, there are some factors that complicate the process. The lawn has to be wet in order for enough product to stick to your weeds and then it has to remain rain-free for 24 hours in order to work. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of room for error in there. A professional-grade liquid application would be much more effective.

In addition, some more difficult-to-control weeds in our area such as crabgrass, nutsedge, or wild violet require a different approach. Even if you’re using a professional service, it’s possible that they’re not including those targeted applications in their program as it may be something they charge extra to do.

3. You’re Not Treating at the Right Time

If you want to get rid of weeds in your yard, you must be sure to target them at the right time. The truth is different weeds germinate at different times of the year and getting rid of them takes more than one application of control product a season. It must be a year-round, comprehensive approach using several different products.

In Cincinnati, Dayton, OH, and Northern Kentucky, troublesome spring weeds include dandelions and clover, while summer means the emergence of crabgrass, nutsedge, and summer annual broadleaf weeds. In fall, many weed varieties may re-emerge and the cycle of weed growth can start to feel never-ending, particularly with tough-to-control varieties such as wild violets and ground ivy.

It’s important to note that some weeds will require repeated control efforts (not a once-and-done treatment). It’s also important to recognize that weeds are most effectively controlled when they are treated during active growth, as weed control products are more easily translocated throughout the entire plant. This makes it imperative that weed control efforts are occurring at the right time. If you, or the professional service you’ve hired, aren’t switching up products based on season, then you’re probably not going to get rid of weeds in your lawn.

4. Your Soil is Compacted

Good soil health is incredibly important when it comes to growing healthy grass. Healthy soil promotes root growth and development. However, when soil becomes compacted, it puts a great amount of strain on your turf because it doesn’t allow nutrients, oxygen, and water to penetrate the soil.

Conversely, there are a variety of weed species that have adapted to compacted soil conditions. Crabgrass, for instance, is an opportunistic weed that will thrive in compacted soil, quickly filling in bare spots where grass is struggling to grow.

If you can’t seem to get rid of weeds in the lawn, solving your compaction problem may actually help your lawn to become thicker, resulting in less weeds. Fortunately, this is something that aeration can remedy by loosening up the soil and allowing more oxygen, water, and nutrients to penetrate below the surface where grass roots truly need them. Anything you do to promote a healthier lawn could ultimately lead to less weeds in the future.

5. Your Lawn is Too Thin

Having a thinned out lawn not only looks unappealing, it’s also a weed magnet. That’s because weeds thrive in thin and bare spots on your lawn where they don’t have to compete with healthy turf for the sunlight they need to grow.

You can combat this concern by having services performed that promote a healthy thick lawn. For instance, having overseeding performed at the time of aeration will encourage thick, healthy growth that will naturally choke out weeds. On top of that, regular fertilization will help thicken the lawn as well over time.

6. Your Lawn is Not Getting Enough Sunlight

While grass needs approximately 5 to 7 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive, there are some varieties of weeds that can grow in shady conditions. For instance, ground ivy and wild violets will pop up in shady areas and can quickly take over. If your lawn is not getting enough sunlight, you may need to look into pruning your trees or even removing them to allow more light to get through. This will help your grass to thrive, naturally choking out weeds.

If you want to keep your trees and still have heavily shaded areas, you might consider alternative solutions such as adding some flower beds or mulched areas where you can’t get grass to grow thick and healthy.

7. You’re Not Mowing Properly

You might be surprised to know that your mowing habits can also have an impact on your struggle to get rid of weeds in the lawn. When you mow your grass too short or you scalp the edges along your walkways and driveway, you are creating conditions that may be favorable for weed growth.

As we mentioned, opportunistic weeds like crabgrass and many broadleaf varieties love thinned out areas of your lawn where it’s easy for them to get lots of access to the sun. To prevent this, we recommend mowing to a height of at least 3.5 inches. Doing so will also help your soil retain more moisture for your grass.

8. Your Lawn is Not Getting Enough Water

In order for your grass to grow thick and healthy (and naturally defend itself against weeds) it needs water. But it’s possible your lawn may not be receiving enough.

Your lawn should be getting approximately one to two inches of water each week.

If it’s not raining enough to cover that, be sure to irrigate your lawn in order to keep it thick enough to discourage weeds from growing.

