Soil PH and Hard Water

elkwc(6b)April 3, 2010

I know many on this forum are blessed with more rainfall than we are here in SW KS and the OK Panhandle. And so I'm sure you may not experience to the extent what I have. But thought this might be of interest to some of you.

I have gardened over 40 years. In 08 and 09 we had record setting droughts here. I saw problems I hadn't seen before to the extent that I did in these years. I've always known problems here are worse in years of drought. And overall I had what I would term good plant health. But I started noticing more disease issues and signs of less than optimum plant health. So in the fall of 08 I had a soil test ran by the Kansas State horticulture lab. It showed a high PH level and also high levels of N-P-K and most minerals. I blamed it on all the manure and mulch I'd been adding. Followed their suggestions and retested last fall. This time I had samples tested by two labs. One is an independent lab. PH levels were better but still high. The same with the other levels they were still high also. The independent lab said to flood the garden area and the Kansas extension service said not too. I was puzzled. After more research I found the reason the KS lab says too use flooding as a last resort is that the water here is very hard. When buying headstones if you mention the Elkhart cemetery they all warn you about the very hard water here and what too do and what to avoid so headstones don't get ruined.Although this whole area has hard water. Ours is the hardest around. I've since read several articles on hard water and garden irrigation. I will attach a link to just one of the articles I've found. Hard water often has calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate which are components of limestone. So in effect every time you water you are adding liquid lime to the soil. So flooding with my water if anything will make it worse unless you add something to the water or to the soil beforehand. I've learned many of the farmers use soil consultants and there are commercial fertilizers and other treatments that help to lower the PH and other high levels or in effect counter act the hard water. There are some organic means also. Of course the best thing is rain and snow. And letting it leach it out. Also the hard water is one reason for some of the other elevated levels. After reading the water report from the city that I have tossed in the past I can see a correlation between what mineral levels is high in the water and also in my garden. One research site even says Miracle Gro fertilizer works well in potting soil and in the garden to offset the hard water and PH issues. But didn't mention what is has that makes it beneficial. So I never flooded like the independent lab said. I'm sure they had no idea my water is this hard. And I didn't even think about the two being connected so didn't mention it. Will follow and combine many of their other suggestions. Guess knowing an area has it's benefits. Hopefully like the KSU horticulturist says if rainfall amounts return to normal the levels will moderate. In the mean time will add the additives and see how things do. I'm trying to use organic methods if possible.

I did see what I called variegated foliage on several tomato plants last summer during one period. Yellow or partially yellow leaves with bright green stems and veins. Although I don't overhead water. I now know what it is and what causes it. Would of been pretty except I knew those varieties shouldn't be variegated and that I had a problem. At that time I didn't know what.

This is the first time I had connected hard water(akaline) water with PH and mineral levels and problems. Maybe I'm the only slow one around. But decided to share what I've learned. And possible ways to at least control it and garden successfully. Jay

Here is a link that might be useful: Hard water irrigation

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Here in eastern Ok we have low soil pH in conjunction with very limey well water. Extremely high in calcium carbonate with no magnesium to balance it. Several years ago I killed a half dozen blueberry plants watering them with well water.

Several years after that DH and I developed joint problems. Locked up shoulders, sciatica and heel spurs. Because I stayed at home and drank more of the water than he did, I was worse than he was.

I was fortunate to find a Dr who ran a hair test and said, "You are overloaded with calcium. You've got to find out where it's coming from and eliminate it." That's when we had our water tested. It took a year or two to clear it out of our systems, but eventually our joints cleared up. The body needs calcium, but we learned firsthand what too much can do.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 10:26AM
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Mulberry thanks for the response and information. Shows extremes can have effects on more than just our gardens. I have looked at several maps showing hard water areas for this region. Most of western OK shows to have hard water. And I remembered it showing eastern ok didn't. Jay

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 10:30AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


We have hard water here and highly alkaline soil as well. I've always known that the hard water affects my plants to a certain extent, but think it probably affects them even more than I originally thought. Next time our water company puts out the report, I'll have to read it, I guess, instead of routinely tossing it into the trash.

The water here is the reason I haven't hauled in bales of peat moss and planted blueberries. To keep the blueberries healthy, I'd have to treat the water before watering and I think that would get old very quickly.


So, what do you do now in terms of drinking water?


