- Gardening with Soft Water and Hard Water
- Is Hard Water Bad for Your Plants?
- How Does Soft Water Affect Plants?
- Growing Plants with Reverse Osmosis Water
- Is Softened Water Safe For Your Plants?
- How to Water Plants With Soft Water
- Watering houseplants with softened water
- Aquarius Water Conditioning Blog
- Is Softened Water Safe for Plants?
- Plants and Soft Water
- Plants and Reverse Osmosis Water
- Tips for Watering Your Garden
- Can I Water My Plants with Soft Water?
- About Tap Water for House Plants
- Another Feature of Rainwater
- The Deal with Soft Water Salt
- Other Plant Water Options
- Softened Water and Your Plants
- Softened Water And Plants: Using Softened Water For Watering
- What is Softened Water?
- Can You Use Softened Water on Plants?
- Soft Water Homes and Watering
- How to Treat Soil Affected by Softened Water
- Using Soft Water For Lawn Care
Gardening with Soft Water and Hard Water
Is Hard Water Bad for Your Plants?
Hard water contains calcium and magnesium carbonate salts. At home, it causes stains, spots, and build up on your sinks and fixtures. But in the right amount, hard water minerals can be good for your plants. Just be sure to check for any signs of stunted growth since very high levels of calcium and magnesium can hurt more diverse gardens.
If you’re growing acid-loving plants like Azaleas, Caladiums, and Begonias, you’ll need to check the pH of your water. High alkalinity is common in hard water and may cause problems for plant growth. In this case, reverse osmosis water can offer more controllable watering.
How Does Soft Water Affect Plants?
If your plants get plenty of rainwater, then occasional soft water won’t hurt. But watering plants exclusively with soft water isn’t recommended. Most water softeners use sodium chloride, which can cause a gradual build up of sodium in garden soil. This can cause plant growth problems.
Instead of soft water, use hard water or reverse osmosis for watering plants. Your local Culligan Man can easily create a bypass for outdoor spigots, so you’ll only get soft water where you want it.
Growing Plants with Reverse Osmosis Water
A reverse osmosis filter greatly reduces contaminants. And it’s a very popular choice for gardeners with plant diversity. The biggest benefit is creating clean, consistent water. So you can easily control the nutrients and fertilizers you add. Gardeners with bacteria, iron, and chlorine problems will appreciate the benefits of reverse osmosis water. It’s like having rain water from your faucet.
Plus, the pH of RO water can be easily changed. So plants with specific acid or alkaline requirements will benefit from the versatility of reverse osmosis.
Yes, it’s okay to use hard water on your plants. But gardens with diverse or delicate plant life may have problems, especially if hard water is their only source of water. Keep an eye out for damage caused by alkaline pH water or high levels of minerals.
It’s okay to use soft water, but it doesn’t provide any benefit to your garden. And soft water should only be used occasionally on outdoor gardens that receive natural rain. Otherwise, use normal tap water for your indoor plants.
Reverse Osmosis is the best water for a serious gardener. It allows precise control of the nutrient flow to your plants. Use reverse osmosis if you take care of delicate plant life. Otherwise, use hard water for your normal house plants.
Is Softened Water Safe For Your Plants?
From reducing the soap needed to wash your dishes and clothes, to extending the lifespan of your water using appliances and saving money on energy bills, softened water can provide a number of benefits around your home. While softened water tends to be nicer to drink, if you have a green thumb, you may wonder if softened water is safe for your plants.
Sodium and Ion Exchange
The main concern with water softeners is that it uses sodium or salt. Most softener models use sodium for the process of ion exchange to replace the calcium and magnesium hard water minerals. While the amount of salt in your water after processing through your water softener will vary according to the hardness levels of your water, it will certainly not be salty. In fact, drinking softened water is likely to provide less than three percent of the daily sodium intake on average. When your water softener is operating correctly, it would add just 30 milligrams of sodium per gallon. Since an 8 ounce glass of low fat milk contains an average of 120 milligrams of sodium, it is easy to see that you won’t be drinking salty water.
Keeping Your Indoor Plants Healthy and Happy
If you’re worried about sodium affecting your indoor plants, there are some simple ways to ensure that your plants remain healthy and happy.
- Collect Rainwater: You can not only conserve water, but keep your indoor plants happy by collecting rainwater. Rainwater can be collected in a barrel or bowl at the bottom of a downspout. Since rainwater is usually clean and is considered to be naturally soft, it doesn’t contain excessive amounts of dissolved minerals, so you can keep your indoor plants healthy.