9. You Have a Soil Health Problem

While we mentioned soil health when we talked about compaction, there’s more to it than just compaction. Soil that is naturally healthy is full of beneficial microorganisms (such as beneficial fungi and bacteria) which are necessary for your grass to take advantage of the nutrients found natively in the soil and those provided by fertilizers. When these microorganisms are thriving in your soil, it will also help strengthen your lawn against disease and pests which could thin out your lawn and make it more prone to weeds.

If you are using a lawn care program that doesn’t address soil health (unfortunately even most professional lawn services do not), that could be the reason why you can’t get rid of weeds in your lawn.

A Comprehensive Approach to Get Rid of Weeds in Lawn

To sum it up, there is no single answer on how to get rid of weeds in your lawn. If your only approach to getting rid of the weeds in your lawn is to use the same, inferior products again and again, then you’re only treating the symptoms and not actually making any real progress. It’s like being stuck in an endless game of lawn care whack-a-mole, where you never actually get ahead.

Instead, getting rid of weeds requires a multi-faceted approach that includes good habits such as aeration, overseeding, regular watering, proper mowing, and a lawn care program that promotes good soil health.

The efforts that we’ve talked about will help you produce a healthy lawn that is going to choke weeds out naturally by getting to the real root of the problem instead of just treating symptoms. In time, you may even require less weed control products if your healthy lawn is thick and thriving. Even so, there will always be those difficult-to-control weeds that could crop up making it equally important that a professional is regularly servicing your lawn and keeping an eye out for trouble.

While we know that weeds can be a huge source of frustration, they don’t have to be. By choosing the best program you can get on track to a healthy lawn that will keep the weeds out of your lawn and off your mind.

If you’d like a healthier lawn and want to learn more about the lawn care programs we offer in Cincinnati, Dayton, OH, or Northern Kentucky, request your quote, help us find the right program for you, and then sit back and relax as we transform your lawn.

Sugar On Weeds: Using Sugar To Kill Weeds In Lawn And Gardens

Sugar is more than the addictive sweet stuff we stir into our coffee and gorge on at Easter and Halloween. Using sugar to kill weeds is the subject of study by several university horticultural and agronomic professionals. Weeds are the stuff of horror to those of us who want a lush green lawn and the effects of sugar on plants seem to point to the white powder as a safe herbicide to deter unwanted weeds.

Effects of Sugar on Plants

All plants benefit and grow best in nitrogen rich soils. Nitrogen is the basis for green leafy growth and promotes healthy uptake of other necessary nutrients. Nitrogen is yielded by composting or rotting organic matter.

Sugar is a carbon nutrient and contains no nitrogen. Sugar on weeds has the ability to limit growth in some plants, especially those that are not adaptive to low nitrogen environments. This is because microorganisms in soil are forced to source their necessary nitrogen from soil. This leaves little for weed growth. As such, sugar weed control is possible with direct application to pesky weeds and invasive plants.

Using Sugar to Kill Weeds

Killing lawn weeds with sugar or minimizing garden herbicide use is a natural and potentially effective method of weed control. More research is needed but, thus far, science and environmental trials verify that sugar on weeds can provide an alternative to damaging chemical methods. Using sugar to kill weeds may lead to more economical means of weed control through other items, like sawdust that contain carbon.

How to Use Sugar Weed Control in Gardens

Before you use up your coffee sweetener supply, take a moment to contemplate the types of weeds for which sugar weed control is best suited. Broadleaf and annual weeds succumb to the sugar treatment much better than grasses and perennials.

The method is simple. Take about a cup full, or even a handful, of sugar and sprinkle it around the base of a weed. Take care to avoid other plants and coat the soil thickly over the offending weed’s root zone. Check the weed in a day or two and recoat if the area was saturated or the weed is not showing signs of decline.

Killing Lawn Weeds with Sugar

Leafy green plants, like grass, require high amounts of nitrogen for best growth. Feeding the lawn with a commercial fertilizer provides the nitrogen but also adds excessive salt to soil, which causes poor root growth over time. Sugar encourages grass roots to seek nitrogen in soil. This competitive use depletes soil nitrogen for weeds and helps grass flourish and crowd out pest plants.

You can use granulated or powdered sugar sprinkled lightly over your lawn, or a molasses spray. (Mix molasses at a rate of 1 ¾ cups to 10 gallons of water in a backpack or manual sprayer.)

