This morning, someone asked me whether they can use well water to water their raised gardens. However, the answer to this question is quite complicated. All well water is different, and if you don’t know what’s in yours, you might be putting your plants at risk of infection and stress, potentially killing them.
So, let’s get into the details and talk about whether well water is good for plants or not. I’ll tell you whether it can harm or kill your plants, explain why you might need to test your well water, and discuss the pros and cons of using it to water your garden.
- Why Water Quality and Water Sources Matter
- Is Well Water Good for Plants?
- The Pros and Cons of Watering Plants With Well Water
- How to Test Your Well Water to See If It Is Good for Your Plants
- Is Well Water Acidic or Alkaline?
- Final Thoughts
Why Water Quality and Water Sources Matter
Water is the stuff of life and is essential to all life on earth. When you think of water, you might only think of the saltwater of the ocean, the cool water of lakes, or the stuff that comes out of the tap at home.
Most of us don’t think about the water we use for our gardens, either. Instead, we just ensure that our plants get water regularly.
Unless you have a well or rainwater tank, you might not even think about the water you drink.
Now that the home food garden or “victory garden” is getting more popular, people are starting to think more and more about their water as something to nourish themselves and their food, and not just as an infinite resource in which to play, relax, and drink.
Water is so much more than the clear liquid people drink that is essential to life, but not many people know about the thousands of invisible particulates you can find in it.
Is Well Water Good for Plants?
Choosing the best water for your garden can help keep your plants alive, boost growth, and add essential nutrients to the soil for a healthier backyard ecosystem. However, when you use the wrong type of water, you might kill your plants.
Well water can be good for plants, but the purity and cleanliness of the water are critical. Well water may contain microscopic bacteria or chemicals that could affect your garden. Still, if the water is clean and has a suitable pH, it is appropriate for watering your plants.
So, if you plan to water your garden with well water, you’ll need to check it by testing it.
However, before we get into the specifics of water testing, let’s talk about the differences between city water, well water, and rainwater.
Well Water vs City Water vs Rainwater for Your Garden
So, before we get into the details, let’s clarify something. What is well water, and how is it different from the municipal or city water that many people pump into their homes? What makes well water different from rainwater?
Let’s define a few terms to start off. Well water comes directly from a well dug into the ground, with no stops in between the ground and the pump other than what the homeowner has installed.
Municipal, or city, water is water that the homeowner pays the local city or municipality to receive. City water comes from a groundwater or aquifer source, which the municipality treats to kill germs. City water may also have additives such as fluoride before entering a house.
Some people use a third source of water: rainwater. You can harvest this water from rain and collect it in barrels to save for later use in the garden. In some cases, people may also pump the water in the house after purification and treatment.
Municipal or City Water
Let’s start by looking at municipal water. This water is also referred to as city water because the homeowner pays their local municipality or city for water each month.
City water is what most people with houses in urban, suburban, and even some rural and semi-rural areas have piped into their houses.
This type of water is usually from groundwater or underground sources such as aquifers. As it enters a water treatment plant, the city treats it for bacteria and other disease-causing organisms. They may also add fluoride to the water before it flows into consumers’ homes.
Municipal water is usually flavorless, odorless, and not often thought about since it is always there and ready for use. This water source is the most common water for watering gardens in urban and suburban areas since it is readily available and guaranteed to be pure and clean.
Next, let’s look at well water.
A well is a hole or pit in the ground that collects water from underground sources. Well water is water that is pumped or drawn by a bucket from a well.
What makes well water different from a municipal water source is that it does not go through the treatment process that municipal water does at a water treatment plant.
Since well water does not go through these additional steps, there are no guarantees that it will be pure and free from bacteria or heavy metals.
We’re on well water here, and I highly recommend a pressure tank so your pump doesn’t stop and start all the time. It makes a shower more pleasant too, no hot & cold, drizzle & blast! This is a good one:
- Designed to meet the requirements of and are listed by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) under ANSI/NSF Std 61
- The Butyl diaphragm has seamless construction and is designed to flex rather than stretch and crease
- The polypropylene liner for the water reservoir will not flake, chip, crack or peel
- Twice as strong as rolled steel shell of the same thickness
- A high gloss enamel finish protects the tank from the elements
Well water is commonly found in rural areas with water sources, such as springs and reservoirs, below ground.
These places tend to be too far away from a municipal water source for piping in water to be cost-effective. The infrastructure for municipal water also may not exist in these areas due to low population density.
Rainwater is one of the best water sources for your garden since it contains fewer minerals, additives like chlorine, or potentially harmful bacteria than city water and well water.
Since rainwater is already pure, there’s no need to test it or treat it before watering your plants. Thus, it’s low-maintenance.
Still, there’s the concern of collecting rainwater, which can be difficult depending on where you live.
If you live in an area with plenty of rain showers, you’ll always have plenty of rainwater on tap, so to speak, but if you live somewhere where droughts are common, you’ll need to supplement your rainwater with another water source.
So, I recommend watering your garden with rainwater as frequently as possible. Then, supplement your rainwater with tap or well water as necessary.
The Pros and Cons of Watering Plants With Well Water
Using well water for your plants and gardens can be beneficial, but it comes with some drawbacks that you should be aware of by the next time you fill up your watering can.
The Pros of Using Well Water for Your Garden
Well water has tons of advantages, especially when it comes to watering your garden:
- Well water can be good for plants since it contains calcium and magnesium, which plants need to survive.
- You don’t have to pay the city to use it.
- It’s a sustainable water source that does not produce toxic runoff or use chemicals.
The Cons of Using Well Water for Your Garden
Still, in some cases, well water has more drawbacks than benefits. However, if you take responsibility for managing and treating your water, you can make it work for you.
