Does this plant food actually work?

By Kelly Vaughan
Julia Gartland / Food52

TikTok has brought us some of the greatest life hacks including cleaning tips, cheesy, creamy pasta recipes (feta pasta, anyone?), and all-around entertainment (raise your hand if you're still scarred by #bamarush!). But today I'm not here to talk about Kendra Scott earrings or the Lululemon Align Tank that every 18-year-old freshman at 'Bama rocked on the Tok. I'm here to exercise my green thumb and get down and dirty with plant TikTok.

How to make TikTok plant fertilizer 

A few weeks ago, Armen Adamjen, aka creative_explained, shared a video on TikTok demonstrating how to use just three basic household ingredients — spent coffee grounds, cinnamon, and seltzer water — to create an instant plant fertilizer for indoor and outdoor plants. Armen's instructions? Just combine 4-6 tablespoons of coffee grounds with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 cup of club soda in a large measuring cup. Mix together until combined. Pour the mixture over the soil of your plants once every two weeks and watch as your plants thrive. At first glance, it seems like the perfect way to get a second life out of used coffee grounds — but was it more than that? "What we have here is a super powerful mixture with potassium, phosphorus, nitrogen, and more minerals," says Adamjen, adding that this combination of minerals is natural plant food. But does this combination actually benefit your plants?

Does coffee help plants grow? 

In short, yes. Nitrogen-rich coffee doesn't just work as a fertilizer, but it also improves the soil structure, explains Nadia Hassani, a Home52 contributor and gardening expert. "However, brewed coffee is acidic (unlike used coffee grounds, which are close to pH neutral), so coffee should only be added to acid-loving plants such as hydrangeas, and in moderate amounts," says Hassani. Fresh unused coffee grounds vary in their acidity but they are generally too acidic for plants; plus, Hassani adds that it's a waste of delicious fresh coffee. Of course, you can always add spent coffee grounds to a compost pile. However, if you're going to repurpose coffee grounds as a fertilizer, do so with a light hand. Because coffee is acidic, you should only apply a thin layer of used grounds atop the soil to ensure that the plants are still able to absorb as many nutrients as possible.

If you want to make the TikTok plant fertilizer, keep in mind that when adding coffee grounds directly to the soil, whether in outdoor or indoor plants, you need to also add additional nitrogen fertilizer. "Coffee grounds boost the growth of microorganisms in the soil and those (good guys) use nitrogen when they grow and reproduce" explains Hassani. Therefore it's important to make sure that the soil can handle the boost of nitrogen.

Does this fertilizer work?

So, we know that coffee is good for plants, but what about cinnamon and seltzer water? "While cinnamon has antifungal and antibacterial properties, I do not think there is any scientific evidence of it being beneficial for soil," says Hassani. The same can be said for carbonated or seltzer water, which she calls an "internet fad." Tap water or chlorinated city water is preferable in order to encourage the quick growth of microorganisms.


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