Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Tropical Storms: Should We Simulate Them for Our Plants?

For some time now, I’ve been seeing videos of people making their plants believe for a moment that the climate in their homes is the same as it is in nature. Showers, wind, shaking trunks… some even flash the lights and make thunderous noises!

Sounds funny? I thought I’d give it a try…

There’s no doubt that there’s a touch of humor in this, but could it be that imitating the conditions of the plant’s country of origin is good for it? Surprisingly, the answer is not so simple!

As for constants, yes, but Mother Nature’s explosions…

Is shaking your plant’s leaves for ten seconds really enough to make it feel like a hurricane? Do all tropical plants experience disasters with the same intensity? Is a shower beneficial in all cases? The answer is no.

So let’s see what we can do to improve the lives of our houseplants by taking them out of the monotony of our homes, without falling into the ridiculous either!

More Light, Like in the South!

If there’s one thing that’s essential to a plant’s health, it’s light. In winter, it can be hard to get enough natural light, even with a south-facing window. The sun is lower on the horizon, and days don’t last as long.

Photo : Jill Burrow

Although it may seem that all plants need maximum sunlight, this is not true. They have a cycle, just like us, which requires a little “rest” at night.

The reality is that photosynthesis requires a great deal of effort, and that the night allows plants to redistribute their water in their cells, to concentrate energy on their young shoots, and sometimes even to breathe! If they don’t get that break, well… try not sleeping and we’ll talk!

Night is just as important as light, and we tend to forget that some plants in Africa and South America also experience fairly long nights for half the year. As for tropical plants living near the equator, yes, they have fairly stable days, but as the varieties we have as houseplants are often understory plants, they don’t need maximum sunshine either.

Photo : Skylar Kang

Reproduce Natural Light

Although sunlight is almost always sufficient, even in winter, you can sometimes have too many plants for your windows. The best way to reproduce natural light (and give your gloomy plants a little boost) is to add grow lights. Of course, this is quite expensive when you have a lot of plants, and perhaps not always elegant!

Me? I don’t mind my plants looking sad in winter… I’m a plant mom who believes plants need to fend for themselves. If a plant isn’t tought enough, too bad!

Photo :

To reproduce tropical thunderstorms, which occur almost daily in the jungle, you can always play with your switches, but apart from making your spouse or children laugh at you, it won’t do any good!

Lightning has no effect on plants (at least, none that we know of, but it would make a great research topic!). Obviously, I’m talking about lightning in the sky, not lightning striking… DON’T ELECTROCUTE YOUR PLANTS, either! It’s dangerous for your plant, and for you.

More Water, Less Water? a Deluge or a Few Drops?

It can be very difficult to water your plants properly in winter, as requirements are constantly changing. Many things influence the speed at which plants absorb water: sunshine, humidity, temperature…

An October 20°C (68°F) is much wetter than a January 20°C (68°F) in the house, and your plants won’t experience it in the same way. If you flood your plants every day, as they would in the wild… it’s liable to go wrong! Especially as we often forget that there is a dry season, even in the jungle!

Photo : Darius Krause

A good shower for a plant always feels good. Make no mistake, if there’s one natural condition you should reproduce from time to time, this is it! But be careful: if the soil is still damp from your last watering, this is not recommended. Nor is it advisable if the leaves are covered in small hairs. In the absence of wind and air circulation, some plants will become moldy if their leaves remain wet for a few hours!

So showering: yes, but not every day, and not on every plant!

It’s also worth noting that plants with less light fall into a state of “siesta”. It’s not quite dormancy, but their metabolism slows down, their growth is slower, and they need less water.

Shower and Humidity

So before you put everyone in the shower for your tropical storm, make sure it’s hurricane season (time to water!).

