Should I adjust my water pH?

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Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Precarious on Wed Aug 26, 2015 3:47 am

I was shocked affraid to say the least to find that our city water is currently pH 8.6.  I searched on this forum but didn't find much.  Is anyone here treating alkaline water with vinegarbefore watering (or any other treatment) to get it around 7.0?


Last edited by Precarious on Wed Aug 26, 2015 3:48 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : correction)

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  JimLewis on Wed Aug 26, 2015 2:50 pm

Its effects may depend on your soil.

Azaleas may be a problem.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  coh on Wed Aug 26, 2015 3:16 pm

Precarious wrote:I was shocked affraid to say the least to find that our city water is currently pH 8.6.  I searched on this forum but didn't find much.  Is anyone here treating alkaline water with vinegarbefore watering (or any other treatment) to get it around 7.0?

Search is quirky on this site, but here are some old threads where this may be discussed:

http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t7523-how-do-we-acidify-inorganic-bonsai-soil

http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t16623-measuring-bonsai-soil-ph

http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t15792-who-tests-or-controls-p-h

Bottom line, most municipal water supplies are adjusted so that the pH is above 7. Mine tested as close to 8. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not. There are other factors, such as alkalinity that play a role. If your plants look healthy, you probably don't need to worry about it.

Chris

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Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  geo on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:08 pm

Me too! Mine isn't that high, but at least 8. I have read various opinions. The usual, from who gives a s... to dire predictions of eventual collapse. And what about vinegar indeed? I use it as quite an effective herbicide, but is there a safe dilution rate?
Just read the posted links. Thanks.

George.


Last edited by geo on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:22 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : new info read)

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  JimLewis on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:25 pm

1 tbsp vinegar to 1 gal water is easily safe.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:26 pm

david - when it comes to city water, ignorance is bliss Wink

in all seriousness though, your post actually prompted me to call our water dept and here along the shores of gitcheegoomee, we are blessed w/ neutral water...

i love our water here... great taste... and the best part - no stupid ass "ice mountain" bottles in our recycling can !!!

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  coh on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:28 pm

The general idea when using any acid is to titrate the water supply down to a set pH...I've seen values in the neighborhood of 5.5 suggested. The exact amount required will depend on the type of acid (you'll need a lot more vinegar than sulfuric) and the exact pH and alkalinity of your water. As you add the acid you'll essentially neutralize the alkalinity which slowly lowers the pH. Then once most of the alkalinity is removed the pH will drop rapidly as you add more acid. So it can be tricky to get it exactly where you want, especially since the types of pH instruments most of us have available are not terribly accurate.

Leo is quite knowledgeable about this, as is Paul (63pmp I think) from Australia. Look for posts by them.

One other thing, plant roots will modify their immediate environment to some degree as they take up nutrients. So they can compensate for pH to some degree.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  dick benbow on Wed Aug 26, 2015 4:51 pm

forty years with Koi and i can write a book on PH...

One word of caution for those who are on wells and not city water, when you test for PH to get a true reading be sure and allow your water sample to sit out for 24 hrs before testing.

to add to your knowledge test it as it comes out of the well and then what it tests 24 hrs later. you'll find it has softened quite a bit.

please be extra careful around muratic acid, nothing to play with. simple peat moss or vinegar can help bring PH down safely. Smile

do you know human blood is 7.2 ?

I found with koi, they adjust to the water source as far as living...but colors/skin for show always did better controling PH. I ended up with a reverse osmosis treatment to safely and efficiently get my Koi's water PH to a specific level (7.2)

PH with bonsai can also be work but will pay dividends in how your trees respond.

As in most things knowledge makes a difference. Hope something in this rambling helps

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  kevin stoeveken on Wed Aug 26, 2015 5:54 pm

dick benbow wrote: do you know human blood is 7.2 ?

no wonder my thorny trees are so happy !

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Precarious on Wed Aug 26, 2015 7:36 pm

Wow, lots of replies while I was out, thanks everyone!  Sounds like youre in water heaven, Kevin.

Well, I decided to do a little field test and the amazing Kreskin now has results to share.  Litmus paper to my samples, and read off of a color chart on a computer screen.  Isn't that official!

