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Is Softened Water Safe for Plants?

In some places, there is an abundance of hard water – a type of water that is classified by its high amount of mineral content. For these areas, it is common for individuals to soften their water through the use of a filtration system.

Hard water can provide a negative effect on households especially washing machines, dishwashers, showers, and plumbing which can lead to inconvenience and additional repair costs. With that, people prefer to spend extra just to apply a water softener in their homes. 

In simpler terms, softened water is just water with its calcium and magnesium minerals reduced, if not removed. Softened water does not only taste better and feels better during showers, but its benefits also extend to protecting the lifespan of your appliances.

For people who reside in areas that have a high mineral concentration in their water, applying a water softener system is normal. However, they also tend to overlook other effects that softened water can bring. For instance, while it may be beneficial, it might not be the same for plants.

What is Soft Water

Before getting into why softened water can be harmful to plants, knowing what happens in a water softening process is important. For hard water to become “soft”, in simplest terms, filtration systems replace calcium and magnesium with sodium, using salt to “treat” the water.

With that, it’s also important to note that most plants are not able to tolerate high amounts of salt since it interferes with their inherent water balance. Now, since softened water normally has high levels of sodium, this can directly affect the plants in your garden whenever you water them.

In most cases, water softener systems use a special salt in their processes. Functioning as a swap to both calcium and magnesium, this special salt takes the former mineral’s place for certain levels of sodium; however, it doesn’t make the water necessarily taste “salty”.

What Softened Water Does on Plants

Considering the high levels of sodium found in soft water, what this does to plants is essentially tricking their inherent processes into thinking that they have absorbed more hydration than they are. As a result, your plants are not getting the necessary amount of water they require.

While softened water can positively impact all your other water uses in your household, it might not be the same case for your lawn or garden. Pouring soft water on plants will not kill them in an instant, obviously, but consistent use will cause damage and harm over time. 

Aside from risking the plants to dehydration, softened water also harms the soil quality. If you continuously use softened water in watering your plants, eventually, a build-up of salt will occur over time. 

As a result, soil degradation will take place, further harming the health of your lawn or garden. Additionally, the excess salt present in your soil will also develop a hostile planting environment, making it hard for you to sustain plants in the contaminated soil in the future.

Other Problems That Soft Water Can Bring

When people use soft water for their household functions such as showering and washing, this wastewater is recycled and is often used by cities to irrigate landscapes and agriculture. As a result, the salt builds up in the soil and problems arise.

Due to the accumulation of sodium content in the soil over time, compaction can take place as well as the depletion of necessary and vital nutrients in the soil. Without these nutrients, plants and crops will have a hard time sustaining their health and hydration. 

Solving this problem is not that easy either. For most people, getting rid of the excess sodium would mean pushing the salt down. To do this, most of them would “overwater” their areas, causing additional problems if incorrectly done and observed.

Keeping Your Plants Healthy

If your plants are already exhibiting signs of dehydration and damage brought by excessive sodium, the most obvious solution is to stop using soft water and start finding other methods and alternatives when it comes to watering your plants.

For people who normally use water softeners in their homes, the option of going back to using hard water to take care of plants is not usually the most common and viable solution. Luckily, plant parents have alternatives and doable solutions at their disposal. 

If you are worried about sodium levels negatively affecting your plants, the option of collecting rainwater to use for watering is among the cheapest and easiest alternatives. This method also helps you achieve the satisfaction of being environmentally helpful since it helps you conserve water.

Rainwater can be collected through the use of a bowl or barrel. Considering rainwater is commonly clean and naturally soft, your plants are not exposed to the risk of acquiring excessive and harmful minerals that can affect their health.

The option of mixing your water to dilute high levels of mineral content in them is also effective. For instance, if you have extra amounts of distilled water or rainwater, you can mix it with your softened water to effectively lessen the risk of damaging your plants. 

Technically, there are no methods that make use of chemicals to reduce the levels of sodium present in your soil. However, you can do it manually by periodically watering the soil or by leaching it. 

Leaching is a method in irrigation that helps in drawing the salt out of the affected soil or a given area. The driving out of unwanted sodium content occurs by either pushing it deeper in the soil or by washing it away. 

However, leaching can also draw out nutrients and minerals that some plants require for them to grow. With that, it is necessary to adopt more steps to make sure that these nutrients are present back in the soil.

Ultimately, the best way to keep your plants healthy and happy is to monitor them closely. Plants naturally exhibit their health through different and various indications. Moreover, this monitoring should also extend to being cautious about their water and soil for them to remain healthy and well-maintained.


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