The Surprising Reason Your Houseplants are Dying—And What to Do About it

Houseplants are all the rage this year.According to one article, they can help reduce stress, increase focus and productivity, and improve air quality. But keeping a house plant is harder than it sounds. It can be frustrating when you attentively nurture your carefully selected houseplant only to watch it droop, turn brown or begin to lose its leaves. As you work to keep your plants alive, one lesser-known culprit could be the water you are using.

The Science

One silent killer of houseplants has to do with what’s known as the Sodium Absorption Ratio (SAR) of your water.If the SAR is too high or too low your plants ability to effectively make use of the water you provide is compromised. So what exactly is SAR? It’s a composite number consisting of hardness, pH level, sodium and alkalinity. Hardness refers to how much calcium and magnesium is in the water and the pH indicates how acidic, neutral or alkaline that water is.  An important property of water is its total alkalinity, which is a measure of how it resists changes to its pH when exposed to air or other substances and can depend on how much carbon dioxide the water has absorbed from the air. The type and total amount of ions(including sodium) determines the water’s conductivity. All of these levels, calculated properly, make up the SAR number.

Signs the Sodium Absorption Ratio is Off-Balance

If your SAR number is off, you may be able to tell simply by observing your plant. If your water does not have enough salt, the plant will swell. The sodium ions assist with absorption, and when the water does not have enough, the plant retains water as a way to compensate. If the water has too much salt, the opposite happens. Instead of retaining water, the plant will pickle. The leaves wither and the stems shrink. On a less extreme note, if your plants seem to need more water than the recommended amount, the plant is working harder to retain the correct amount of moisture, which is another sign the salt level is too high. If you are worried about yourSAR level and the amount you are watering, keep in mind signs of overwatering your plants as well.

The best water for drinking is not necessarily the best water for washing clothes or dishes, and it’s definitely not the best water for your plants.

What controls the SAR?

The SAR is determined by the water source. Inmost cases the public water system is not overly concerned that the water is at its optimal ratio, their biggest concern is that the water is safe for consumption. If your water source is from your own well, then you can adjust the ratio yourself. The SAR can also be impacted by home treatments. Water softeners, for example, change the water conductivity, making it less than ideal for houseplants. Reverse osmosis systems can also create issues for plants. Water from these systems is great for drinking, but the poor SAR level may be (quickly) detrimental to your plants.

Managing Your Water

The best water for drinking is not necessarily the best water for washing clothes or dishes, and it’s definitely not the best water for your plants. For this reason, RETEGO recommends finding an optimal solution to manage your water. With a home water management system, you can make sure your water has the right SAR for each use in your home. The water in your home should be treated differently, depending on if it is hot or cold (to prevent corrosion). Additionally, proper water management means you won’t be wasting filtration and conditioning on things like irrigation and watering plants.

We all need water to survive, and plants are no different. A little research and a smart water management system will make all of the living things in your house thrive.