If someone tells you to put striker matches in potted plants to help them grow, you might think it’s a superstition—but there’s science behind this old wives’ tale. By pushing a few match heads into the soil around potted plants, you can grow outstanding, healthy plants that thrive and produce flowers and fruit in a short time.
The Importance of Indoor Plants
Apart from their ornamental function, there are several reasons why you need indoor plants. You can start placing food crops, such as okra, pepper, chilis, tomato, eggplant, lettuce, cucumbers, onions, and cabbage, in pots indoors four to six weeks before the last expected frost. This move will give your seedlings a head-start for the summer growing season, and you will be able to transplant strong seedlings outdoors and harvest your first vegetables sooner than if you waited for favorable outdoor conditions to sow seeds.
Potted herbs and even flowers such as chrysanthemum and Allium in your kitchen window will discourage flies. All green plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere, which can help to improve the air quality in your home.
Improving Your Plant Growth with Matches
Unfortunately, sometimes vegetables and other plants which grow in pots indoors don’t flourish, and it becomes a challenge to figure out why. If you water your plants regularly and provide enough light and warmth, the reason your potted plants aren’t growing might be a lack of essential minerals in the soil, or pests that are attacking your plants. Placing matches in the soil around your pot plants creates an ideal deterrent for pests, and match sticks can supplement nutrients in the soil.
Striker matches contain phosphorus sesquisulfide, potassium chlorate, and small quantities of magnesium and ferric oxide. Some types of matches also contain red phosphorus. If you worry about the use of chemical fertilizers and commercial pesticides around your home and the food you eat and prefer an organic lifestyle driven by homesteading, matches are a safe way to add nutrients to the soil of your potted plants while driving away pests.
Related: How to Adjust the pH in Soil and Water for Abundant Harvests
Protection and Fertilizer
The stems, roots, and leaves of young seedlings are tender, making them vulnerable and attractive to a variety of pests. Vegetable seedlings are especially prone to attack by aphids, whitefly, cutworm, and fungus. The sulfur of a few match sticks in plant pots is a useful way to harmlessly get rid of pests without introducing chemicals which could be harmful to your family. Potassium chlorate and red phosphorus both act as a disinfectant and pesticide and are considered safe for use near food crops. In India, match sticks are mixed in with grain crops to act as an insecticide and naturally repel rodents.
It is difficult to know how much fertilizer to add to your plants–too little and they won’t flourish, too much and you could end up damaging the roots. Plants grow best with frequent small applications of fertilizer, so you must keep up a routine of adding liquid or granular fertilizer to your plants. Some plants such as okra, eggplant, and peppers rely heavily on soil nutrients, but they are also sensitive to the nutrient balance and concentration in the soil. Too much nitrogen from chemical fertilizers in the soil will result in green leaves with no buds. Nitrogen-based chemical fertilizers sometimes overstimulate green growth and leave your crops without fruit.
Using matches as fertilizer in pot plants eliminates these difficulties. When you water your potted plants regularly, the moisture in the soil will dissolve the match heads over time, gradually releasing sulfur, phosphorous, and magnesium to nourish your plants.
Surprising Household Nutrient Sources for Plants
Both the phosphorous and phosphorous sesquisulfide in match heads encourage bud development and the setting of fruit in crops. Phosphorous will also make the soil slightly acidic, which is beneficial for most food crops. Magnesium is the pivotal ingredient in plant chlorophyll, without which the plants take on a yellowish cast and the plants will grow lanky without producing fruit. Magnesium from matches in your pot plants helps to produce a healthy green color in leaf crops and the leaves of fruit plants.
If you are looking for more organic ways to feed your potted plants, there are a few surprising household resources you can add to the soil: Epsom salts are a rich source of magnesium for yellowing plants, and crushed eggshells add calcium to the soil, which improves plants’ ability to absorb water. Unsalted potato water adds starch to the soil, which is an excellent nutrient for vegetables and dried coffee grounds are a natural slow-release source of nitrogen. Small amounts of vinegar will add nutrients to the soil and, at the same time, lower the pH, which is healthy for vegetable plants.
Related: How to Plant a Perennial Food Garden – Fruits & Veggies That Will Keep Coming Back Year After Year
How to Use Match Heads to Upgrade Your Plant Upkeep
There are three ways in which you can use match sticks to add nutrients and protect your pot plants from pests:
- Stick ten to twenty matches head first into the soil around each plant. Make sure that the heads are well-buried, but you don’t need to submerge the entire match stick. The best location to place the match sticks is halfway between the plant pot rim and the plant stem. Don’t bury the matches too close the stem or you might damage the roots of the plant.
