Rainwater is soft water and the preferred type of water for your plants, however; do not confuse softened water with rainwater. Softened water is often hazardous to your plants. Rainwater is free of the salts, minerals, and chemicals that are found in municipal treated water, groundwater, and surface water. Rainwater is also higher in nitrogen. Plants typically absorb most of their nitrates from the soil, and those nitrates come from rain.
What is hard water?
When rain falls to the ground and connects with soil it becomes “hard” by picking up and holding minerals like chalk, lime, calcium, and magnesium. I’m sure you notice residue on your car or windows when water evaporates. This residue is the the minerals the water collects. We call these “water spots” on cars and windows or “lime” on shower faucets. The water you receive from the local water company or the water from your well is hard water. We drink hard water that has these minerals and our bodies benefit from the minerals. Hard water also has a better taste than softened water.
What is softened water?
Softened water is basically hard water with the calcium and magnesium removed. The most popular and least expensive way to soften water is using salt to eliminate the minerals in the water. Hard water going through the softening process ends up with just one ion in the water and that ion is salt. This helps keep your shower clean and shower head cleaner. Your appliances should run more efficiently. However, salt in your water can have damaging effects to your plants. Plants do not like salt and will die because they can’t survive the exposure. In addition your plants won’t want to take up the salt so they will start taking up less water. This will cause a salt build up in the soil. I’m sure many of you have seen the white lines or white rings in your soil that are red flags for too much salt in your soil. You will then have to waste water by overwatering in an attempt to push the salt down in the soil. Ultimately you could face a large bill to treat your soil for too much salt. This can eventually turn into and expensive wasteful process.
Other problems with softened water
Today more and more cities use wastewater to irrigate crops and landscapes. When you shower or wash clothes with softened water the water is recycled and used on large landscape or agriculture. Eventually the salt builds up in the soil and causes problems like compaction as well as depletion of vital nutrients. This turns into another cycle of trying to push the salt down by overwatering. Culligan water recommends combining the benefits of a softener and a drinking water system for many as the best solution to healthy water for your home and your body. The issue with this is most drinking water systems are reverse osmosis systems, which waste about a gallon of water for every gallon they produce.
If you have to have softened water there are a few steps you should take. Number one, when hooking up a system to your home you can help yourself by attaching the softened water system to just the hot water. Often this will eliminate watering your plants with softened water. Santa Clarita Valley in California has been a leader in water conservation for many years and passed an ordinance in 2008 banning all automatic water softeners. They have a page here showing alternatives for softening water without using salt. There is lots of discussion on the value of softened water without using salt and I recommend you do some additional research before making a choice, but this is a good place to start. Anyone who has showered with softened water after feeling the effects of hard water will tell you it is a great experience. Softened water feels great, you will use less soap and shampoo, and minerals that can cause scale to build up inside plumbing and appliances will be removed. However, when considering the potential damage to landscapes and water waste in these times of water conservation, softened water is a luxury we really can’t afford. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing or follow me on twitter @H2oTrends.