Houseplants Can Touch Each Other (But They Don’t Like It)

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I love the look of a plant shelfie that’s crammed. It looks so lush and green and swell and it was really what I was aiming for when I first started collecting house plants.

Until I discovered that actually, plants may not like to be crammed so tightly together. Nightmare.

I only researched this because I was aware that certain plants really hate to be touched – carnivorous plants especially – and I noticed that touching plants, especially new growth, can cause damage.

So, as tempting as it is, don’t try to help your plant’s leaves unfurl.

You see, if a plant is being touched, it could be about to be eaten, stood on, or peed on. It doesn’t have the option of running away, the only thing it can do is engage its threat response system – a plant version of an immune system.

Do house plants like to touch each other?

Not only do they not like to touch each other, they don’t want you to touch them either.

This area of research is relatively new, but plants are far more sensitive to stimuli than we ever realised. The slightest contact with anything causes a huge gene response in the plant.

Did you know that if you gently shake seedlings (imitating the wind) it causes them to grow sturdier roots? Don’t do it too much, because it can stunt the plant.

People SWEAR by doing this to Fiddle leaf figs to make them grow sturdier.

You know those plants that move when you touch them?

They really, really, hate that.

It takes a LOT of energy for them to close, and they’re wasting it on you, who isn’t even that much of a threat.

sensitive plant

What will happen if your plants touch each other?

The word we are looking for here is thigmomorphogenesis (thigma means touch in greek). It’s a big word, and it’s hard to spell, so I’m sorry if it’s incorrect.

This refers to how plants respond to mechanical touch, whether that’s the wind, the rain, or being rubbed by either passing animals, or us, checking for bugs or new growth.

This where the shaking of the seedlings coming – plants that are grown indoors are taller and more spindly than those grown outside because the wind encourages plants to grow in a more stocky way.

If your plants touch each other it can stunt their growth, because the plants think that there’s restricted space.

Regularly touching your plants (or having them touch each other) can reduce plant growth by 30%.

That’s…a lot.

Maybe just scooch your plants away from each other a bit?

If you’re interested in big words beginning with thig and like plants, this blog post was really interesting.

Plants are so freaking cool.

The closer your plants are, the easiest they are to infest

I’m currently under fire from both thrips and spider mites, and let me you – I WISH my plants were farther apart.

House plant pests typically don’t like to travel very far, so keeping your affected plants in isolation is easer said than done.

I have a table in my bedroom that houses any pest-ridden plants – it’s the easier way to remember who I’m meant to be treating, and then at least I’m not going to be risking my other plants.

How to arrange your plants so that they don’t touch each other

  • Vary the heights of your plants

Either arrage them so that tall plants are next to short plants or stack your plants on plinths (an upside plant pot is a good option) so that they don’t touch each other.

  • Get creative with your furniture

I’m a fan of the humble radiator cover for displaying plants. They’re pretty cheap, renter-friendly, and they’re slim enough to fit in otherwise useless spaces.

I have one in my tiny office along one wall and it houses five plants but takes up very little room. You could put one behind the sofa if your sofa is normally pulled back against the wall.

  • Prune your plants

If your plants are too big, trim them back and stop them getting all up in your other plants’ business.

  • Let your plants climb

Train your sprawling plants up moss poles. Pothos are the obviously choice, but large phildendrons and monsteras can be reigned in substantially by attaching them to moss poles.

All the information you need to stake up your plants is here.

Do house plants talk to each other?

There’s currently a tonne of research being done into this.

If anyone here has watched Star Trek Discovery, you’ll know they discover a new way to travel very fast (a bit of an understatement there) by using pathways formed by fungi.

WELL

Ok, so there’s this stuff called mycorrhizal fungi.

Basically, it’s when a fungus grows on a plant’s roots and they help each other out. The fungus takes sugars from the plant, and the plant can absorb nutrients and moisture from the fungus. The fungus acts as proxy roots, and can enhance the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients a LOT.

The threads that connect the mycorrhizal to the plant are called mycelium, and they form a giant network underground, linking plants together.

AND THEY CAN SEND MESSAGES TO EACH OTHER.

As in, actual information, such as ‘could anyone send some nitrogen over to Frank? He’s that oak tree over there’, and ‘GUYS there’s a swarm of locusts coming your way’.

Let’s face it, they’re probably talking about us, especially since we’ve been inadvertently fucking it up by adding phosphorus to the soil.

How do they do it?

By using electrical impulses. We think. We’re pretty sure, but I don’t think people want to look too hard incase they’re plotting to overthrow us.

Scientists have called it the ‘woodwide web’, which for some reason makes me feel very emotional.

I’ve written an article about whether house plants like being spoken to, and whilst there’s no evidence that us speaking to them actually benefits them, what DOES benefit them is us spending time with them and noticing when they’re dry, have pests, or have some other issue.

There are studies to suggest that plants that are touched by humans trigger a response that causes them to be less susceptible to fungus.

Oh, and now it turns out that they can make a noise. Great. One of my favourite things about my plants is how quiet they are.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

5 thoughts on “Houseplants Can Touch Each Other (But They Don’t Like It)”

  1. Hi, I have a large peace lily in the corner of my room, lightings good. I wanted to know if the leaf tips can touch the wall or will that damage them, it’s fairly large about 3ft tall?

  2. They shouldn’t do, unless the walls are really cold, although I suppose if soft new growth is touching the walls they may get marks on them. Loads of my plants have leaves touching the walls with no damage.

  3. I have a Dragon tree next to a Jade plant and a ZZ plant. The Dragon tree is in the middle. They aren’t quite touching, but I recently noticed that the Dragon tree is starting to lean slightly away from the Jade, more toward the ZZ, and the tips of the Dragon’s leaves are browning a bit on the side next to the Jade.
    Do some plants just not like being next to each other?

  4. I move my plants several times a day because they are in a south window at the front of my house but there is a huge tree outside the window so I move the plants as the sun moves around the tree. Sometimes they are touching and I really don’t see any difference in the growth. Some of my plants can definitely use some stunting so I wish touching them and cramming them together would stunt them a tad, but it really has not. I would guess if you leave plants packed together it would definitely effect their growth. But since mine are on wheels and get moved constantly throughout the day they really don’t get cramped. They don’t grow as fast in the summer when they are outside, but inside they grow like crazy and get too big.

  5. I’m in awe of you. You move move your plants several times a DAY?? I have to psych myself up to move mine outside twice a year.

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