What is Electroculture?

What is Electroculture?

By Michael Jenkins

Electroculture is a polarizing issue among gardeners, which should come as no great shock to those attuned to the course of gardening trends. Electroculture—the use of electric currents to stimulate plant growth and support plant health—is trending again, and when it came to our attention we realized that we just don’t know much about it. So, in grand Gardzen tradition, we’re going to jump in and explore the world of electroculture and how we can use is in our gardens. Let’s dig in!

History of Electroculture

While electroculture may seem like a 21st century social media trend, the surprising (to us at least) reality is that its origins go back much further. The earliest electroculture experiments that we could identify are from the 18th century. Two French scientists—Jean-Antoine Nollet and Pierre Bertholon de Saint-Lazare—were among the first to explore the idea of electroculture, with uneven results. Electroculture fell out of favor for a long while, but returned again in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Once again two Frenchmen took the lead; Justin Christofleau and George Blanchard published their own research, including diagrams of the devices they built to capture electrical current for agricultural and horticultural purposes.

So as we can see, this idea comes and goes—Soviet and Chinese scientists purportedly did electroculture experiments in the 1950s and 1960s, and counterculture gardeners in the 1960s and 1970s did the same in the US. The idea of electroculture has come around again, with a new generation of gardeners curious as to how it will effect plant health, growth, and productivity.

Does Electroculture Work?

The efficacy of electroculture is still a subject of debate—for every gardener or contemporary researcher claiming that they get great results, more research comes out suggesting that other factors led to the increased growth they saw.

The current trend in electroculture makes use of “atmospheric antennas” in order to channel ambient electrical currents into the soil near the plant. These atmospheric antennas take several forms, but they are generally comprised of a coil of copper wire implanted into the soil and then reaching up anywhere from several inches to several feet. Sometimes the wire is freestanding, sometimes its coiled around a non-conductive support—as with all aspects of gardening, there are various schools of thought on the best way to approach electroculture.

Part of the debate stems from a lack of scientific understanding as to the mechanisms by which electroculture works. As one gardening influencer put it: “Does it help it better photosynthesize? Does it help it better uptake nutrients? Does it speed up the cellular metabolism of the plant? No one seems to have that answer. And when someone says, ‘It’s harnessing natural earth energy,’ it’s like, okay, cool. Remember when we believed the air was full of ‘ether?’ . . . there’s actually a way to harness the earth’s energy: it’s called ‘life on earth’.” Scientific research seems to have generally concluded that electroculture in its current form does nothing to help encourage plant growth or health. Colloquially, one gardener we spoke to had this to say: “It sounds interesting. However, I look at it from a local standpoint. All of the cattle farms around here use electric fence. In order to have electric fence, they have to have several copper grounding rods in that fence to complete the circuit. If a copper rod in the clay caused more growth than I would see random areas that are greener than others and I don’t.”

So, while there are viable experiments going on regarding the use of electricity to stimulate plant growth, the popular trends in electroculture—including atmospheric antennas—don’t seem to have much scientific backing at this time.

Using Electroculture in Your Garden

Nevertheless there’s an active and enthusiastic subset of gardeners who swear by electroculture, and the message we hear from them vis a vis “does it work” is this: “There's only one way to find out. Do your own research and test it for yourself.

For us, for right now, that’s the conclusion we’ve come to—we’re reluctant to dismiss electroculture as a gardening myth, and if you’d like to try it at home copper wire is cheap enough to make a small-scale experiment viable for many of us. We may try some electroculture containers and beds in our Gardzen Test Garden this year, and we’ll certainly let you know what the results are.

If you have experience with electroculture, we’d love to hear from you so please get in touch and tell us how it works in your space!

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