Hold The Water! How To Avoid Killing Your Plants When You Have A Home Water Softener
Water softeners can be a godsend for your home, making laundry brighter and banishing hard water buildup in your shower and home appliances. But when it comes to watering your garden, it can spell disaster. Because most water softeners add sodium to the water, it will harm (or kill) your plants. Plant roots maintain a specific sodium level to allow them to draw water from the soil. When the sodium level in the roots is higher than the sodium level in the soil the roots are able to access water as needed. When the sodium level in the soil is equal to or higher than the sodium level in the plant's roots, the roots cannot draw water from the soil, even if it is waterlogged. If your water is filtered through a water-softener system, you need to take measures to protect your garden and house plants from the damaging effects of softened water. Fortunately, there are several ways to accomplish the task.
Installing a bypass spigot that draws water from the source and does not use the filtered water will eliminate worries about adding sodium to your soil. If you are the do-it-yourself kind, use a Y connector in your main waterline between the water source and the water softening system to divert unfiltered water to the outside spigot. If you are uncomfortable doing it yourself, your local plumber can do this for you. You can now connect a garden hose to the spigot and water your garden as necessary without concerns about excess sodium in the water.
Dilute the Softened Water
Installing a rain barrel (if your area allows) to catch rainwater will give you a source of fresh water that you can use to dilute your treated water. Mix them in equal parts to water your plants. Although this will not eliminate all the sodium in your water, it will reduce the amount of sodium you apply to your garden. One way to accomplish this is to top off the rain barrel (as long as it at least filled at least halfway with rainwater) before your water your garden. Strive to use rainwater when possible and mix the two when rainfall is light or you need more water than you have collected in your rain barrel.
Test Your Soil Frequently
Even if you dilute the treated water with rainwater, sodium may buildup in your soil. That means you need to test your soil frequently to monitor the amount of sodium in the soil. This is referred to as soil salinity. You can test your soil any time of year, but fall is always a good time to test for nutrient levels so you can make adjustments before the next growing season. Having the salinity of the soil assessed at the same time gives you a good indication of the condition of your soil. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA) soil with 3 grams of sodium per liter is considered non-saline, while soil with 12 grams per liter is considered highly saline. If your soil shows high levels of sodium, you will need to take some measures to correct the problem before planting your flowers and veggies the following year.
Correcting High Salinity is Soil
There are basically two ways to correct the high salinity levels in a home garden. Both are achievable, but take some time and effort.
- Leaching: Applying copious amounts of fresh, non-saline water to the soil will cause the sodium to leach through the soil and be carried deep in the earth away from the roots of your plants. This may be easiest to accomplish with raised beds and container gardens. For containers and raised beds you need to flush them with non-saline water until water runs freely through the bottom of the bed or container. You may want to repeat this several times to be sure all the sodium is flushed out of the soil. Valuable nutrients are also flushed out of the soil, so you will need to replenish them. Entire gardens may be more difficult to flush with water, but you can begin the process by applying fresh water with a hose to saturate the soil to the root level of your plants. Again, you may want to repeat this frequently to force the sodium below the roots of your plants.
- Amending the Soil: If your soil has a high concentration of sodium, you can combat this by amending the soil with organic matter, such as peat moss, well-rotted manure or compost. This in effect dilutes the concentration of sodium in the soil as it introduces non-saline "soil" to your garden. Tilling the soil deeply to introduce fresh soil to the mixture may also have a beneficial effect on your soil.
Use distilled or rainwater for your houseplants, as the sodium in your water will eventually kill them too.