Whether it’s a patch of tomatoes, a potted plant in the living room, or a window box of flowers, you can put a lot of work and get a lot of joy out of tending to a little bit of nature all your own. But anyone with hard water issues ought to carefully consider how softening that hard water might affect your plants. The most common water softener systems use salt pellets and a process called ion exchange to soften water, but this process can have unintended consequences for your garden.
Before you treat your hard water with a salt-based system, or if you already have one in your home, you need to consider what hard water does to your plants vs what ion-exchange will do to them, and consider how it will affect the gardening you haven’t done yet.
Hard Water and Plants
It’s important to understand that hard water is a natural quality of water, and quite common across the United States. It’s caused by a higher than normal concentration of Calcium and Magnesium in water, and comes from the ground itself. Knowing that, it’s easy to understand that this Calcium and Magnesium will not harm your plants.
Even in cities where water is treated by a utility company before it reaches your house, your water may still be hard, and additionally will have some mild disinfectants, but none of these should harm plant life. If ever you are concerned about what is in your water, whether put there by a treatment plant or naturally occuring, you can always get a water test to use on your own home.
Sodium and House Plants
When you treat your hard water with a salt system, it effectively works by replacing the natural Magnesium and Calcium with Sodium. It isn’t a lot, about 20 mg per 8 ounces of water (amounts depend on water hardness), but it’s enough to harm your garden.
Plants rely on a delicate balance of minerals and nutrients to survive, and even a small amount of sodium can disrupt that balance. Plants with too much sodium in their system will take in less water and wilt, no matter how much you water them. First-time gardeners with a salt system might think they have a brown thumb and kill everything they plant, but they should really be blaming the sodium in their tap water.
Salt Softeners and Your Garden
Salt softeners are not just bad for your plants in the short term, but in the long term as well. An experienced gardener knows that the nutrients in the soil are the key to plant growth, and the sodium from a salt softener can really stick around in the soil for a long time. Gardens that have been tended with sodium-rich water for an extended period of time can become inhospitable to new growth. The soil can be saved by leaching, or soaking the soil with a healthier water source over a long period of time to push the sodium down past where plant roots will get to it, but that requires water that hasn't been treated by a salt system and a lot of it.
Additionally, a salt softener damages the environment around it in other ways. A salt system has to discharge all the Calcium and Magnesium it’s collected each day, and this discharge usually takes quite a lot of salt with it. That salt enters the water in the area and makes the soil less and less hospitable to plant life, so much so that many cities and several states have placed banns on salt systems to prevent damage to the environment and save on treatment costs to remove salt from the drinking water.
What Should You Do?
It might be difficult to live with the effects of hard water, the scale build up, damage to appliances, and increased heating costs are nothing to scoff at, but it’s also difficult to weigh that against the consequences of a salt-based system.
A common solution is to build a bypass spigot for outside gardens, but this does nothing for your house plants, and that spigot will still be subject to the effects of hard water. Another solution is to buy bottled water for your plants, but it’s impractical for your garden, inconvenient for you, and is terrible for the environment.
But there is a solution that has the best of both worlds. Learn more about the NuvoH2O system and how we give you the benefits of soft water without the risks of salt. Our unique citrus powered technology is natural, safe for you and your garden, and effective at both preventing and removing scale.
Your potted plants, flower bed, and vegetable garden all require the right tender loving care. Be sure you are making the right choice when it comes to the water you use, and make the greenest choice for your green thumb.