20160912A.jpgHave you ever had the impression that the plants become greener and grow faster after a thunderstorm? It’s not your imagination; thunderstorms really do stimulate plant growth.

You see, air is composed of 78% nitrogen (N), an element essential to plant growth and especially green foliage, but in the air, nitrogen has the chemical formula N2, that is, two nitrogen atoms attached solidly together. The bond formed is extremely stable and plants aren’t able to break it and thus can’t absorb the nitrogen that surrounds their leaves. It’s a sort of “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” situation, but with nitrogen instead of water. So atmospheric nitrogen, even though it is extremely abundant, is essentially useless to plants.

But when lightning strikes, the intense electrical charge produced breaks the bond between the two nitrogen atoms and they react with oxygen to form nitrogen oxides (NO and NO2), oxides that fall to earth with rain droplets and become nitrates upon contact with the soil. Plants can easily break up nitrates and thus release the nitrogen they contain for their growth. As a result, plants really do perk up considerably after a thunderstorm.

So when a thunderstorm blows through, do stay indoors to keep yourself safe from lightning, of course, but be aware that it’s Mother Nature’s way of fertilizing your garden!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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