- Dechlorinate Your Water: Some plants are unable to tolerate chlorinated water. If your tap water has a high level of chlorine, which can be diagnosed by a strong odor or taste, you should ensure that you dechlorinate your water. You can do this by allowing the water to sit in your watering can for a couple of days to allow the chlorine to dissipate.
- Switch to Potassium Chloride: Many softener models can use potassium chloride pellets instead of regular sodium chloride in the brine tank. Potassium is an essential plant nutrient, so it is safe to use potassium chloride softened water for your houseplants and soil.
Keeping Your Lawn and Garden Looking Great
Most water softeners feature a bypass valve that can be used when you’re watering your lawn and garden outside. This ensures that you use untreated water on your plants. It is worth checking with your water treatment technician, as you may find that your outside tap is not connected to your water softener, so you can water your garden with untreated water while enjoying all the advantages of softened water inside your home.
Monitor Your Plants
Finally, it is worth considering that the best way to keep your plants healthy is to monitor their progress. Your plants will provide you with clues, and while the minerals found in hard water can allow some plants to flourish, some plants won’t do well. Other plants may struggle with softened water. This means that you need to pay attention to water quality and look for clues to ensure that your plants remain healthy and happy.
By EcoWater Systems.
EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is the largest water treatment company in the state and is a member of Water Quality Association.
How to Water Plants With Soft Water
Because of the high sodium content and lack of naturally occurring minerals in softened water, your plants may begin to suffer from prolonged exposure. Thankfully, there are some things you can do to minimize the negative effects of soft water and help your plants get the nutrients they need.
Check the post-softening composition of your water. As a general rule, if the soft water you are using is having a notably adverse effect on your plants, then it probably isn’t too good for you either. Run the softened water through a water test kit to make sure all of the elements fall within the safe and acceptable levels. Water test kits are available from any home and garden store, and in many areas, your local water department will have them available for free.
Don’t use water softeners for your outside faucets. There should be nothing you use your outside faucet for that requires softening , and generally adding the outside faucet just means that you burn through those expensive softening chemicals that much faster. When you go to water your plants, simply head outside with your watering can and fill it from the outside faucet. This will require a bit more lugging, but it assures that your plants are getting what they need.
Fertilize regularly with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer. Because the softened water uses salts to remove a lot of the natural minerals, your plants may require extra fertilizer in order to thrive. Look for a nitrogen-rich fertilizer at your local home and garden store and plan to fertilize about a third as often as is recommended by the instructions.
Elevate your plants. Never let plants sit in soft water, as the sodium will continue to be absorbed into the soil, which will in turn kill your plants. Placing your plants in elevated holders will allow the water to drain through and keep the soil from absorbing as much of the harsh minerals.
Re-pot your plants. If it appears that the plants are starting to suffer from extended exposure to soft water and the minerals contained therein, then it might become necessary to re-pot your plants. The fresh soil will be free of any of the harmful mineral build-up and provide a healthy boost for your suffering plants.
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This is quite a common question we’re asked from keen gardeners, so we thought we’d answer it once and for all.
Most people in the US, UK and Canada will be aware that they have a mixture of soft and hard water areas.
If you’re unsure of the water quality in your area, simply look at the below maps for a quick overview, and then scroll below to read the discussion.
Map via HomeWater101.com
Map of Canadian water hardness via Muskoka Cleanwater
For those of you who are in hard water areas, there’s a good chance you may be softening your water already.
Hard water can have a negative impact on hot water household appliances such as dish washers, washing machines and showers – not to mention the taste!
Softening water will not only make it taste better, but it will also be likely to increase the lifespan of your appliances.
Obviously if you live in a soft water area, you won’t need to soften your water. But if you plan on relocating to a hard water area in the future, this may still be a helpful read…
It’s worth mentioning that hard water is often softened by treating it with sodium or potassium as this replaces the calcium and magnesium minerals which cause the hardness.
I know all this technical and plumbing information isn’t that interesting (sorry!), but it makes sense to explain it now as it will be referenced later on in the article.
Softened Water Is BAD News
Whilst softening hard water will likely benefit you and your household, the same can’t be said for your garden.
In fact, watering your garden, plants and soil with softened water is actually detrimental to their health.
Don’t get me wrong, simply pouring softened water on them once isn’t going to kill them or cause immediate damage; but if you consistently use softened water to feed your garden, then the damage will occur over a period of time.
Now, why is softened water bad for your garden?
Remember earlier when we said that sodium was often used as a way to treat hard water?
