On a hot summer day after working in your garden you might reach for an icy cold glass of water; that clear refreshing beverage we all take for granted is the life blood of our planet. It sustains us, our plants and in turn the entire global ecosystem. If you grabbed for a drink of water and it smelled bad, was dirty brown, or tasted funny you wouldn’t drink it; would you? Most of us would either buy a water filter (like a reverse osmosis system) or bottled water because the thought of drinking a glass of brown dirty water is revolting. So why would you feed it to your plants?
Too often I help people only concerned with their water quality after their gardens have shown serious problems. As long as the water is clear and doesn’t smell bad most people give little thought to the water that comes out of their faucets or hoses. There can be bacteria in the water, high chlorine levels, or even dangerous levels of salts or chemicals. All of these are good reasons to be proactive and learn a bit about you water quality before there is an issue.
It can be as simple as a phone call to your local Department of Water Shed Management. Often they will come to your home and test your water for chlorine levels, contaminants, and bacteria (for free.) Now the bacteria they test for are typically the types which are harmful to people but the chlorine content and information about contaminants are useful to us as gardeners.
Here in AtlantaI did as I am suggesting you do. I contacted the Atlanta Department of Watershed Management. They were helpful, and provided fast service at no charge. Within 1 week I had documented lab results stating that there was no Coli Form bacteria present in my water, No E Coli, and a Chlorine level of 0.7 PPM. An acceptable amount of Chlorine for most plants is less than 140 PPM, but many plants such as orchids are much more sensitive to Chlorine and will tolerate almost none.
The Department of Water Shed Management was also kind enough to supply me with the official 2010 City ofAtlanta Water Quality Report. This provided me with a few more pieces of useful information. My water contained:
- 0.6 PPM of Nitrate Nitrogen of which there should be less than 10 PPM (mostly from fertilizer run off entering our water system)
- 0.12 PPM Copper of which there should be less than 0.2 PPM
- 0.93 PPM Fluoride of which there should be less than 1.0 PPM
Lastly a phone call to a supervisor provided me with a piece of information that was extremely important; Atlanta’s water supply is not treated with any kind of Chloramine, only Sodium Hypochlorite. This meant that the purchase of aspecialty KDF activated carbon filter (to remove Chloramines) would not be necessary to make the water safe for my collection of orchids. Chloramines unlike Chlorine can not be removed by a typical water filter or even a standard R/O system; they require a KDF style activated carbon filter to remove them. Checking if your water department uses Chloramines is something all of us need to do; exposure to Chloramines for as little as 1 hour significantly inhibit plant growth according to recent scientific studies. Check with your local water department to learn more about what is in your water. Also check out my next blog to learn how to decipher a water report.