Softened water is a healthy option for humans, but can the same be said about plants? Is softened water bad for plants?
The short answer is, Yes! Soft water is bad for watering plants. Softened water contains considerable amounts of salt (sodium), and some use this salty water to irrigate their gardens. Plants require salt to survive, but an excess of it can be poisonous.
Watering plants with softened water can, over the long-term, lead to plant dehydration or poisoning because of the excess salt. The bottom line is – avoid using softened water for your plants if you want successful yields.
Details: Is Softened Water Bad for Plants?
Softened water contains sodium. Salt-sensitive Plants such as Red clover, Sugarcane, prune, among many others will deteriorate if irrigated over the long term using softened water. If your farm or garden has natural saline soil, the sodium content in the softened water will aggravate the situation.
On the other hand, some plants do well or tolerate softened water like wheat, Lucerne, Barley, among many other plants. However, watering with softened water is highly discouraged if you are growing garden-variety plants.
Watering using softened water can be risky especially in areas that get minimal rainfall. For instance, in dry climates, water evaporates fast leaving behind salt deposits. Rain washes the salts from the surface. Hence, using softened water cannot pose a significant threat in regions that receive lots of rain.
Furthermore, watering your plants using water with high salt concentration than a plant can withstand leads to yield loss and reduced quality of plants. However, plants differ when it comes to tolerance to salty water. The probability of crop suffering, when watered with softened (saline) water, depends on factors like the type of soil, the time: frequency, and method of irrigation.
Why You Should Avoid the Long Term Use of Softened Water To Water Plants
Although watering plants occasionally with soft water won’t do a lot of harm to your plants, it’s advisable to avoid using it over the long term.
With time, the salts in the softened water become poisonous to your plants. They accumulate and lead to interruptions within the soil structure. Use of Softened water is also costly as the garden may require more water to remain hydrated. Thus, you may need to spend more t soften water for household use and gardening.
So, What If You Have Softened Water Only?
Having softened water as your only option for watering your plants should not limit your passion for gardening. There are many available options you can undertake.
Install a Bypass Spigot
First, install a bypass spigot. A bypass spigot allows the water coming into your home to “bypass” the softener. You can have this device connected to channel water away from the water line before the softening process begins.
Mix Softened Water with Other Waters
You can also mix the softened water with distilled water or rainwater. This process dilutes the consequences of salt water in softened water and makes it friendlier on the soil and plants.
However, after some time the salt level in the soil is likely to increase. Thus, it’s advisable that you test the soil often to ascertain that it’s still healthy. You can also check out Distilled water vs. purified water to make a more informed decision.
How Can I Treat Soil that’s Already Affected by Softened Water?
If you’ve used softened water to water your plants and you’ve noticed a decrease in yields, then you need to correct the concentration of salt in the soil. So how will you fix this situation?
Leaching involves manually and frequently adding plenty of low-salt water to the affected soil surface. Frequent watering will help to dissolve the salts while pushing them down the root zone. Then, you can periodically carry out water tests to determine the salt levels.
If your plants show signs of dehydration because of too much sodium, stop using the softened water to irrigate and start using regular water. This way, the plants will begin to absorb the suitable water. Although it can take time, it’s worth the wait as plants get fully recuperated.
You need to treat your soil with chemicals to decrease the replaceable sodium content. Add soluble calcium like gypsum to remove the sodium in the soil. You need to do a laboratory test to establish the amount of calcium to add.
The Effects of Softened Water on Plants
High sodium content in soils can promote stunted growth for some plants. Fruit-bearing plants are especially affected by high sodium levels in the soil. Their ability to yield healthy harvest is limited.
High salt concentration can cause water stress leading to the death of plants. Usually, salt limits how much water plants can absorb from the soil, making the plants die of dehydration.
Inability of plants to absorb water
Softened water makes it difficult for plants to draw enough water from the soil. Plant roots have varying concentrations of salts which provide a natural movement of water from soils to the roots.
Excess salt can interfere with the plant’s chemical processes of converting substances into useful sugars for improved growth. Softened water can also cause plant death due to salt poisoning.
Salinity can be associated with waterlogging. Waterlogging impedes plant growth as well as decreases the capacity of the roots to eliminate salts, thereby promoting the uptake of salt and its build-up in the shoot.
Measuring Salt Quantity in Softened Water?
You can measure the level of salt in the softened water in the laboratory by determining the soil’s EC (electrical conductivity), which can be converted to TDS (total dissolved salts). The EC provides a reliable evaluation of salinity problems.
If your plants receive enough rainfall, occasional soft water bears no harm. However, watering the garden exclusively with softened water isn’t advisable.
Almost all water softeners use salt (sodium chloride), which promotes the gradual accumulation of sodium in the soil. This occurrence will lead to growth problems in plants. However, if you can’t avoid the softened water use the Bypass Spigot which helps irrigation water to bypass the water softener.