I know some of us enjoy a glass of wine when the workday is over. Sometimes, we enjoy more than one, am I right? Well, don’t feel guilty about it, we are not the only ones. As it turns out, a lot of animals enjoy the relaxation that comes with alcohol too. Some go out of their way to eat fermented fruit and have a good time.
But what about our houseplants?
We’ve all wondered. You have a glass of wine or a cold beer and your plant is nearby, what happens if I feed some to my houseplant. Can plants get drunk?
No, plants can’t get drunk. When you get drunk, the ethanol from alcohol gets to the brain from the bloodstream and it affects your nervous system ability to send/receive information. Plants lack the nervous system and don’t have a brain, so they can’t get drunk.
Ok, we got that out of the way, but what happens if I do pour alcohol on my houseplant?
What if I mistake water for vodka and I spray it on my houseplant?
There is a wide range of interesting reactions plants can have to alcohol, from beneficial to downright deadly, so let’s explore those further.
The short answer is yes, alcohol can be bad for your plants because alcohol in hight purity and high amounts will kill any plant swiftly, but the longer answer is not necessarily. Let me explain further:
We think of alcohol as just one chemical, but there are actually 3 types. Let’s start to deconstruct these a bit and what happens if you expose your plants to them. Keep in mind that Ethanol is the one we are most interested in as it’s the one found in alcoholic drinks.
Is it good or bad? It’s good.
Used in fuel for race cars and boats. You can also find it in antifreeze, paint remover. Surprisingly, Methanol is great for many plants, as they use it similar to how they use carbon dioxide. If you have over 30% methanol though, the benefits start going down quickly. As methanol is not widely used in the common household for houseplant growth and as I don’t have much experience with fertilizers that use it, I will avoid going into more detail.
Is it good or bad? It’s good, but only use it as spraying insecticide.
This is basically rubbing alcohol. As you might know, there is insecticide based on Isopropyl alcohol that does wonders for aphids. The safe amount here is about 70% Isopropyl to 30% water, even so I would recommend spraying a leaf and leaving it for 24 hours. If the leaf looks normal after 24 hours, spray it on the rest of the plant. More than 70% it’s not safe and as you grow the concentration it will burn and damage your plant.
Is it good or bad? It’s not that good unless your plant is growing too much.
This is what we mean when we talk about plants getting drunk or someone pouring it on plants by mistake. Ethanol is produced by the fermentation of grains and it’s what we drink in beer, wine, vodka, etc. Ethanol-based alcohol doesn’t provide any benefit per se, but it can be used to effectively stunt plant growth without affecting the flowers.
To do this you have to mix hard liquor with water approximately one part liquor and seven parts water.
Can Alcohol Stunt Plant Growth?
As mentioned above you can spray isopropyl alcohol as DIY insecticide.
However, I will tell you right now one of the best kept secrets in the plant world. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth like this is one of the most effective insecticides you can buy. Use it instead of isopropyl alcohol, it’s safer for both you and your plant, cheaper and even comes with a tiny pump.
I would also advise against watering your plants with isopropyl alcohol. Theoretically, it has the same effect as ethanol meaning it will stunt the growth of your houseplant, but it’s found in much higher concentrations and as such harder to get the final dilution right, you could very easily kill your plant.
Any alcoholic beverage higher than 10% concentration will also outright kill your plant.
However, if you for any reason want to stunt the growth of your plant, an alcohol concentration of 5% will do a reasonable job of it, although I would generally categorise it as one of those bad ideas you have after a couple of wine glasses.
I personally used hard liquor before to successfully keep some houseplants shorter, but to be honest it was more experimentation than anything else.
There are a lot of other safer and better ways to achieve that without endangering your houseplants life. There have been studies done that suggest you can stunt your plants growth for as much as 50% but in my experience you should expect anything from 0 to 20%-30%.
For me, sometimes it didn’t work at all while other times I could visibly see a difference compared to other plants in record time.
Please keep in mind when I say water your houseplants with alcohol I don’t mean downright pouring a bottle of vodka in the soil, that will kill the plant pretty quickly.
Should you still be curious about the subject, checkout this interesting study.
Why Does Alcohol Stunt Plant Growth And How To Do It Correctly?
The reason why alcohol stunts plants growth is not entirely known but it is believed that it’s because alcohol makes it harder for the plant to absorb water. Basically, the same reason why you are hungover after a heavy day of drinking, you get dehydrated. So plants can’t get drunk, they just have the hangover. All the pain and no gain.
This effectively is like moving your plant so it gets less light which by the way, it’s a safer way to achieve the same result, but you will feel less like a mad scientist.
Also, if you are interested in keeping plants short, checkout this comprehensive guide on how to do that.
Anyway, If you for any reason want to stunt the growth of your plant with alcohol and I can’t convince you to not water your houseplants with alcohol, this is how you do it:
- You take hard liquor like vodka, whiskey, tequila, even gin. I recommend vodka, simply because I hate drinking it so I used it before for this procedure. I also tend to think it has the least amount of sugar. The instructions here are for 40% concentration so just stick with that.
Try to aim for about 5% final alcohol concentration, so in a big jug mix one part vodka and seven parts water. So, you can mix 300 ml of vodka and put on top about 2 litres of water.
Then just use that mixture regular plant water. If you have two plants, try it one one and let them live in similar conditions so you can observe the growth difference.
If done correctly, you shouldn’t see any negative effect on the color or smell of the plant.
If your plant is looking less lively or flaccid, stop it and water it normally. It means not enough water is reaching the leaves so the alcohol concentration is just too big.
