Softened water can affect plants in ways that range from relatively harmless to severely damaging. Many modern homes utilize a built-in water softening system hooked directly to their plumbing. If you live in an area with particularly hard water, there’s a good chance you have one yourself. Softened water has countless proven health benefits, especially for people with problematic skin. It can also help your appliances last longer, preventing the build-up of limescale in your washing machine, kettle, and other devices.
Plants are a different story though – softened water can affect them in ways that range from relatively harmless to severely damaging. Using softened water for gardening should be done in a controlled manner, and avoided whenever possible.
How Softened Water Affects Your Plants
Most domestic water softeners use sodium or potassium to treat water and remove calcium, magnesium, and other minerals from it. As a result, water filtered in this manner tends to have much higher sodium levels, making it harmful for many plants. While some of your plants can probably tolerate a certain amount of extra sodium, prolonged exposure to salty water will cause damage to most of them. Sodium prevents plants from correctly gauging the amount of water they’re receiving, leading to drying – and in severe cases, death.
This problem usually gets worse over time, as sodium builds up in the soil and continues to affect your garden even after you’ve stopped watering it with softened water. Depending on the strength of your water softening system, just a few weeks of watering might be enough to create a problem that lasts for months.
Rainy Weather Can Alleviate the Problem
If you live in a rainy area, this might not be a huge issue. Depending on how often you water your garden with softened water, it’s possible that rain will wash away any excess sodium regularly enough to keep your plants healthy. This is far from a reliable solution though. On one hand, you can’t accurately measure the amount of sodium that’s built up in your soil. On the other, you can’t control the weather either, and you have no guarantee that you’re going to get enough rain during a given period to compensate for all the softened water you’ve used on your plants.
And, consider collecting rain water and using it in your garden.
Depending on how your plumbing is set up, you might be able to bypass your softener and hook up directly to your water main. A bypass valve is cheap and simple to install with the help of a plumber. If you can install the valve close enough to your garden, you just have to run a hose over to your plants and you’re done. Otherwise, a bucket or two can help you bridge the gap.
If you already have a bypass valve but no convenient way to bring unsoftened water directly to the garden, you can use it to dilute the softened water you use on your plants. This can take some extra time and effort and is obviously not an ideal solution for larger gardens, but it can work in a pinch. If you’re serious about your gardening though, you should look into a proper long-term solution. Especially if you have a larger garden, in which case hauling buckets will quickly turn into a major bottleneck.
Can You Solve the Problem for Good without Compromising the Quality of Your Water?
If you spend a lot of time working on your garden, you probably want to keep every part of the process as straightforward as possible. Diluting softened water and fiddling with bypass valves are workarounds that treat the symptom but not the underlying problem. If you want to resolve this for good, your only choice is to replace your water softening system.
Contrary to what some people believe, not every water softener uses sodium in its filtration. There are various salt-free water softeners on the market, and investing in one can be a smart choice for any avid gardener. The Aquasana SimplySoft is a particularly popular model, though it does have a couple of drawbacks that are important to consider – make sure to read this Aquasana SimplySoft review to see if it would work well in your specific case. Switching to a salt-free water softener is a major decision for any household, and you should familiarize yourself with the advantages and disadvantages of this approach compared to classic softeners that use sodium or potassium.
Softened water can noticeably improve your quality of life, and a good water softener is an indispensable part of many households. However, it can introduce some unexpected problems, especially if you take care of a lot of sensitive plants. Depending on the scale of your gardening operation, you might be able to work around the issue with small changes to your watering setup. But for anything on a larger scale, you should consider investing in a proper long-term solution like a salt-free water softener.