Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Vitamin B-1: The Garden Myth That Won't Die

 Gardeners, their parents and their grandparents have heard this refrain at nurseries for decades: "Get a bottle of B-1, it will help reduce transplant shock for that new plant you are buying."

The truth, though, is the same as it has been for 70 years: it isn't the Vitamin B-1 (thiamine hydrochloride) in the bottle that reduces transplant shock.

First a definition of "transplant shock" from Purdue University: "Transplant shock is a term that refers to a number of stresses occurring in recently transplanted trees and shrubs. It involves failure of the plant to root well, consequently the plant becomes poorly established in the landscape. New transplants do not have extensive root systems, and they are frequently stressed by lack of sufficient water. Plants suffering from water stress may be more susceptible to injury from other causes such as the weather, insects, or disease. When several stresses are being experienced, the plant may no longer be able to function properly."

And right there you have the answer to effectively reduce transplant shock: water correctly.

Thiamine exists in nature, produced for plants via leaves and sunlight. Plants, as well as soil microbes, create their own Vitamin B1. Thiamine is a cofactor (molecule that binds to an enzyme to help/allow it to function) important in the construction and break down of carbohydrates for growth or energy storage/release.

In the 1930's, thiamine was shown to increase root development in plant tissue cultures - in the lab - especially in the dark. But those results couldn’t be replicated consistently in the field.

 Research at the University of California has shown that the addition of Vitamin B-1 to a plant doesn't make any difference at all.

Tests done at Sunset Magazine showed similar results: it's not the Vitamin B-1, it's the other ingredients in the bottle that might make a difference in roots and growth of new plants.

Back in the 1940's, naturally occurring plant growth regulators, known as auxins, were isolated and tested. Auxins were found to stimulate cell elongation in roots and stem tissue. Bingo!

Around that time, a commercial product, Transplantone, was developed that contained auxins and thiamine. Later research showed that it was the auxins, not the thiamine, that encouraged roots. 

But the die was cast: gardeners got into the habit of getting vitamins for their plants.

What does stimulate root growth? A rooting hormone containing auxins such as Indole Butyric Acid, Naphthylacetic acid or Paclobutryzol. 

Another source of auxins: seaweed extracts.

One surprise that popped up in my research: the much-ridiculed Superthrive contains well as, of course, Vitamin B-1. Anyone who has tried to pore through the densely hyperbolic endorsements on a Superthrive label looking for the ingredients, well...good luck. 

However, I did find the ingredients on a 10 year-old, unused bottle of Superthrive sitting in my greenhouse. Is it the same formulation today? I don't know. But seeing how they haven't apparently changed the outside of the bottle much over the years, I have a feeling the insides are still the same.

Bottom line: The benefits of root formation contained in a bottle of Vitamin B-1 or any other additive product are the auxins, if any, that are included.  Small amounts of nitrogen can also encourage root development. Other fertilizer ingredients that might be contained do not necessarily reduce transplant shock. Putting the right plant in the right place, with healthy soil, along with the proper amount of sun, water and fertilizer, is all most gardeners need for success.


  1. Hi Fred,

    You can also use alfalfa (Medicago sativa, also known as lucerne) it is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it has the ability to fix nitrogen, improve soil structure and tilth. Alfalfa contains triacontanol, which is a growth stimulant, and it is said to produce higher yields.

    Triacontanol is a fatty alcohol, also known as melissyl alcohol or myricyl alcohol. It is found in plant cuticle waxes and in beeswax. Triacontanol is a growth stimulant for many plants, in which it rapidly increases the number of basal breaks.

    Keith Miner
    Flower Hut Nursery

  2. This is great information. I always wondered what was in that stuff. It's quite popular here. Never carried it before last year, but we got asked for it so often, now we do.

  3. You know, cultivators of the Cannabis plant, a good many of them swear by implementing a regimen of B-1 nutrient in feeding their plants' growth and flowering cycles, respectively. Fred, your article is fantastic and coincides nicely with an essay produced by Linda Chalker-Scott from Washington State University. Glad that you put out your comments because I was beginning to think that I was doing something wrong by not using B-1, or the ever-ubiquitous 'SuperThrive' that sits there by the register at the local Home Depot store.
    ~ Cheers

  4. VERY informative, and I like your conversational style. Thanks.

  5. In our desert sandy conditions I follow the following RULES for TRANSPLANTING OUTDOORS ONLY: 1-seek right plant for the right location (ie sunlight lovers/shade lovers etc) , 2-inspect location for slugs/white worms/, chemical contaminants, etc. 2a- dig hole twice the width size of planter. Dig an additional 3-5" to the depth to allow a natural "cup" to form for watering in after backfilling, 3-assuring there are no slugs or unusual bugs in newly dug hole, rough up hole with an old kitchen fork. 4-pat down a 1/2 page of newspaper inside (DO NOT USE nonbiogradable GLOSSY PAPER), 5- fill hole halfway with the appropriate soil mix (all outdoor trees and shrubs that are planted in the ground assure you are using a required mix for said plant) 6-work a small handful of organic BONE MEAL into the T/S planting mix, water gradually, gently mixing taking care not to tear nor disturb the newspaper underneath. Allow hole to drain. 7- add a few cups of the native soil to the mixture. Gently mix, mix, mix. 8-Gently take your plant out of its old planter. 9-DO NOT "x" NOR MANIPULATE THE SENSITIVE ROOT BALL! Most plants will die within 1-2 weeks using this insane "x" practice! Place your new tree/shrub/plant ontop of the prepared soil mixture. 10-Almost done, BACKFILL using the 50/50 mixture/native soil rule. Gently mixing the soil/mixture by hand. Tamp down as you fill! Gradually adding enough mixture to cover the base slightly. You should see only a 1-2 inch "RIM" around your plant to prevent run off in future waterings. 11- WATER THOROUGHLY to close up any air pockets around the root ball. Wait 2 minutes for drainage, water again. Viola ! Remember, more plants die within a week with improper watering or lack of. ALL PLANTS regardless of whether it's meant to be drought tolerant MUST BE WATERED EVERYDAY for 1-2 weeks to allow for root establishment. Planted correctly and good drainage, water everyday until its new roots establish and new growth appears. Fertilize according to the plants instuctions. Cut back watering depending on your geographical location, to every other day on the 3rd-4th week. After one month, water however much your specific plant requires for your specific region.