Tap water sample matched the info I received yesterday, matching  the color bar for pH 8
RO water sample matched the color bar for pH 7
A tap water sample was then mixed 50/50 with soil from a pot that has held a ficus for about a year, and left to soak for about 30 minutes.  The same was done for soil and RO water.  Both tested out as matching the color bar for pH 6.

That result surprised me.  The soil was 50/50 granite and pine bark.  Obviously a rough field test, but the conclusion is, don't worry about it (didn't somebody already mention that?).

Oh btw, human blood pH normal is 7.4 and is kept in a very narrow range. I get worried when I test someone and the result is less than 7.35, and am calling the doctor when it's below 7.30.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Auballagh on Wed Aug 26, 2015 11:33 pm

After keeping freshwater aquariums of various types for almost 15 years, one of the key lessons I learned from that hobby was,

'DON'T FIGHT THE WATER - IT ALMOST ALWAYS WINS!'

The biggest problem with water that is too high in PH, is that it usually originates from conditions that produce very hard water. In this case dissolved solids of Calcium and Magnesium that can at times produce water with readings of up to - sometimes even over - 1000 PPM solids. Almost liquid rock!
Water like that, can be temporarily 'adjusted' to a lower PH, but because of extremely high levels of buffering, will revert back to the higher PH in quick order.
I see you are from the 'midwest' of the US. That encompasses a very big area, but has many parts with hard water conditions like this.
The ONLY thing that will truly work to correct your high PH tap water, is to first treat it with an RO purification system.
Read = $$
Doing this will effectively remove almost ALL of those dissolved solids in the water, making it quite easy to acidify, (Kanuma based bonsai soil will easily acidify water treated like this). Most commonly, some people on well water systems with high levels of iron or sulphur in the water are forced to use RO treatment to remove these more unpleasant components from the water.
A cheaper, possibly more effective way to obtain soft water - would be to build/invest in a rainwater collection system.
That is naturally soft water, that will acidify very easily. Cool

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  MichaelS on Thu Aug 27, 2015 3:34 am

8.6 is a bit high but there's no need to worry about it too much. Before I moved, my water was between pH9 and 10 for years. Everything in the nursery grew well including azaelas. The trick is not to use lime in your mixes and use acidifying fertilizers such as Urea and ammonium in preference to nitrate. Organic ferts (most) also have a mild acidifying effect as well. Your hard water in combination with these fertilizers will usually strike a good pH balance. Alkaline conditions in the pot will always show up first as an iron deficiency. So, if acid loving plants like azalea or gardenia show pale NEW leaves, the alkalinity of the medium is inhibiting Fe uptake (presuming you are supplying enough) In this case you need to modify your fertilizers more to those mentioned above. If the new leaves are of a good colour and stay that way, all is well.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Precarious on Thu Aug 27, 2015 4:29 am

Thanks for the edification from so many corners. There's no end of new things to learn. Since I can't help but experiment, I plan to use rain water the rest of the outdoor season along with an ericaceous fertilizer to see if I notice any difference. I hadn't really noticed a problem, just concerned that growth might have slowed imperceptibly over time in suboptimal conditions (slowly rising pH in soil due to high water pH). I don't expect to see much change after what today's tests showed, but I want to know for sure.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Jayhawker on Thu Aug 27, 2015 9:58 pm

In addition to all the good info above on Calcium and buffering capacity and only if you really want to 'geek out', check out Dr. Whitcomb's article "pH is mostly Bologna". It has a good description of Calcium's effect on micronutrients.

http://www.rootmaker.com/sites/default/files/pdf/pHFactorContainersE.pdf

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  geo on Fri Aug 28, 2015 12:23 am

Thanks, Jayhawker. I didn't feel the least bit geeky reading that very helpful link! Cleared some things up for me. And when someone can simplify all the claptrap about PH-well,I'm happy.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Precarious on Fri Aug 28, 2015 5:29 am

Yeah, thx, good read. And I looked in the mirror after... maybe a little geekier now Shocked
I'll have to chew on this info a while. I did notice Dr. Whitcomb mentioned watering only until a few drops drained away. If Ca++ is the bully he says it is, it would be interesting to note whether it even builds up in a pot where a thorough flushing type of watering technique is used.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Leo Schordje on Fri Sep 04, 2015 7:39 pm

I found the Whitcomb's article a little dense and I'm not sure it relates to the much more inert bonsai media we tend to use. Peat moss has a high cation exchange capacity, and his mixes were largely peat & pine bark. More orientated to the nursery trade.