- If you are using large planting containers, you can drop a few extra matches into the planting hole and bury them when you cover the seedling’s roots with soil. That way, the soluble nutrients are close to the roots where the plant needs them.
- Plunge a few matches into your watering can. The match heads will dissolve in the water and act as a liquid fertilizer for your plants.
People frequently ask whether you can reuse the matches which you place in a plant pot and whether you must use new matches. Here’s the answer to your questions:
- Can unused matches in pot plants be reused as a firelighter? Unfortunately, no. We all know that water and fire don’t mix. Once your matches become subjected to damp soil, the chemicals which help matches to light will leach out into the soil, and the matches won’t ignite anymore.
- Can you use spent matches as fertilizer? When a match is lit, chemicals such as magnesium and sulfur contained in the match head don’t disappear; they oxidize into a different form which plants can easily absorb. However, burnt matches will no longer act as a pest repellent, so if you want the dual benefit of fertilizer and pesticide, it’s best to use new matches.
Alternatives to chemical fertilizers, such as match sticks in pot plants, save the environment and produce crops that are healthier for people to eat. Whether you’re concerned about your wellbeing or just enjoy trying a different method of gardening, adding match sticks to your pot plants will produce gratifying results.
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What an awesome idea! Can’t wait to give this a try. Thank you so very much for all your wonderful articles. You are great to provide this to us and it is so appreciated
Egg shells that have been dried and ground up (I usually just smash them really good) mixed with the mentioned coffee grounds works well also.
You smash the really well, not good. Grammar!
I wouldn’t throw away the wooden matches once the heads have dissolved. I would dry them out and add them to my fire making supplies. Matches make good kindling for starting a fire. They are dry and soft wood which ignites easily. If there is still some of the head left, that is all the better because once dry, those chemicals are flammable and will aid in starting a fire. I always keep matches that have gone out soon after the head flares because with the next match, I put the two together and get a larger flame which is more resistant to going out. If I still have most of the match left over after I light whatever it is I am trying to light, I keep that slightly burnt match and either use it for kindling or use it to assist another burning match. You can keep your second hand matches in an Altoids tin or in a prescription bottle or other airtight container. Mottai nai! as Japanese grandmothers like to say. We call it “Waste not, want not”.
Also works with paper matches, but not as well as wooden, of course, and paper matches burn down to unusable stubs too quickly.
A use for CAST IRON Cement Nails is bringing back to life Old Fruit Trees, apples especially. Preferably done when trees are dormant for nails, this gives the nails time to start breaking down before juices start moving upward but as early in the year as possible. and SEAL
Love seeing OLD Grafted Apple Trees come back and produce again as they once did, Pears too.
Drive 3-5 nails into the trunk 12″-16″ above ground and seal or hit your local Brake Repair Shop and ask them for a coffee can of metal cuttings from turning brake drums and rotors. To use them, Turn up 2′-3′ diameter around tree and sprinkle with cuttings and rake into soil.
For older trees I would recommend the NAILS since the root system would be a very large area to cover.
Both methods will leach IRON to your trees and any other plants needing an Iron boost.
What about *OLD* ! Could be 20-50 or more years old Pecan Trees ?? And nails ?? Five Years ago had a Beautiful/Great Crop !! Every year Since !! Worms have gotten to them !! I have 4 Huge Pecan Trees , WOULD COST A FORTUNE TO TREAT/ Spray/ Even Trim Back !!! I’m in Oklahoma SO the Ice Storm we had in Oct 2020 Darn Near TOOK THEM ALL OUT!! BECAUSE The Leaves and pecans were still on them when they Froze and Lost Probably 1/2 The Limbs And Some Are Still Broken And Just Hanging 🙁 Tree Service Prices are Horrendous !!!!! SO Would A Dz or so nails Help or Not?? I’m just a Renter. But I Hate To See Trees Die Off …
Leftover tea or coffee is good as mild fertilizer and water. I use coffee grounds, used tea leaves of any kind, roasted, ground, egg shells, liquid from my scrap bucket even before it gets to the compost pile-mixed with water. Mom used dissolved plain gelatin also. Grandma would take a bit of milk that about to go bad and mix it very thinned with water to put on her squash and pumpkin plants.
Leftover tea or coffee is good as mild fertilizer and water. I use coffee grounds, used tea leaves of any kind, roasted, ground, egg shells, liquid from my scrap bucket even before it gets to the compost pile-mixed with water. Mom used dissolved plain gelatin also. Grandma would take a bit of milk that was about to go bad and mix it very thinned with water to put on her squash and pumpkin plants.
Most cost nothing but a little time and give good results in house or garden plants.
I’m sure match heads are good for plants, but i doubt the chemicals in them qualify as organic fertilizer, but i also remember reading posts from hardcore old blankety blank outdoorsmen who eat match heads to repel ticks, so sounds like matches at least do no harm in the garden.
