Dry Ice and Plants
Date: October 2006
I wanted to know if I can safely work with dry ice to use it in a
gardening experiment to see if it will help plants to grow. I'm
thinking of a way to melt it and use the liquid to nourish the
plants with like water. I am wanting to do this as a science project
It is possible to work safely with dry ice--gloves, ventilation, etc. with
adult present. However, you may not get what you are looking for that way.
Under normal conditions, dry ice will turn into a gas---you won't get a
liquid if you "melt" it. I wonder if you could use a carbonated beverage
like tonic water or a soda water of some sort---you'd have to watch for
nutrients in there. Also, do some research about how a plant brings carbon
dioxide into itself. You may find that you want to do a different sort of
experiment---either changing your carbon dioxide delivery system or studying
a different nutrient delivered through the root system. Good luck and have
When dry ice melts, it converts directly to gas, so it wouldn't be possible
to add as a liquid to plants. Although melting dry ice will often develop a
liquid crust, that is only water ice condensing and freezing from the air.
Plants are able to get their carbon dioxide directly from the air, so if
you want to test the effects on plant growth, you can add CO2 at different
levels to the air of plants growing in closed chambers, compared to some in
a chamber of ordinary air. You want to keep all other factors as similar
as possible (temperature, soil, water, light, etc).
Very high CO2 concentrations may in some cases have a negative effect on
plants, so separate chambers with different CO2 levels would help identify
Hi Jeff, unfortunately you won't be able to "melt" the dry ice to a liquid.
Dry ice is actually solid carbon dioxide, and when it changes phases at
usual temperatures and pressures it goes directly to the gas phase.
Greenhouses control the environment they plants grow in, and they can
control things like temperature and CO2 levels (plants convert CO2 and water
using the energy of light to oxygen and glucose). If you're interested in
how CO2 affects plant growth you can contact a local nursery for ideas. As
a safety issue, dry ice isn't really that dangerous, you can hold it in your
hand for short periods of time without getting burns, although I would
recommend getting some supervision when you're working with it.
Stanford Department of Chemistry
This is an interesting idea, but unfornately, not feasible. Dry ice (solid
carbon dioxide) does not have a liquid phase at normal atmospheric pressure.
It goes through a phase change from a solid directly to a gas (this phase
change from solid to gas is called sublimation). There is no way you will
have liquid carbon dioxide to "water" your plants.
For the sake of discussion, let's look at what might happen IF you could do
this. Maybe, for example, you could grow the plants in a pressure chamber so
that the dry ice actually did melt to form a liquid (not practical, but
let's continue). You "water" the plants with liquid CO2; but plants DO need
H2O, and now they are not getting any. Not good for the plants; they will
die. On the other hand, plants DO need CO2, but they take this in as a gas
through tiny holes in the leaves called stomata. Some interesting
experiments have been done looking at plants grown in a chamber with a
higher than normal concentration of CO2 gas. Maybe there's a science project
in there somewhere. Good luck.
Paul Mahoney, PhD
Dry ice is nothing more than carbon dioxide. It has the special property of
sublimation, which means that it can transform directly from a solid to a
gas (or gas to solid) without actually going through the liquid phase. Dry
ice has a temperature of -78C and can only only become a liquid under very
high pressures. DO NOT try to contain the dry ice in a sealed vessel
because the vessel WILL most likely explode and hurt you. Carbon dioxide
can also be dissolved in water to make soda water. When dissoltion of CO2
in water occurs, it becomes acidic because the carbon dioxide forms carbonic
acid (H2CO3). It is not good to change the pH of your soil unless you take
a measurement of the pH first and then determine what the optimal pH for
your particular garden is. Nitrogen, in the form of ammonia, is used
heavily in fertilizers, and is usually quite basic. A basic pH is usually
perfered over an acid pH for most plants. Even if you try to use dry ice
directly in your experiment and put it deep in the soil, the very low
temperature would freeze the roots. When the roots freeze, the water in the
cells becomes ice. You know that ice floats in water and this is becaue it
is less dense. Water is the only substance that expends when it freezes (at
normal temperatures and pressures). When the water inside the cell freezes,
it's like sticking a soda in the freezer--it will explode. When this occurs
with a cell it is called lysis and destroys the cell. If you kill the
roots, the plant will obviously not grow.
If you want another idea for a science project, then why don't you test out
growing plants in different types of soil. I would grow four plants per
soil type so that you can start to eliminate bad seeds etc. You can grow in
top soil, mulch, Mirical Grow, clay and whatever you can get your hands on
at the local grocery garden shop or home improvement store. You can also
compare fertilizers in a signle soil type to see which is best. You can
compare the nitrogen content of each and take soil pH samples to see what
the optimal soil pH is for a particular plant.
Unfortunately, melting dry ice will not give you a liquid. Dry ice goes
directly from a solid to a gas in a process called sublimation. You
could float the dry ice in water and it will melt turning the water into
a very weakly acid solution. That might spur plant growth depending
upon the soil type and plants. For example, strawberries seem to give
sweeter fruit in an acid soil.
You won't be able to melt dry ice - that's why it's "dry". It passes
directly from the solid to the gas phase. Dry ice would be a good way
to get concentrated carbon dioxide gas, but there won't be a liquid to
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Wyoming
Dry ice normally sublimes (converts directly from a solid to a gas at 1 atm.
at about -78.5 C. It melts, in the usual sense of a solid converting to a
liquid at -56C., but here the pressure of the gas is about 5 atm. So it is
difficult to handle without special high pressure equipment. In addition, at
such a high pressure the carbon dioxide will dissolve in water making he
soil very acidic, so separating the effects of carbon dioxide pressure from
a change in pH would be difficult. You need to re-think your experiment in
such a way so that you won't have to handle "liquid" carbon dioxide. That is
a task for more experienced hands.
I'm afraid melting it won't work. Dry ice is frozen Carbon Dioxide, which
is never a liquid at normal atmospheric pressures. As it warms u ptowards
room temperature, it chages states directly from solid to gasseous, hence
the name "Dry ice".
As for safety, there are some serious things to keep in mind. The first is
frostbite. NEVER touch the dry ice directly. Never never never!
Now, in the interest of helping your plants grow, a piece of dry ice nearby
would be an excellent source of the carbon dioxide plants need, as it
evaporates. Just how much of an effect this has would be a good basis for
an experiment in it's own right!
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