One of the most overlooked questions on a plant's care sheet is whether or not you should water with softened water. This question may be easy to overlook, but your plants will notice if they're using softened water and they'll show their discontent in drooping leaves and browning tips. So what's going on? What makes one type of water better for watering than another? Softened water has high levels of chlorine (or chloramines), which are harmful to plants since it prevents them from absorbing nutrients through their roots. And while this isn't an issue when we drink the same kind of filtered tap water, our mouths have more surface area than a plant root does- meaning that we can actually taste chlorine!
What is Softened Water?
What is soft water? Water naturally has a variety of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Whether a water supply is considered “hard” or “soft” depends on how much of these minerals are in your water. Soft water contains lower levels of calcium and/or magnesium than hard water.
Is Soft Water Bad for Plants?
There are several reasons to avoid using softened water for your plants. First of all, the salt content is too high in most cases. The high salt levels will often promote root rot and other seedling diseases that can be fatal to young plants. Also, there is a much higher risk of over-watering with softened water because the salt levels make the soil retain more moisture than usual. This causes it to dry out slower and keeps the roots sitting in moist (and thus disease-prone) soil longer than they should be, which can result in problems like stem rot or leaf spot fungus. Also, with softened water, the soil pH levels are usually very low. This is because of the high sodium content in the water. While most plants will not have a problem with the more acidic soil, some types of plants may suffer from it. If you are using softened water to supply your outdoor potted plants, then they are probably at least somewhat used to having soft water introduced into their environment already (if you are on a municipal system), however if you are using softened water for your indoor plants, this is definitely an issue worth considering.
Softened Water VS Tap Water
Tap water is just that--plain old tap water that comes from a municipal supply. It's what you drink, bathe in and wash your clothes with unless you have a well system or other source of mineral rich water on your property. Some people still prefer to drink softened or distilled water because they think it tastes better or simply don't like drinking straight up tap water for whatever reason, but it really isn't any different from the hard stuff as far as your body is concerned. If you can drink regular stream water, you can drink tap water.
Softened water will help keep your appliances and personal hygiene products in working order but it may cause problems for some people who have very dry skin or sensitive hair and scalp. That said, if it works for your home and helps to protect expensive appliances and surfaces from getting damaged by minerals in the water supply, then no harm is done and this type of water is better than nothing so long as you know what you're getting into before buying those softening machines for your household.
How to Treat Softened Water for Plants
Have you ever noticed that when the water in your home is too salty for long periods of time, it has an adverse effect on plants? Well now there are ways to fix this. The first thing we can do as growers with a little bit more patience than most people seem capable these days; mix softened and collected rainwater or distilled so both types have been diluted enough by the dilution process (which means less harm). But don't worry - even though salts from softened/collected rain salt may still build up over time just like they would if left alone.