So sure, as tree service experts we may not exactly be gardeners, but we have stumbled across this myth more than once in our landscaping careers – the idea that Vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine) acts as some kind of miracle nutrient to help plants grow healthier and larger, especially when administered after transplanting. The origin of the story goes back to 1930 when a scientist experimenting with plant roots in a lab petri dish observed that B1 helped stimulate the roots’ growth. The experiment was part of a larger trend of experimenting with a category of plant growth stimulators called “auxins”. Today, common auxins used in household fertilizer products include indole butyric acid (IBA) and naphthylacetic acid (NAA).
Yet are the claims that B1 stimulates new growth and prevents transplant shock true, or based on shaky evidence? First and foremost, it’s important to understand that fertilizers, pesticides, and other gardening products are tested, regulated, and proven to be efficacious and safe for commercial use. Without such regulations and rigorous standards, consumers will otherwise be subjected to false marketing, and ultimately end up wasting money – or worse, doing more harm than good to their landscape or garden. After all, there’s nothing worse than having to back track and to have to make multiple trips to the garden center to undo your mistakes!
The History of Vitamin B1 Fertilizers
The rest they say is history, as the idea started to spread and become popularized throughout the decade. In fact, the December 1939 issue of Better Homes & Gardens (archived HERE) helped further popularize the idea by featuring bountiful gardens of full and healthy rose and daffodil flowers, ostensibly under the auspices of our friend B1. Transport yourself back to the 1930s, and this might have been the equivalent of, “if I read it on Wikipedia, it must be true.”
If only it was that simple! The unfortunate truth is that by 1942, the original scientific author had redacted his own comments, saying that, “it is now certain; however, that additions of vitamin B1 to intact growing plants have no significant or useful place in horticultural or agricultural practice.” What gives? Have we been duped by this nearly 100 year old practice? After all, Vitamin B1 fertilizers like THIS one (sorry to knock this product guys!) are still sold on the retail market at Lowes, Home Depot, and local nursery and garden centers.
Vitamin B1 Debunked
The truth is that although research and experimentation throughout the 20th century has revealed that various auxins combined with B1 may help to stimulate root growth, Vitamin B1 on its own does not. This illustrates a classic case of correlation not equating to causation. In fact, one experiment showed that just plain water worked better for stimulating root growth than water combined with B1.
The reason that this myth perpetuated for so many years is that in those original experiments dating back to the 1930s, Vitamin B1 did help to stimulate plant growth in a controlled lab environment; however, these results failed to produce similar results in the real world. Lastly, it’s helpful to understand that under ideal conditions, healthy soil containing certain strains of bacteria and fungi naturally produce Vitamin B1 without the need to supplement with “fortified” fertilizer supplements.
Moral of the story? Don’t be duped by the marketing hype, and skip the B1 fertilizers that claim to ““prevent transplant shock” and “stimulate new root growth”! In other words, our tree removal professionals do not approve!
How To Properly Fertilize Your Plants
What to do instead? Thankfully we have written extensively on the subject! See our articles on the topics of transplanting, watering, and fertilizing, and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for your next tree service or landscaping request!