You can even use some homemade plant food to make it bounce back.
If you were to use rubbing alcohol, you will need to dilute it more, around 10-11 parts water.
There is this legend about beer being a good houseplant food.
I think it appeared because of the assumption that every carbohydrate will do good for the soil, but that’s just not true. I have seen people watering their plants with beer before and it went really badly, so just don’t do it.
There can be some clever snail traps one can do using beer, but that’s one for another day.
Help! I Watered My Plant With Alcohol
How could this happen?
You will be surprised how often someone makes the mistake of watering their houseplant with some liquid just because it was nearby and they were paying too much attention to Grey’s Anatomy.
I know it happened to me. In fact recently, a friend of mine left the key with a neighbour to come in and water the plants.
She had a bottle with a hard-homemade liquor in a bottle that just looks exactly like water. It has a very strong smell but only if you get close enough to smell it.
The lady just used it to water the houseplant with it, realizing the strong alcoholic smell when it was too late. She panicked and tried rinsing it, but that drink had about 50% concentration and it was too late.
Of course, this is a general guide on how to deal with minor mistakes, it will really depend on how resilient a particular plant is.
That being said, let’s see how to properly deal with situations like these so you don’t lose your favorite houseplant.
I watered my plant with a very strong drink, 70% or more alcohol.
How bad is it: 8/10
If this happens, it will kill the plant pretty quickly. Don’t repot the plant as it can cause further damage. Try to clean the soil of alcohol with a healthy dose of flushing, meaning you slowly pour water on top of the soil without overflowing the pot, and allow it to drain from the bottom. Use about 4-5 times the pot’s volume and give the plant a couple of hours to see how it reacts.
You can also rinse the plant itself for added security.
If it starts to shrivel then your best bet is to do a stem cutting and hope it roots.
I watered my plant with vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila or any 40% alcohol hard drink.
How bad is it: 6/10
I watered my plant with wine or beer.
How bad is it: 4/10
Beer is about 5% so it won’t kill the plant per se. Wine is a bit strong for comfort but it is unlikely to kill your plant from one mistake. For good measure, give it a rinse and flush it, but this time use about 2 times the pot’s volume.
Flushing removes minerals from the soil, so in this case we want just enough to remove the danger of sugar and lower alcohol concentrations.
Help! I Sprayed My Plant With Alcohol
I have heard of people spraying their plants with anything from screen cleaner fluid, window cleaner, bleach, mr. Clean, vinegar, champagne and everything in between.
Sometimes, they aren’t even accidental, you see some garden tips online about how your houseplants actually need some vinegar spray to thrive and you decide to try it out.
Next thing you know your plant is dying and you can’t find answers, so let’s explore some of those situations.
I sprayed my plant with rubbing or high concentration alcohol
How bad is it: 5/10
Alcohol more concentrated than 70% will cause burns on your plant quickly and potentially kill it.
Rubbing with 70% concentration is commonly used as an insecticide and is very effective for mealybugs. If it’s a regular spray with no heavy drips and it didn’t get into the soil, you can just leave it be. You should still monitor the plant, make sure it doesn’t develop alcohol burns and it remains healthy.
Some leaves that were already unhealthy might wither away, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Rinsing won’t do much since alcohol with such high concentration will evaporate quickly, but if you oversprayed until it drips you have to pat the leaves with a paper towel quickly.
This will avoid the alcohol getting in the soil, then rinse and wipe every leaf carefully as they will likely wither.
On this point, I would recommend identifying the pest you need insecticide for and one that is 100% safe.
What you will find is that there are safer and better insecticides for every case.
I sprayed my plant with vodka, whiskey, rum, tequila or any 40% alcohol…somehow…
How bad is it: 5/10
If you want to spray your houseplants with alcohol stick to a solution made out of rubbing alcohol.
You want something as pure as possible and that evaporates quickly.
Commercially available drinking alcohol could contain ingredients that makes it harder to evaporate and leave more ingredients behind that damage the plant.
If you accidentally spilled or sprayed abundant vodka or any of the drinks above, pat the leaves with a paper towel and rinse them with clean water.
Pay attention to them curling up as a bad sign, but if you are quick them should be fine.
I sprayed my plant with wine or beer
How bad is it: 6/10
Oh how the tables have turned.
The reason why this can be more dangerous than really hard liquor is because it doesn’t trigger an immediate reaction in us.
Sometimes, people even do it on purpose as a gardening tip.
The sugars in wine or beer will damage your plant, even if it’s not immediate.
If you were to spray your house plant with the aforementioned drinks and leave it a bit, you will see the plant become sticky.
Now you can imagine how that attracts bugs, fungus and all kinds of undesired creatures to your beloved plant.
If you sprayed your houseplants with beer or wine all you need to do is rinse your plant and make sure the leaves are clean both on the front and on the back.
If you forgot and they became sticky you might need some warm water with a bit of soap and then rinse it immediately with clean water.
If done in time they plant will be just fine, but if the situation continues over days or weeks, you will be experiencing problems 100%.
I once saw a houseplant once reduced to a rotten mess because of one such great gardening tip on stale beer as plant spray, so it’s not to be taken lightly.
Although your houseplants won’t get drunk and party with you anytime soon, that shouldn’t stop you from partying, you absolute legend.
No reason to be sad though, as mentioned above, plants can enjoy alcohol and sometimes it can even be beneficial.
But please remember to avoid unnecessary risks and do your research when your houseplants health is on the line.