    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 10:45AM
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I knew a pharmacist in Carter County that brought in all of her drinking water from western Oklahoma because she believed the local water caused kidney stones.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 11:14AM
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Do you think she would be willing to swap drinking water from Elkhart for gardening water from eastern OK? In truck load quantities? LOL. Jay

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 11:43AM
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Jay - this is most interesting, useful and timely info for me! We just learned that the City of Norman is offering to run water out here for us. We were discussing it last nite as to the benefits. We have a LOT of calcium in our water too. Not to mention our water has a stinky smell when it first runs because they didn't bleach the well when they first put it in...and I may be talking out the wrong side but that's the way I understood it.

I do think my houseplants benefit from the well water. It's worked better on my hair too, but I think I need to pay more attention to this subject. Thanks for the info!


    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 11:47AM
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Several times we have received that little post card that says 'Your drinking water is safe, but we are required by law to tell you that we had a reading of such & such'. Of course, I am paraphrasing here.

Anyway, everytime I get one I am glad that most of the water I drink doesn't come from that source of city water. It is a little trouble to pick up the bottles of water, but we feel it is worth it. We have a cooler/heater that holds a five gallon bottle so it is always cold and "on-tap" year round. It also has a heating mechanism which the grandchildren sometimes use in winter for hot chocolate mix. I don't really like hot drinks so I keep it turned off 99% of the time. I have five bottles so normally have a good source of emergency drinking water as well.

I am not so fanatic that I don't get a drink of water from the sink faucet, if I happen to be there, but most of the water I drink comes from bottled water. Is it good for me? I don't know, but it taste good, and taste the same all year long. The city water, on the other hand, changes tastes all of the time, and sometimes has a strong chemical smell to me. We don't have home delivery here, but we pick up 3 or 4 bottles about every 3 weeks. I drink water all day long.

We have laughed because a couple of the guys in the neighborhood will ask if they can come inside and fill their water bottles when they are working outside and their bottle gets empty. We really like the convenience of having the water cooler all year, and not paying the price of indivdual size bottled water.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 1:18PM
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In addition to the well water which is plumbed into the house, we also have rural water (which is clorinated)in the garden. I run all our drinking water through a filter to get rid of the chlorine.

I too occasionally drink the well water. It is safe and tasty, but not more than about a cup a day.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 8:16PM
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What a timely post. I'm in SE OK and use water from the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. The water softener business has always boomed down here. If you boil water in the same pot successively, you'll see the lime deposits very quickly.

I've been seriously gardening for only a few years (unlike your admirable over 40 elk), and have been lax on testing my soil pH. I don't know how many perennials I've planted, thinking, "Good sun, amend the soil a little, water, Amen." And then they'd languish for a season or two and vanish.

My grandfather was a great hybrid of gardener, rock hound, and real estate agent; and I did manage to salvage his soil maps of the area after he died. I really should have paid more attention to why he gathered those maps and what those maps foretell.

Today, as I was digging out a little spot for some perennials, I noticed a large sandstone deposit. I've got sandstone all around my yard and have managed to amend to the soil enough for my small garden to do well enough, but now I'm wondering how my hard water is balancing with what I'm assuming to be acidic sandstone. I really need to test it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 9:00PM
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From what I've learned rain tends to be on the acidic side. Which normally helps us here where our soils lean to the alkaline side. But with little rain the last two years I had no rain to leach it out. I do try to water less often and deep water when I do. But when the water I'm using is alkaline and then carrying soluble salts and other minerals I'm not gaining much if any by deep soaking. Using sulphur, bone meal and a soil inoculant my PH dropped from a range of 7.5 -7.9 in 08 to 7.2 this last year. I hadn't had a soil test ran in years. My thought has always been that if the plants look healthy and are producing well things have to be ok. I'm not sure even if I had ran the tests they would of showed much till after the first year of the drought. We went 12 months with just over 4 inches of rain. So basically all my watering was from the faucet. Which compounded the problem. I will continue to test every fall till I have it in line. And then I've promised myself to test at least every 2-3 years. But then thought I had better just keep doing it every year. Because if I ever skip a year then I probably won't test again till I see problems. As you garden you will notice problems fairly fast. What takes a year to develop can take several to correct. Although I've always been able to grow most things I've tried here. Blue berries is one plant that like you said would hang on a few years and struggle then just give it up. Now I know why. Like Dawn I've decided at the present I'm not willing to spend the time it would take to try to maintain a PH level to grow them properly. Here the extension service will run I believe two tests a year for you free. Then after that they are like five dollars if you are a Kansas resident. Unless you want a more detailed test then they go up. I think two comprehensive tests this year cost me around $30.00. And normally one would be enough. But I broke a new area and last year was the first year for it. So wanted to test it as I knew there would be a difference between the two and there was. Jay

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 10:05PM
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