Well, this is the main cause of the problems.
Routinely watering your plants with softened water can be bad, because large amounts of sodium are often present in softened water.
Given that sodium is a main component of salt, and high levels of salt are extremely detrimental to your plants and your soil, softened water can also be bad when used over the long-term.
Plants will actually have their water balance interfered with when large amounts of sodium are in the water.
Essentially, this excess amount of sodium tricks plants into thinking they’ve absorbed more water than they actually have.
Needless to say, your plants therefore won’t be getting the amount of water they require and eventually, they will die from dehydration.
Your soil is also at risk when using softened water as the amount of salt will build up over time and gradually cause degradation in the soil quality.
As well as this, the excess salt will also create a hostile planting environment for future plants since the soil will prevent regular water absorption.
Avoiding Softened Water
If you do have a water softener installed for your household, don’t worry; there are ways to avoid this and still give your garden the nourishment it needs.
However, your options are quite limited. So if you want to water to continue watering your garden without causing further damage, you should consider the following options:
1) Get a bypass valve installed
Obviously, all of your water is fed into the softener before it comes into your house and appliances.
By installing a bypass valve, you essentially get ‘untreated’ water straight from the main water line.
If you link this bypass valve up to an outside tap or other outlet, you can simply water your garden with a hose or fill up a watering can from this source and bypass the softening treatment.
This way, you can water your garden as normal and without any ill side effects; just don’t drink from the outdoor tap as it won’t taste as nice.
2) Mix your softened water
If you have copious amounts of distilled water, or even better, rainwater collected in a water butt, you can simply mix the two together in order to dilute your softened water.
This dilution reduces the salt content in the volume of water, which makes it much friendlier on your plants and soil.
However, over time the salt level in your soil will still build up, so it’s wise to test this every now and then to ensure your soil is still fertile and healthy.
Just a heads up, as I’m a bit of a car guy, I should state that washing your car with softened water is much nicer than hard water as you don’t get left with ugly water marks if you don’t dry it properly.
How To Treat Damage Caused By Softened Water
There’s a good chance that some of you already have plants and soil that are displaying the signs of being watered with softened water.
Not to worry – we’ve got the answers that will get your garden back on track to being beautiful and healthy!
If your plants are showing signs of dehydration as a result of the excess sodium, you can simply stop using softened water to water them and begin using regular water, or even better, rainwater!
Doing this will allow your plants to start absorbing the correct amount of water they need. However it may take time, so be prepared to wait a little while for plant recuperation.
There’s also a good chance that your soil will have encountered some damage if you’ve been watering with softened water for too long.
The build up in salt leaves you with a soil imbalance that needs to be corrected.
Sadly, there’s no quick way to do this since chemicals are unable to reduce the salt content in your soil.
However, it is possible to reverse the effects by leaching. This process involves frequent manual watering (with rainwater or regular untreated water) in order to ‘flush out’ the salt in the soil.
Since you’ll be watering often, you must ensure there is adequate drainage to rid the soil of excess water or you plants and soil will become waterlogged.
If these treatments are carried out, there’s no reason why you should be faced with any plant deaths or further complications as a result of softened water.
Just be patient and give your garden time to adapt to the new water quality whilst it rids itself of the effects of the softened water.
Over time your garden, soil and plants will return to their previous state of health – just be sure to keep a close eye on everything and monitor soil levels until everything is back to normal.
Remember, if you have the option of watering your garden with a natural source such as rainwater, do so as the benefits are considerable when compared to regular tap water!
This article was originally published in 2013, it has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Like humans, plants all need water to grow and oftentimes need specific soil conditions in order to grow healthfully. When you are watering your household plants, it is best to use the watering information for the specific plant. We offer general information in this blog post. No matter the water you use, watch for stunted growth of your plants. If this is the case, it may be necessary to change the type of water used.
It is best to water plants with rainwater or hard tap Water depending if you’re watering inside or outside plants. Having less than 10 grains per gallon (gpg) of hardness in hard tap water is ideal. The hardness level is unlikely to be a serious danger to neither a plant nor its soil conditions. Since soft water is 0-1 gpg, this doesn’t mean you can use soft water. The sodium levels can have an effect on soil conditions and salt can build up over time within the soil. If your water has a high hardness level, over 10 gpg and your home uses a water softener, then more sodium is needed to remove the hardness therefore more sodium is in the water. Some homeowners will use reverse osmosis water for watering. The mineral content and contaminants are removed at a high degree and offer your plants a great chance for growth.
