Rain vs. tap water
If you have paid any attention lately, you will have noticed that we have enjoyed some much-needed rain. We haven’t heard one complaint about it. Even though most of us watered our yards last year, the plants just seemed to exist, almost like a suspended animation. We didn’t experience that lush growth we are used to. This year’s a completely different story, thank goodness! We have heard lots of people saying that their yards are growing like mad, which I can vouch for. The difference between last year and this year, simply comes down to water quantity and quality. The quantity part is pretty obvious, we are simply getting enough rain. The quality part is what I want to talk about this week.
Our water, comes to us, in 3 very different ways. It is either delivered to us from a municipal water source, pumped from our own wells (lucky) or falls from the sky (even luckier). Living things need water. We live on a water planet. If we lived on a milk planet, with milk oceans, all living things would need milk…it is a basic law of nature. Water quality is a huge issue around the world. There is no way for humans to live together, like we do, without addressing water quality. Clean, safe drinking water has been a top issue in every civilization. Until the discovery of beer, water was the only choice…and it could kill you. Consider reading https://tomstandage.wordpress.com/books/a-history-of-the-world-in-six-glasses/ ( this was required reading for my high school sophomore) or watch https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/how-beer-saved-the-world/ if you have any doubts about beer.
No matter how you get it, the most important thing to remember, when gardening, is that any water is better than no water. But, water quality affects our plants too. Water from municipal sources are highly engineered and monitored, with an emphasis on suitability for people…not plants. Municipal water can come from reservoirs, wells or (gag) treated sewage. Switching between them is common, and all 3 can have different quality, smells and taste. Varying quantities of Chlorine, Floride, Chloramine, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Aluminum, Magnesium and other trace minerals all affect quality. Most municipal water is alkaline because of the minerals. When only tap water is used, the minerals build up and effect the pH. Have you ever noticed a white crust on the top of the soil or around the bottom of the pot of your house plants? That is from the minerals in the water. Eventually, the plant begins to struggle with the minerals and starts to show signs of stress. Setting your house plants outside in the rain occasionally will leach the minerals from the soil and get all the dust off. Using distilled water, rain or allowing tap water to sit uncovered for a few days will prevent mineral build up…but if you’re like me, you forget to set it out.
Well, well, well…
Those of us lucky enough to have a well, can still have problems with water quality. Ground water can be very hard, because of high mineral content. Almost 90% of all homes in the U.S. have hard water. Water softeners take out excess minerals and add salts. This is ok for people, but not for plants. Very few species of plants are salt tolerant. Look at the plants that survive in coastal areas. There isn’t much variety. Salts cause the soil to dry faster, which is one of the reasons chemical fertilizers are bad for the soil and your plants. Well water is better, usually, but should be tested regularly for contaminates…just to be safe.
Rain, rain…don’t go away
The best water for plants is rain water…not just because it’s free. With greater awareness of the effects of pollutants and tighter regulation (although I feel some regulations are excessive), the incidents of acid rain are declining. As water molecules condensate and fall through the air, they collect particles along the way, essentially cleaning that air. Along the way the rain drops can become slightly acidic…which most of your plants will like. They can also collect nitrogen…from lightening. (I can see the puzzled look on your face from here). Lightening (electricity) causes a reaction between oxygen and nitrogen, in the air, creating nitrogen oxide, a form of nitrate (aka fertilizer). Now, is it really enough to make a huge difference? The general scientific consensus is “no”…but it can’t hurt. Rain also washes contaminants and dust off your plants. This is probably what leads people to say “My yard is darker greener after it rains”. Same goes for my furniture…it’s darker after I dust. Dust free plants grow better because they can breathe better and get more sunlight.
Probably the most important thing rain does for your plants, is to wash away and leach the excess minerals that were deposited by city or well water. Last year, the minerals from the tap water just kept building up. Only after months of consistent rain are we seeing a big difference in how the plants look and grow. When you add all the benefits of rain water together and weigh them against the alternative, it’s easy to keep wishing for rain.