Here are the cons of well water:
- You may need electricity to pump it, although you can also use a solar-powered pump.
- Since it is in the ground, it becomes more susceptible to bacterial growth and may become septic, contaminating the entire water supply.
- The water contents will fluctuate frequently, requiring careful monitoring of the water and pH balance.
- It’s not always safe to drink.
- You may run out of water if you use too much of it in a short period of time.
Can Well Water Kill Plants?
Well water can kill plants. Well water with too much chlorine, fluoride, salt, iron, nitrates, nitrites, or an unsuitable pH can inhibit plant growth. Early signs of plant death due to well water include browning and yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and infections.
While well water can kill plants, you’ll usually notice the signs of overly mineralized, chlorinated, or contaminated well water before your garden dies. However, you could eventually kill your plants if you are not looking for these signs.
So, keep an eye out for signs of infection or “burning” in your plant leaves. If you notice either of these symptoms, it’s time to test your water and find the root cause of the problem.
So, Is Well Water Safe to Use In Your Garden?
Well water is safe to use in your garden, with some precautions. Since this water source has not been through the testing and purification process, you must test your water to see if any harmful organisms are in the water and check the pH.
As I mentioned, contaminated or imbalanced well water can kill plants over time, so taking your well water’s quality into your own hands is essential.
A water test will also show if there are any heavy metals in the water and if the water is alkaline or acidic. These factors will affect how well plants will grow and whether food plants will be safe to eat.
How to Test Your Well Water to See If It Is Good for Your Plants
You can test your well water using an at-home kit from a local or online retailer. However, you can also find a nearby licensed testing laboratory by contacting the EPA or a local county health department.
You must test your well water at least once per year. Still, you may need to test the water more frequently if you notice that something is killing your plants, if the water looks murky, or if it tastes bad.
Home Test Kits vs Lab Testing For Well Water
There are many different home water test kits on the market, and it can be challenging to find one that is reliable and tests for the widest spectrum of potential contaminants.
The best at-home water test to get would be one that at least tests for bacteria, pH, nitrates and nitrites, lead, and chlorine.
However, a test run by a testing laboratory will check for all of these items, plus any salts and other heavy metals in the water.
Once you get the results back, it will be time to decide if your well water is suitable for watering your raised garden bed. Unless the test results show bacteria or other detrimental substances, the water should be ready to use in the garden.
The test results are a good place to start deciding if the well water will need to be treated before being put to use in the garden.
If bacteria or other organisms are detected in the water, you will need to treat the water immediately before use in the garden, as it may cause illness.
How to Make Well Water Safe for Plants
So, if you got back your water test and noticed unreasonably high levels of contaminants, what’s next? Let’s look at some ways you can treat your water.
Install a Whole-House Water Filter
Installing a reliable water filter is the most effective method for remedying contaminated well water.
You could always opt for a small filter. However, if you have a large garden, use your well water for drinking, or just want to set up a foolproof filtration system so you don’t have to monitor your well water in the future, a whole-house system is the best way to go.
These systems can be pricey, and installing them isn’t a great DIY project, but once it’s done, you have a filter that will last you for many years.
Rely on Your Local Health Department
If you call your local health department after you test your water, they will guide you through the process of treating your water. In some cases, you may even be able to get in touch with a water treatment specialist who will come out to your well and treat the water for you.
Use a Smaller Filter to Remove Heavy Metals, Sediment, and Contaminants
If you want to keep your well water from killing your plants but don’t want to invest in a whole-house filtration system, you can always use a smaller filter.
Filters like this British Berkefeld Gravity Filtration System are perfect for purifying a few gallons of water at a time. Still, waiting for the gravity filter to work its magic and clean your well water takes time and patience.
For that reason, I only recommend gravity filters if you have a small garden or use other types of water, such as rainwater, before you turn to your well.
Is Well Water Acidic or Alkaline?
Well water can be either acidic or alkaline depending on the minerals, soil composition, runoff, and other particulates in your area. Since the acidity and alkalinity of your well water will vary, testing the water is the only way to balance the pH for your plants.
Watering plants with well water that is either too acidic or basic may harm or kill them over time.
So, let’s talk more about how you can use your well water’s natural pH to your benefit and how you can balance it manually.
Hard Water, Soft Water, Acid, and Alkaline
Since the results of your water test will not only show what the water contains but whether it is hard, soft, acidic, or alkaline, this will decide whether or not your plants will like it.
Different plants have different needs and preferences, with some plants growing best with hard water and some plants preferring softer water with fewer minerals.
Different plants also have different pH preferences and needs. Some plants prefer alkaline water, and some plants prefer acidic water. So, you can actually plan your garden based on the pH of your well water.
Plants that Like Alkaline Water
Alkaline means the pH level is above 7 and below 14, and many plants love these conditions.
Some examples of perennial plants that love alkaline environments are:
Some annuals to interplant that will thrive in this environment are:
If you’re interested in vines for your gardens, a few examples of vines that will thrive in an alkaline environment are:
If you need some shrubbery to separate your garden beds, you might want to consider:
Plants That Like Acidic Water
On the other hand, acidic means that the pH is below 7.
Some shrubs that enjoy an acidic environment are:
Some flowers love an acidic environment, and a few examples of those are:
To sum it up, you can use well water to water your garden, but you should first test it using a good home testing kit or an accredited lab recommended by the local county health department.
Tests will rule out the presence of bacteria or other harmful organisms, heavy metals, or other non-organic items that may have leached into the soil and water from nearby areas. They will also test whether the water is hard or soft and if it is alkaline or acidic.
From there, you can use this information to determine what plants will thrive in your local environment, whether you will need to treat or filter your well water before use, or if you can put it directly into your raised garden bed or other garden areas.