For outside watering, it is neither recommended nor economical to use softened water unless using to prevent iron staining on concrete, siding, or brick. Reason being, the water softener will regenerate more often using more water and more salt costing more money. Depending on the hardness of your water and the amount of salt used per regeneration in your water softener, softened water might be adequate to kill the grass.
Water Quality Association – https://www.wqa.org/learn-about-water/faqs#Is%20softened%20water%20safe%20for%20plants?
Better Homes and Garden – https://www.bhg.com/gardening/houseplants/care/watering-houseplants/
Watering houseplants with softened water
A given volume of large soil particles
has less overall surface area when compared to the same volume of small
particles and therefore less overall adhesive attraction to water. So,
in soils with large particles, GFP more readily overcomes capillary
attraction. They simply drain better and hold more air. We all know
this, but the reason, often unclear, is that the height of the PWT is
lower in coarse soils than in fine soils. The key to good drainage is
size and uniformity of soil particles. Mixing large particles with small
is often very ineffective because the smaller particles fit between the
large, increasing surface area which increases the capillary attraction
and thus the water holding potential. An illustrative question: How
much perlite do we need to add to pudding to make it drain well?
I already stated I hold as true that the grower’s soil choice when
establishing a planting for the long term is the most important decision
he/she will make. There is no question that the roots are the heart of
the plant, and plant vitality is inextricably linked in a hard lock-up
with root vitality. In order to get the best from your plants, you
absolutely must have happy roots.
If you start with a water-retentive medium, you cannot effectively
amend it to improve aeration or drainage characteristics by adding
larger particulates. Sand, perlite, Turface, calcined DE …… none of
them will work effectively. To visualize why sand and perlite can’t
change drainage/aeration, think of how well a pot full of BBs would
drain (perlite); then think of how poorly a pot full of pudding would
drain (bagged soil). Even mixing the pudding and perlite/BBs together
1:1 in a third pot yields a mix that retains the drainage
characteristics and PWT height of the pudding. It’s only after the
perlite become the largest fraction of the mix (60-75%) that drainage
& PWT height begins to improve. At that point, you’re growing in
perlite amended with a little potting soil.
You cannot add coarse material to fine material and improve drainage
or the ht of the PWT. Use the same example as above & replace the
pudding with play sand or peat moss or a peat-based potting soil – same
results. The benefit in adding perlite to heavy soils doesn’t come from
the fact that they drain better. The fine peat or pudding particles
simply ‘fill in’ around the perlite, so drainage & the ht of the PWT
remains the same. All perlite does in heavy soils is occupy space that
would otherwise be full of water. Perlite simply reduces the amount of
water a soil is capable of holding because it is not internally porous.
IOW – all it does is take up space. That can be a considerable benefit,
but it makes more sense to approach the problem from an
angle that also allows us to increase the aeration AND durability
of the soil. That is where Pine bark comes in, and I will get to that soon.
If you want to profit from a soil that offers superior drainage
and aeration, you need to start with an ingredient as the basis for your soils
that already HAVE those properties, by ensuring that the soil is primarily
comprised of particles much larger than those in
peat/compost/coir/sand/topsoil, which is why the recipes I suggest as starting
points all direct readers to START with the foremost fraction of the soil being
large particles, to ensure excellent aeration. From there, if you choose, you
can add an appropriate volume of finer particles to increase water retention.
You do not have that option with a soil that is already extremely
water-retentive right out of the bag.
I fully understand that many are happy with the results they get
when using commercially prepared soils, and I’m not trying to get anyone to
change anything. My intent is to make sure that those who are having trouble
with issues related to soil, understand why the issues occur, that there are
options, and what they are.
We have seen that adding a coarse drainage layer at the container
bottom does not improve drainage. It does though, reduce the volume of soil
required to fill a container, making the container lighter. When we employ a
drainage layer in an attempt to improve drainage, what we are actually doing is
moving the level of the PWT higher in the pot. This simply reduces the volume
of soil available for roots to colonize. Containers with uniform soil particle
size from top of container to bottom will yield better and more uniform
drainage and have a lower PWT than containers using the same soil with added
The coarser the drainage layer, the more detrimental to drainage
it is because water is more (for lack of a better scientific word) reluctant to
make the downward transition because the capillary pull of the soil above the
drainage layer is stronger than the GFP. The reason for this is there is far
more surface area on soil particles for water to be attracted to in the soil
above the drainage layer than there is in the drainage layer, so the water
perches. I know this goes against what most have thought to be true, but the
principle is scientifically sound, and experiments have shown it as so. Many
nurserymen employ the pot-in-pot or the pot-in-trench method of growing to
capitalize on the science.
