Ever notice how plants look healthier and more vibrant after a thunderstorm? If so, you've observed a phenomenon that has long intrigued scientists and evaded explanation. Now botanist Andrew Goldsworthy, a researcher at London's Imperial College, offers a theory about why thundershowers are more beneficial to plants than an equivalent amount of water from the sprinkler. The answer: Electric currents flowing from thunderclouds.
Goldsworthy believes that plants have evolved to use atmospheric electricity to optimize cellular growth. The plants detect increased electrical activity before a storm and adjust their metabolisms to take maximum advantage of the storms. Experiments have shown that, under some air and soil conditions, growth in plants exposed to artificial electrical fields increased up to 70 percent.
Though no one can create a thunderstorm, Goldsworthy thinks home gardeners might achieve similar effects by using water conditioned by magnetic lime descalers, though he cautions that results are not consistent. To date, most research has focused on "hard" water, or water that is high in dissolved minerals, but Goldsworthy believes soft water may also benefit. In both cases, if your water doesn't contain the right sort of colloids (tiny particles suspended in the water), it resists conditioning.
According to Goldsworthy, when the descalers work, "The colloidal impurities activated by the descaler seem to interact with cells to make them grow and divide faster, similar to the electrical effects of a thunderstorm on plants."
Using conditioned water, Goldsworthy germinated notoriously difficult parsnip seeds earlier than usual. Commercial growers using descalers, including one of Denmark's largest cucumber growers, report 20 percent increases in yields. You can build a water conditioner using powerful 3/4-inch cylindrical magnets attached to opposite sides of a 1/2-inch-diameter copper or PVC pipe (they don't work well on other types of pipe). For instructions on the specific magnets to use and water flow rates, consult Everett Moore's Magnetic Water Conditioning Handbook (Moore Technical Industries, Inc., Box 1705, Cottonwood, AZ 86826 (520) 634-9891, 1996; $13).
Or buy one. A hose-end type, the MagnaLawn 2000 and higher-tech versions, such as ClearWave or Water-King. The latter two devices electronically emit radio waves from wires wound around the water pipes.
Because results vary depending on environmental conditions, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of these devices.