In general, tradescantias don’t like showers: it makes their leaves fall off. And yet, I water mine with plenty of water in summer: when the wind dries the leaves in a few minutes, no problem, but indoors, it’s another matter. Photo : Rachel Claire

As for ambient humidity, I know of very few plants (other than succulents) that can tolerate very dry air. As heated houses can become very, very dry in winter (less than 30%), it can be a very good idea to offer your plants, not a few minutes of intense humidity, but a permanently humid habitat.

Group your plants in the same place so that they can benefit from the moisture released by the others, add a small humidifier near them, use saucers with clay balls… In short, don’t kid yourself about humidity – it’s important, all the time!

«Shake shake shake, shake your body»

If you plant your seedlings in spring, you know the importance of getting them moving to make them stronger. The main stem and roots must be ready to face the elements! Shake them, touch them, put on a fan, etc.

But what about our houseplants? Do they need to be stirred from time to time?

Honestly, not really. Since they’re in pots, the need for strong roots and trunks is quite minimal, especially since these winds are most useful during the plant’s growth, and yours is napping during the winter! It’s certainly not developing its roots or solidifying its new shoots.

If one of your plants faces due south and grows even in winter, it may be useful to simulate bad weather, especially if you take your plants outside in summer. It’ll make them a little more robust, but frankly, it’s not really necessary.

But if you’re so inclined, here’s how to fortify a plant… and it’s not by shaking it for 10 seconds a week! The best way is to install a fan that will keep it constantly moving as it grows. After all, in nature, there isn’t just one gust every now and then – the wind is constant! Just make sure your fan doesn’t sweep away your little moisture bubble.

Wind can even influence plant growth if it blows hard and always in the same direction! Photo : Khamkéo Vilaysing

Meteorological Violence, a Necessary Evil

While storms are part of plant life in nature, and can sometimes seem devastating, they are ultimately necessary. Broken branches provide opportunities for branching, strong winds allow dead leaves to be blown off branches, and heavy rainfall soaks the soil in preparation for dry periods. Some seeds can only germinate after a fire, and some plants only flower when they are about to die.

These disturbances are necessary for plants, but they also cause great stress: there’s a difference between a good wind and a hurricane! While the former may be commonplace, the latter is rarer. It’s wrong to think that all plants survive storms: lightning is lightning, and a flood is a flood!

Lightning often strikes trees.

The Same Goes for Our Houseplants?

Do our houseplants also need these disturbances? No. After your simulated tropical storm, your pot returns to your living room, with no wind, dry air, and no escape from damp soil other than the weather. So recovery is likely to be more difficult than for the plant in its natural habitat.

What’s more, I doubt you’d violently break off the branches of your plants to force them to branch out! If you’re like me, you cut meticulously over knots, practically crying over the sacrifice of such a beautiful branch!

So do you need to impose extreme stress on your houseplants? No, they have you, and in some cases, that’s stress enough!

Chances are, if you put your beautiful fern in the jungle, it will quickly die, even if those conditions are supposedly “ideal” for the species. The truth is that, throughout their lives, plants become accustomed to their habitat and adapt to survive in these particular conditions. So, in the same way, the “wild” fern would probably end up dying too if you put it in your living room.

It’s just like us! Would you suddenly move to the jungle? Chances are the locals would see you as a poor, ill-adapted living-room plant! But if you’ve grown up in the jungle…

Pamper Your Plant Like the Princess It Is

Instead of trying to reproduce an environment that isn’t her own, such as a tropical storm, make sure you know the needs of the divas you’re hosting. Does it need high humidity? Put in a humidifier. Does it need sun? A grow lamp. Does she want a trip down south? Oh no, that’s me, sorry! We were talking about a princess…!

Audrey Martel is a biologist who graduated from the University of Montreal. After more than ten years in the field of scientific animation, notably for Parks Canada and the Granby Zoo, she joined Nature Conservancy of Canada to take up new challenges in scientific writing. She then moved into marketing and joined Leo Studio. Full of life and always up for a giggle, or the discovery of a new edible plant, she never abandoned her love for nature and writes articles for both Nature sauvage and the Laidback Gardener.

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