If you discover you need to increase drainage, you can simply
insert an absorbent wick into a drainage hole & allow it to extend from the
saturated soil in the container to a few inches below the bottom of the pot, or
allow it to contact soil below the container where the earth acts as a giant
wick and will absorb all or most of the perched water in the container, in most
cases. Eliminating the PWT has much the same effect as providing your plants
much more soil to grow in, as well as allowing more, much needed air in the
In simple terms: Plants that expire because of drainage problems either
die of thirst because the roots have rotted and can no longer take up water, or
they suffer/die because there is insufficient air at the root zone to insure
normal root function, so water/nutrient uptake and root metabolism become
To confirm the existence of the PWT and how effective a wick is at
removing it, try this experiment: Fill a soft drink cup nearly full of garden
soil. Add enough water to fill to the top, being sure all soil is saturated.
Punch a drain hole in the bottom of the cup and allow the water to drain. When
drainage has stopped, insert a wick into the drain hole . Take note of how much
additional water drains. Even touching the soil with a toothpick through the
drain hole will cause substantial additional water to drain. The water that
drains is water that occupied the PWT. A greatly simplified explanation of what
occurs is: The wick or toothpick “fools” the water into thinking the
pot is deeper than it is, so water begins to move downward seeking the “new”
bottom of the pot, pulling the rest of the water in the PWT along with it. If
there is interest, there are other simple and interesting experiments you can
perform to confirm the existence of a PWT in container soils. I can expand
later in the thread.
I always remain cognizant of these physical principles whenever I
build a soil. I have not used a commercially prepared soil in many years,
preferring to build a soil or amend one of my 2 basic mixes to suit individual
plantings. I keep many ingredients at the ready for building soils, but the
basic building process usually starts with conifer bark and perlite. Sphagnum
peat plays a secondary role in my container soils because it breaks down too
quickly to suit me, and when it does, it impedes drainage and reduces aeration.
Size matters. Partially composted conifer bark fines (pine is easiest to find
and least expensive) works best in the following recipes, followed by
uncomposted bark in the <3/8″ range.
Bark fines of pine, fir or hemlock, are excellent as the primary
component of your soils. The lignin contained in bark keeps it rigid and the
rigidity provides air-holding pockets in the root zone far longer than peat or
compost mixes that too quickly break down to a soup-like consistency. Conifer
bark also contains suberin, a lipid sometimes referred to as nature’s
preservative. Suberin, more scarce as a presence in sapwood products and
hardwood bark, dramatically slows the decomposition of conifer bark-based
soils. It contains highly varied hydrocarbon chains and the microorganisms that
turn peat to soup have great difficulty cleaving these chains – it retains its
Note that there is no sand or compost in the soils I use. Sand, as
most of you think of it, can improve drainage in some cases, but it reduces
aeration by filling valuable macro-pores in soils. Unless sand particle size is
fairly uniform and/or larger than about BB size, I leave it out of soils.
Compost is too fine and unstable for me to consider using in soils in any
significant volume as well. The small amount of micro-nutrients it supplies can
easily be delivered by one or more of a number of chemical or organic sources
that do not detract from drainage/aeration.
The basic soils I use ….
The 5:1:1 mix:
5 parts pine bark fines, dust – 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)
Aquarius Water Conditioning Blog
Is Softened Water Safe for Plants?
November 13th, 2018 Aquarius Blog
We’ve said it time and time again — softened water is better for your hair, skin, laundry, and plumbing. Even so, some people still wonder if softened water is better for your plants. Well, the answer is a bit yes and a bit no. Different kinds of treated water can be beneficial for your lawn, plants, and garden.
Plants and Soft Water
If you have a traditional salt-based water softener, you shouldn’t use only this water to water your lawn and plants, since the salt can dry out your plants. However, it’s fine to use this softened water in conjunction with rainwater for your lawn.
If you have a saltless water softening system, your water is perfectly safe to use to water your plants and lawn.
Plants and Reverse Osmosis Water
The contaminants in your plants — minerals, bacteria, iron, etc. — can have a big effect on the health and growth of your flora. That’s where reverse osmosis treatment systems help. RO systems very effectively remove contaminants from your water so they won’t hurt your garden and ruin your plant’s health.
Reverse osmosis treatment systems can also affect the pH levels of your water, so any delicate plants that need a certain acidity level to thrive will get the right kind of water necessary.