Evenly coat the lawn and water it in lightly. Don’t over coat or forget to water, as the sugar will attract insects and animals if left on top of the leaf blades.

The best time to start sugar weed control is spring when weeds are small and before they go to seed.

Why Plants Need Sugars and What They Do With them

Plant carbohydrates, in the form of sugars are the energy source by which all plants carry out their major functions. All plants must photosynthesize, transpire and respire to survive. Sugar plays a vital role in all of these.

How They are Made
Simple sugars are made by plants through the process of photosynthesis. Plants take in light from the sun (or through artificial means) through openings in their leaves known as stomata and join together with water from the soil, carbon dioxide from the air and chlorophyll from within the plant, to create sugars in their leaves at sites known as chloroplasts. The same process occurs in aquatic plants, but they obtain their carbon dioxide from the water instead of the air. The by-product of this process is the oxygen that we breathe. Leaves in plants are akin to factories which create the vital components for plant survival. These factories create glucose. From there the sugar is mixed with water that the plant has absorbed through its roots and is transported throughout the plant via its vascular system.

Phloem, is like a botanical superhighway. The plant’s phloem transports the dissolved sugars from the leaves and takes them to various storage sites throughout the plants, like roots or tubers, known as “sinks”. The phloem off-loads its sugary cargo to these sinks across cell membranes through a process known as active transport. As much as 80 percent of the sugars created through the photosynthesis process are delivered to the plant’s sinks.

What They Do for the Plant
Sugars within the plant are responsible for affecting plant growth. The sugars produced in the leaves send the signal to trigger the transition between the juvenile phases of the plant to the adult one. Sugars are needed at all stages from seed, to cotyledon stage, to leaf development, stem development, fruit development and all stages in between. They (the sugars) further play a role in establishing the ratio of a plant’s below ground growth and above ground growth (roots to shoots). In addition to the regulation of growth, the sugars are also responsible for developing some of the plant’s structures. Plant cellulose, the fibrous materials in plants’ cell walls is made up of sugars as are the tubers of some plants, like potatoes.

Leaves in plants are akin to factories which create the vital components for plant survival.

Sugars are also used by the plant to regulate its time cycles. Plants, like all living things are subject to circadian rhythms which trigger when to “wake up” and when it’s time to “go to bed.” When needed, the simpler sugars (glucose) are converted to more complex sugars in the form of starches, made up of hundreds or thousands of sugar molecules, which a plant uses during the night when it is unable to undergo photosynthesis or later on when needed to form tissue or cell walls.

Plant sugars are also thought to regulate the time of year that a particular species flowers. Levels of sugar within the plant increase in response to the energy consumption required to flower, but some researchers believe that they may also be the cause of the species’ blooms and bloom times.

The process that allows for all of these actions is respiration. During respiration, the plant takes those sugars from the sinks and “burns” them to create the energy needed for growth and metabolism. This process happens independent of light, unlike photosynthesis.

In the third vital process of plant functions, transpiration, sugars are redistributed through the plant. To effect this, water that is absorbed through the plant’s roots, is mixed with the sugars, and then delivered throughout the plant before the excess water leaves the surface of the plant through evaporation. As much as 90 percent of all of the water a plant absorbs is dedicated to this process.

Plant Trickery Using Sugars
Plants use their sugars as a lure to animals to ensure their own survivability. This is done in a few different ways. Carnivorous plants often use not only their coloration, but also their sugars in the form of nectar to lure unsuspecting insects to their deaths. They then of course digest these insects to supplement their own nutritional needs. Plants also cleverly use their sugars to attract animals, including humans to aid in seed dispersal to survive. Fruit-bearing plants convert glucose into fructose, which is the natural sugar that gives most fruits their sweetness. This sweetness attracts a wide variety of animals to eat of their fruit, and through the animals’ natural digestive processes, they disperse the seeds in their manure which provides a protected site to germinate and provides some of the nutrition needed during development. Even if the animals don’t consume the fruit’s seeds, they are just as likely to scatter the seeds by dropping the fruit remains on the ground away from the site where the fruit was grown (think tossing an apple core or peach pit).

Sucrose is a more complex natural sugar that plants make combining both glucose and fructose. Common table sugar is made from the sucrose of sugar cane. This plant does not live in fear of being endangered any time in the near future as it produces one of mankind’s most sought after substances.

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