This Is the Most Important Ingredient for Aeroponic Gardening Success
You pull a cup from the cabinet, mosey to the kitchen sink, and turn on the faucet. After a stream of clear, cool water fills your glass, you raise it to your lips and take a big, satisfying gulp.
Ahhh, refreshing… but your plants may disagree.
Though tap water may be safe and delicious for you and me, it’s not always the best for plant growth. In this post, you’ll learn why — and, more importantly, what you can do about it.
The (Possible) Problems with Your Tap Water
I should start by saying that if you’ve always filled your Tower Garden straight from the tap and never noticed negative consequences, that’s awesome — keep doing what you’re doing.
This guide is for folks who have tried various solutions, but can’t seem to completely solve leaf discoloration and diseases, stubborn pH, and other problems that can stem from a less than ideal water source.
Which brings us to: What makes a water source less than ideal for gardening?
Chlorine, Chloramine, and Fluoride
You may already know that chlorine is in your tap water, keeping it contaminant-free. It also happens to be one of the eight micronutrients plants require for healthy growth. But, in excess, even a good mineral can be troublesome.
And your tap water might contain too much chlorine for your plants to handle. (Chlorine toxicity can harm leaf growth and cause plant tissue to look scorched or bleached.)
If you leave a bucket of tap water in the sun for 24–48 hours, the chlorine will break down. But many major cities now treat their water with a mixture of chlorine gas and ammonia called chloramine. And it’s harder to eliminate compared to chlorine alone.
Water is considered “hard” when it measures high in dissolved minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which it picks up naturally as it trickles through deposits of limestone and chalk.
Hard water affects as much as 85% of the United States — and that may include your area if your water:
- Tastes strange (e.g., metallic)
- Causes rust-like stains in sinks and toilets
- Leaves water spots on glass and dishes
- Doesn’t mix well with soap (e.g., no lather)
Much like the chlorine predicament, the high mineral content in hard water poses an interesting problem. Plants need nutrients like calcium and magnesium. But when they’re already getting them from tap water and you feed them a plant food, such as Mineral Blend, a nutritional imbalance occurs.
High pH is also a common symptom of hard water because the extra minerals act as a buffer, reducing the water’s acidity. And high pH for extended durations can prevent your plants’ ability to absorb nutrients.
If all that isn’t enough, hard water may also cause scale deposits, or mineral buildup, on your Tower Garden pump and irrigation system.
3 Plant-Approved Tips for Improving Tap Water
Now that we’ve covered the problems, let’s look at a few solutions.
Activated Carbon Filter
The first fix is also the simplest and least expensive: activated carbon filters. You may not realize it, but you’re probably already using these filters somewhere in your home. They’re often built into water purifying pitchers, refrigerator water and ice dispensers, coffee machines, and more.
But you can also buy activated carbon filters as under-counter systems and garden hose attachments. The latter are typically marketed as “RV water filters.”
Activated carbon filters work by passing water through — go figure — activated carbon, which traps:
- Chlorine (and some chloramine and fluoride)
As a result, they also usually make your water smell and taste better, too.
I’ve personally used an activated carbon filter made by a company called Camco. It cost only $20 or so, screwed onto a normal hose bib, and worked really well. The filter even seemed to help balance out my water’s high pH. (But I can’t find much research to back that up as a proven benefit. So take it for what it’s worth.)
Activated carbon filters trap the most particles when used with low water pressure. And they wear out over time, so you should replace yours periodically — about once a year.
Reverse Osmosis System
When it seems like Tower Gardeners have water problems, I always recommend they try activated carbon filters before anything else. It seems as though they’re sufficient for most people.
But if you try one and it doesn’t appear to be enough, the other (and more expensive, by a few hundred dollars) option is a reverse osmosis system.
RO systems often use both an activated carbon filter and a cellophane-like membrane to effectively remove calcium, magnesium, chlorine, chloramine, and fluoride — basically all of the troublemakers present in hard water. Many professional aeroponic and hydroponic farmers use RO systems because, by eliminating mystery variables in the water, they support a controlled, predictable growing environment.
The major drawback is that a typical home RO system wastes water — as much as 95% of the water that goes into it. So I’d consider it as a last resort. After all, Tower Garden is all about saving water!
What about softened water?
If you live in an area with hard water, your home may have a water softener. And logic would suggest that a softening system should fix the hard water problem, right?
But most water softeners use either sodium chloride (i.e., salt) or potassium chloride to remedy hard water. And plants are very sensitive to sodium and excess levels of potassium.
So softened water is really best going through an RO system before it goes into your Tower Garden.
Even if you’re using an activated carbon filter or RO system, there are a few other steps you should take to ensure the water in your Tower Garden is as good as possible.
First, it’s wise to drain and refresh your nutrient solution between growing seasons (or every two or three months). Over time, roots and other plant debris tend to fall down into the reservoir. And as this material decomposes, it opens the door to a host of issues, including plant disease and stinky water.
Second, try to keep your nutrient solution temperature in the 65–85˚F range and pH somewhere around 5.5–6.5. Fluctuations are inevitable, and there’s no reason to panic. But your plants will be able to consume nutrients most efficiently when these conditions are met.
Over to You
I hope this post helps you solve any water-related problems you may be experiencing and ultimately achieve heartier, healthier garden yields.
If you still have questions about the relationship between water and your plants, leave a comment below!
Leave a comment
Want to leave a comment? We'd love to hear it. Please note that all comments are moderated. Anything resembling spam will be deleted. Try to make this a meaningful conversation for all involved.