Tips for Watering Your Garden
- Water at the Right Time: Aim to water your plants in the early morning or at night so the sun doesn’t evaporate the water and leave your garden dry.
- Don’t Overwater: You should always check your soil before watering your garden to ensure you’re not feeding your plants too much water. Keep an eye out for wilting plants, as this is a sign of overwatering.
At Aquarius Water Conditioning, we can perform a free water analysis and install a water filtration system best suited for your home’s needs. For the best water in Minnesota and Wisconsin, give us a call at 888-741-9025.
Can I Water My Plants with Soft Water?
Your house plants can really brighten up a space. They’re a symbol of vitality. But only if we can keep them healthy! A sad and yellow or wilted plant isn’t doing anyone any good. A little sun and the right type of water can help them thrive.
About Tap Water for House Plants
Water is water, right? Well, not exactly. The tap water we get from the water treatment plant is completely different than, say, well water. Tap water is also different than rainwater. And when it comes to watering your plants, rainwater should be the obvious choice.
There’s more than just H2O in our tap water. Most families are already familiar with the fluoride added to our water. But we tend to forget about the chlorine disinfectant that’s used to treat our water. Certain levels of chlorine remain in our tap water as it travels from the treatment plant to our home. Without a particular home water filtration system in place, we’ll then shower in that chlorinated tap water. And we might even give it to our plants. Either scenario is far from healthy.
To counteract these chlorine concerns, some homeowners choose to install a water refiner. Also called a chlorine removal system, these units work to filter your plain tap water. So instead of having chlorinated tap water, you get chlorine-free water all throughout your home. In theory, this should be better water for houseplants. Rainwater doesn’t have chlorine, so why should we add chlorine to our plants?
Another Feature of Rainwater
Another difference between tap water and rainwater relates to hardness, or the amount of dissolved minerals in the water. Our tap water in Indiana is notoriously hard. This means it has high levels of dissolved calcium and magnesium in it. Around the house, hard water is responsible for that hard, white crust around your faucets, or the green stuff on your shower head. The minerals get left behind on these fixtures and turn into scale. They also create water spots on your clean dishes and make laundry feel rough and scratchy.
A home water softener helps reverse these problems. These units remove the dissolved minerals in hard tap water. The result is soft water, which is quite similar to rainwater. Rainwater is naturally soft. It doesn’t contain those hard water minerals. In that sense, it’s easy to think that soft water is better for house plants than plain, hard tap water. If soft water is like rainwater, then you might think it’s the clear winner. But some people still have concerns.
The Deal with Soft Water Salt
The debate around soft water for plants revolves around water softener salt. Because of this, soft water (from a water softener) does have a slight difference from rainwater. See, most softeners use special salt in their process. Put simply, this works to swap the calcium and magnesium for low levels of sodium. But let’s be clear: Soft water isn’t salty. Just compare its sodium levels to other food and beverages.
A teaspoon of table salt comes with 2,300 mg of sodium. A slice of bread can have anywhere from 80 to 230 mg of sodium. It just depends on the brand. Even low-fat milk has sodium. There’s abut 120 mg in an 8-ounce glass. The levels in all of these items are in stark contrast to the sodium levels in soft water.
While the low level of sodium will vary depending on the water source, a good average is about 20 mg of sodium for 8 ounces of soft water. Food and beverages labeled by the FDA as Low Sodium come in at 140 mg of sodium or less. Very Low Sodium covers anything with 35 mg or less per serving. Given those parameters, soft water from a home water softener can be anywhere from Very Low Sodium to Sodium-Free. That should hardly be a problem for most house plants.
Naturally, we don’t want to give our plants salt water. But since soft water barely registers with sodium, it’s much more similar to rainwater than your other options, like hard, chlorinated tap water. So yes, soft water is safe to give to your plants.
Other Plant Water Options
If you’re still on the fence about giving your plants soft water though, you have other options. You can always stick with the original soft water—rainwater! Collecting rainwater with your own backyard rain barrel is a great way to garden. It will fill up on those rainy days and give you a great supply of water when we get into hot summer weather.
You can also choose to give your house plants reverse osmosis water. If you have an RO filter in place, this can be a great water source for everyone in your home. (Pets and plants included!) If you have both a water softener and an RO system, the powerful RO filters will remove sodium in your drinking water, too.
Compared to tap water, soft water, rainwater, and RO water all tend to be superior choices for watering your plants. We always think it’s better to upgrade your regular tap water. If you have any other questions about the water softener and water filtration system in your home, be sure to send us a message!
Softened Water and Your Plants
Too much or not enough water is often the cause of plant decline and death. But what’s in your water could also be a problem.