However I largely agree with the notion pH is not the problem we should be worrying about.

First virtually all municipal water supplies buffer their water to a pH around 8.0 as a health requirement, pH around 8 won't leach lead from old water pipes. Usually the buffering is minimal, and overcome easily by the the plants own capability to modify the root zone environment.

What is critical is total alkalinity, ph in a low total alkalinity solution is very easy to swing in any direction. In a high alkalinity solution, it is difficult to adjust pH, just as Whitcomb states. Total alkalinity is traditionally determined by titration. Not something easy to do at home. A good stand in for guessing what total alkalinity is will be Total Dissolved solids. Generally, except in rare instances, for most water supplies, the dissolved minerals in water will largely be limestone, calcium and magnesium carbonates, possibly sulfates too.

If you are on a municipal supply, you can request the water chemistry report and it should include total dissolved solids(TDS). If your TDS is less than 50, you can use the water out of the tap for even the most sensitive plants such as carnivorous plants. Azaleas will love it, though they do tolerate harder water.

If your TDS are less than 300 ppm this is still high quality water, and won't be likely to cause any problems for most plants. Azalea and hornbeams and other salt intolerant species might appreciate a few flushings with rain water, hopefully you get rain at least once a month. But in general, water in this range is just fine. Kevin, Lake Michigan water is about 220 ppm TDS, with at total alkalinity of about 175. Excellent quality water. Lake Superior has about half the TDS of Lake Michigan. Erie has slightly more than Michigan. All the great lakes have good quality water.

If you TDS is over 300ppm, but less than 1000 ppm, it is still useable, especially for junipers, pines, and other salt tolerant species, but you might have trouble with azalea, hornbeams, beech, and other acidic soil plants. Here I would consider collecting rain water and using rain water for every third or every other watering if you are able to collect enough. But if the trees are dry, use this water, its not that bad. Chlorosis in the leaves of sensitive plants will let you know if your water is the problem.

If your TDS are greater than 1000 ppm, you have HARD water. Fish will bounce twice before going under. Lime accumulations will form quickly. BUT many junipers, pines and other trees won't seem to care. The acid loving trees will really, really hate this water. Only at 1000 ppm TDS or higher would I consider the use of RO or DI water systems a reasonable expense.  If you do have to use water this hard, remember that as a pot approaches dryness the concentration of salts in the soil water film goes up as the pot gets closer to dry. Trick to using hard water is keep the plants wet. Never let them dry out, use a mix that has good air voids yet holds water, and keep them wet. Otherwise invest in a Rain water, RO or DI system.

How high can TDS go? I have heard of wells in the karst region of Wisconsin with TDS just under 2000 ppm. That is quite hard, and definitely a problem. But well water this hard is not common.

Measuring pH is tricky, so I don't talk about it. Only worry about TDS and you will be fine.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Precarious on Sat Sep 05, 2015 5:27 am

Thanks, Leo, very helpful, and I think Whitcomb was pointing in this direction(dissolved solids) after his effort to debunk pH being the direct effector. Omaha's water, from the 2013 MUD report, shows the dissolved solids averaged 417 ppm while ranging as high as 556.

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Auballagh on Sat Sep 05, 2015 6:00 am

Whew.... Embarassed

Very informative.

And, thank you very much for the carefully researched response. You have learned - and taught us - a lot. Smile

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Re: Should I adjust my water pH?

Post  Jayhawker on Tue Sep 08, 2015 9:35 pm

Leo - Good info on TDS guidelines. Unfortunately, my water has a range of 340-750 TDS and not enough rainfall. I agree that Dr. Whitcomb's soil is (or should be different) from our bonsai mixes. However, under the anonymity of the internet, I will confess that most of my trees are still in the very early early stages of training and are in a cheaper nursery-type mix of pumice and bark. But let's ignore that so this thread doesn't get hijacked into another mix discussion.

Precarious also made made a good point that I don't want to get lost. The Whitcomb study also did not test the effects of flushing, which is how I assume most of us water. This should also lower the buildup of Calcium.

And we also repot on a relatively frequent basis.

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