ISSUE 105  |  Editors' Picks 2013

Urban Gardener: Is Unfiltered Tap Water Safe for Plants?

January 02, 2014 6:00 PM

BY Erin Boyle

Ask most people who live in New York City about the tap water, and they’ll say it’s terrific. Carried into the city from a network of reservoirs and controlled lakes that make up a 1,972-square-mile watershed, New York City tap water is some of the country’s best. But what happens to the water’s quality as it runs through the pipes in an old building? I swear I can taste a difference. I filter my drinking water and I wonder if my plants deserve the same treatment?

Photographs by Erin Boyle.

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After a bit of internet digging, I’ve come up with what I think is the right answer. It seems that filtering water for house plants isn’t as necessary as simply allowing tap water to sit overnight. If you bring water to room temperature, plants won’t be shocked by tap water that’s either too hot or too cold coming out of the faucet.

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Most municipal water supplies, including New York City’s, are also treated with chlorine. The damage that chlorine causes to plants is a topic of debate. But if you fill a few open containers with water and let them sit overnight, the chlorine will evaporate. I’ve taken to keeping a pretty jar or two of water on my windowsill for plant watering purposes.

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In addition to coddling my plants with water that’s been sitting out overnight, I also invested in proper watering implements fit for a small apartment. Before, when I wasn’t busy forgetting to water my plants altogether, I was drowning them with entire tumblers full of water. Now that I’ve got a tray of seedlings in my charge, I wanted to make sure I had the right tools for the job. A 2-pint Haws Green Indoor Metal Watering Can is $74.95 from Haws Watering Cans.

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This green Haws watering can is small enough to tuck into our closet and will be a real treat when it’s time to start watering my window box this spring. After much deliberation, I settled on this model because it comes with a detachable head. The attachment is just right for giving a gentle shower to the fragile seed starts I’m growing, but I can also remove it to get a less far-reaching spray for the plants I keep on hard-to-reach shelves.

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For humidity-loving house plants like ferns, lots of folks swear by the gentle spray from a plant mister like this one. I’ve been filling mine with tap water that I’ve already allowed to sit uncovered overnight. A similar Glass Plant Mister is $12 from Terrain.[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”21437″,”attributes”:{“alt”:”do or don’t: watering house plants with tap water, gardenista”,”class”:”media-image”,”height”:”467″,”width”:”700″}}]]

Important consideration in an apartment where storage is limited: Get a mister that’s pretty enough to display alongside your plants. A Maidenhair Fern in a 4-inch pot is $12 from Pernell Gerver.

See more of Erin’s DIY Adventures.

N.B.: This is an update of a post published March 19, 2013 during our Loft Living week.

Explore more: Rainwater Catchment; Watering Cans.