Softened water can cause some plants to decline or even die. Hard water contains large amounts of calcium and magnesium. These minerals are useful nutrients for our plants, but can interfere with soap’s effectiveness.
Most softeners replace the calcium and magnesium with sodium. Plants only need a small amount of this chemical and just a bit more can be toxic. Over time many plants exposed to softened water can begin to decline.
Use unsoftened water for your plants. Capture rainwater or use the water from your dehumidifier as long as it is free of toxic cleaners.
Don’t let your plants sit in excess water, softened or not, that collects in the saucer. Use pebbles or other items to elevate the pot above the water that collects in the saucer.
A bit more information: Fluoride and chlorine added to water can also harm some plants. Spider plants, dracaenas and Ti plants often develop brown leaf tips. Keep the soil slightly moist or water these and other sensitive plants with water that is free of these chemicals. For more details read the Penn State article Softened Water Can Cause Hard Times For Indoor Plants.
Softened Water And Plants: Using Softened Water For Watering
There are some areas that have hard water, which has a high amount of minerals in it. In these areas, it is common to soften water. Softened water tastes better and is easier to deal with in the house, but what about with your plants in your garden. Is it ok to water plants with softened water?
What is Softened Water?
Softened water is water that has been treated, normally with sodium or potassium, to help remove minerals from hard water.
Can You Use Softened Water on Plants?
Most of the time it is not a good idea to water your garden with softened water. The reason for this is that softened water typically has a high amount of sodium, which is attained from salt. Most plants cannot tolerate high amounts of salt. The sodium in softened water actually interferes with the water balance in the plants and can kill plants by “fooling” them into thinking they have taken up more water than they have. Softened water essentially causes the plants in
your garden to die of thirst.
Not only does the salt in softened water hurt the plants you water with it, the salt in the water will build up in your soil and will make it difficult for future plants to grow.
Soft Water Homes and Watering
This is not to say that if you have softened water you cannot water your garden and lawn. You have a few options if you have softened water.
First, you can have a bypass spigot installed. This means that you can have a special spigot installed on the exterior of your house that takes water from the water line before the water is treated in the water softener.
Second, you can try mixing your softened water with collected rainwater or distilled water. This dilutes the effects of the salt in your softened water and makes it less harmful to your plants. But be aware that the salt in softened water will still build up in the soil. It will be very important that you regularly test the soil for salt levels.
How to Treat Soil Affected by Softened Water
If you have soil that has been watered too much with softened water, you will need to work to correct the salt levels in the soil. There are no chemical ways to reduce the amount of salt in your soil, but you can do this manually by frequently watering the affected soil. This is called leaching.
Leaching will draw the salt out of the soil and will either push it deeper in the soil or will wash it away. While leaching will help to draw the salt out of the affected soil, it will also draw out nutrients and minerals that plants need to grow. This means that you need to make sure to add these nutrients and minerals back into the soil.
Nearly as important as the way our homes look on the inside, is their curb appeal. As warmer weather approaches, homeowners begin to strategize lawn care. Neighbors stand outside with hoses, assessing the winter’s damage and desperately try to bring life back into their landscapes.
Most homeowners know that the wrong amount of water or sunlight can ruin lawns, but it’s not always about how much water as it is what’s in it. Soil nutrient deficiencies and imbalances can also wreck your yard. Correcting this problem can improve the growing environment, allowing a healthier, more resilient turf to emerge.
Using Soft Water For Lawn Care
Water softening is a godsend for homes with hard water. Hard water requires more soap and detergents to get things clean; softening your water will make household chores a breeze. Soft water prevents ugly orange staining and clogged pipes. It makes water taste and look better, too. Shinier hair, cleaner tubs and appliances…soft water benefits us in a number of ways. On the flip side, lawns and gardens don’t always like it so much.
When it comes to the water on the outside of your home, there’s a chance that soft water could have a less than positive effect on the quality of your lawn and garden. If you’re using treated water on your outdoor greenery and it seems to have a difficult time thriving, it could be that your plants just don’t do well with soft water.
What Your Lawn Is Trying To Tell You
You’re doing everything right. You water in the morning when the sun isn’t likely to burn your plants and the soil won’t stay damp all day. You never overwater, to keep your flowers from wilting. You fertilize, weed, aerate, even send a few prayers out to the lawn gods. But something else is making your garden unhappy, and the long-term use of treated water is beginning to appear suspect.