Be honest, your friends already think you’re half crazy so a bunch of matches sticking up in your potted plants shouldn’t be a big deal…
Are wooden “kitchen” matches, or wooden “safety” matches, or wooden “strike on the box” matches, or wooden “strike anywhere” matches what you are calling wooden “striker” matches in your article?
Also, if you ignore their higher cost per match, would the coated, waterproof, wooden “survival” matches release their sulphur, phosphor, and magnesium into the soil as effectively as the “old-fashioned”, uncoated. wooden matches?
Seems like, if the match is waterproof, it won’t release the chemicals into the soil. The old fashion strike anywhere matches would be the ones to use. I live in Southwest Florida, I’m going out to buy a box of those matches right now.
You can get wooden box matches at the dollar store in pretty large boxes. I’d save the camping matches for “best” and use the cheapo ones in my plants. I’m going to try this today – does anyone know if it’s good against fungus gnats?
Update: I tried this and the leaves all started turning yellow. Matches or over watering? And the fungus gnats appear to be undeterred. Back to square one!
Another interesting post. I had not considered matches as fertilizer.
There’s always something to learn by following this site.
wow, what utter bullshit
Pink: Rather than just posting a caustic remark, why not take a little time and instead of a useless comment, post something that tells us a basis for your thinking that the article is incorrect?
If you can’t, maybe this list isn’t worth your time. We certainly can do without useless comments that add nothing to the knowledge that we all seek to help us better prepare for disasters and catastrophes which seem to occur with wearisome frequency.
even Google will show many scientific studies debunking these claims. The Garden Professors Blog is my go to site, with links to university papers with the results of studies on the overload of untrue claims on the internet these days. (and my own personal years of gardening trial and errors helps too; I was sucked in to some claims ONCE! these pop up regularly, unending bombardment )
Adding peat moss to your soil will give you a buffer for over fertilizing. The peat will absorb nutrients and slowly release them over time.
Matches have several things but if your soil is alkaline match sulphur might help balance it.
So I have two banana trees in pots that were very sick. I saw fungus gnats hanging around so I decided to give the matches a try. I thought well if it hurts the plants I am only going to lose them anyway. So I put ten matches in just like the directions said. One week later I couldn’t believe it, I had hundreds of gnats dying around my plants. They were literally fleeing the pots in droves. So far this is the only thing that worked. I have tried soapy water and other natural remedies to combat gnats. The new growth on my bananas are gorgeous where as before were limp and brown with spots all over. Today I put matches in all my houseplants. Hopefully it will help my other plants too.
I don’t think I’ve ever read any B S on this site.. In fact I find it quite helpful in many ways. And his books a fascinating….remind me of listening to my Gramma. just sayin’
How often do u change out the matches for new ones? Also very interested in your opinion on banana peel water? My sister swears by this, but I’m reading mixed reviews & conflicting information. I really admire your knowledge & would be very thankful for your opinion, as I believe in science & facts as well! Tysvm for sharing all of your knowledge with the rest of us!! Also if anyone else would like to share any of your experiences or knowledge it would be greatly appreciated!! My son says that miracle grow is exactly what I make at home with different vitamins, nutrients, etc that I feed my plants. He is 25 & I still have a plant given to me in the hospital the day he was born… they both just turned 25. This particular plant is a vine that wraps around our kitchen 3 times, but does not like anything at all, not even coffee grounds, just water & to be left alone… also extremely root bound… I try larger pots & it does not like it at all… any advice? Thank you, sorry I’m very new to the nutrition that plants need to thrive & it just amazes me how they can lack something exactly like people when they are lacking any potassium etc… the plant, just like our bodies will definitely let you know… I also find it so interesting that each individual plant, just like us, has its own individual needs to keep it healthy & thriving!! I’ve always been told I have a green thumb, but I guess I was just lucky, bc I’m just learning about all of these important facts that I wish I learned many years ago!!! I have a plant addiction indoor & outdoor. My adult sons tease me & will count them lol, etc… but I love them!! Sorry this is so long, but any tips on orchids?? Only plant that I have trouble with, not the green leaves, but keeping petals alive & blooming again? Of course it’s one of my favorites! One more ?. Why does one of my Christmas cactuses bloom & grow every year, but the other one just grows the greenery, kinda like my orchids, but never blooms, but doesn’t die either? Also in another plant forum they were talking about male & female of certain plants, is this true? I’m ordering your books now! Tysvm! 🙂 PS. This is my first time ever commenting on anything on the internet, but I’m so excited to have found your content!!!
Hey Jude don’t look so sad! Which would you rather have good taste or really well grammer? Well just forget that and STFU,,,