Why isn’t your softened water good for the lawn? Softened water is treated with salt to help remove the minerals from hard water. The resulting soft water contains excess sodium, which can fool plants into thinking that they’ve absorbed more water than they have, causing dehydration.
Soil quality is also affected in areas where rainfall is scarce because watering with soft water causes salt buildup on the surface. Areas that receive regular rain are not as sensitive to sodium accumulation because natural rain washes salt away. It’s unlikely that your water softener salt will kill your grass, especially not by using it to water occasionally. But prolonged use of soft water just isn’t ideal for your garden.
Soft Water In, Hard Water Out
You have a whole home water softener but you don’t want to use soft water for your garden. What should you do? One option is to go green and collect water in a rain barrel. It’s a great way to conserve resources, and rainwater is fantastic for your garden. Rain is “naturally” softened water as it hasn’t had time to collect many dissolved minerals from the ground. Plants love rainwater, and it has the perfect pH balance and nutrients to keep soil and plants healthy.
Using distilled water is also good for use in gardens, but the expense of using distilled water for a larger area can be too much for most homeowners. Distilled water contains no minerals, making the need for fertilizers essential to keep a healthy garden.
Perhaps the easiest route for watering your outdoor area with unsoftened water is to use the bypass valve on your water softener. This can be used to temporarily bypass the softening system to access untreated water. If you link this bypass valve to an outside tap or other outlet, you can use the untreated water to water your garden with a hose, as you would do normally.
A separate spigot for outdoor water with a water line independent of your water softener allows you to draw water from the water line before it’s treated so that you can water your lawn and garden without softened water, but you’ll still reap all the benefits of soft water inside your home.
Green With Envy
There are always those lawns in the neighborhood that seem to fare better than everyone else’s. They stay green in times of drought, dandelions don’t dare encroach, and its carpet-like appearance begs you to lie down and nap on it. Most likely those lawns have been tended to as carefully as a shepherd guards his sheep.
It’s true that lush, green lawns make a statement. A properly maintained yard makes us look and feel good about ourselves– it may even reveal your status in the community. Anyone who has spent countless hours cultivating finicky vegetation knows achieving the perfect, emerald green lawn takes more than regular mowing, and the slightest changes in weather or water can transform soft, thick turf into a patchy, prickly jungle nearly overnight.
Giving your landscape what it needs means troubleshooting problems as they arise, and dedicating a fair amount of effort to the task. Pay attention to your soil and water quality, and look to your plants for clues it’s getting the proper nutrients. Using untreated water for your lawn and garden is the safest bet for keeping it in tiptop condition.
Enjoy your good, soft water for bathing, drinking, and household chores; water softeners do excellent work inside your home. But when it comes to keeping your grass green, and your neighbors green with envy, using rainwater or water that hasn’t been softened will give you the very best results.
You may also consider having a separate line to the outside tap installed by a plumber. This outlet allows you to water plants, trees and landscape with untreated water, but enjoy all the benefits of softened water in the home.
Mainly, look to your plants for clues. While calcium and magnesium (found in hard water) can be helpful plant nutrients, too much of a good thing isn’t so good. Some plants don’t do well when watered with “hard water”. On the other hand, some plants have a difficult time with softened water. So pay attention to your water quality and look to your plants for clues.
Oh How Does Your Garden Grow?
Gardening can be a lot of fun. But outdoor and indoor plants can prove to be finicky. So water quality aside, here are four tips that might prove helpful when watering household plants, lawn and gardens:
Water in the morning, if possible. By watering in the morning, the moistened soil has a chance to dry out during the day. Plants that stay damp during the cool evening hours have a greater chance of being damaged by fungal or bacterial diseases. Water with tepid water. Plants like tepid water. Each time you finish watering, refill your watering can and let the water sit. That way, the water will be the right temperature when go to water again. Don’t over water: Before watering, check the plant soil with your finger. Watch for wilt, but don’t overwater. Plants that are overwatered will look limp and the leaves will begin to yellow and fall off. Plants that don’t get enough water will also look limp, but the leaves will appear dry and brittle before falling off. Know Your Plants: Each plant is different so figure out your plants’ growing season. Some plants are very active in growing during the fall and winter months but are slow growing and almost dormant over the summer. Others grow rapidly during spring and summer, but are mostly dormant during the fall and winter.
Not sure what kind of water you’re giving your plants right now? Find out if your household’s water is hard, soft, or something in between. Download WaterTech’s HARD WATER GUIDE to learn the tall-tale signs of hard water and what can be done about it. Or contact a local authorized water treatment professional to find out what’s in your water.