Is the tap water in the UAE safe for my plants?
Short answer: Yes. But, it's not clear cut. It's a surprisingly nuanced situation. We've done the research, so you don't have to. Read on for our guide to watering your plants in the UAE.
1. So, first thing’s first, what defines "good" water?
In their ideal world, your new 🌿 friend would be receiving rainwater in the wild, getting the perfect amounts based on where they've evolved to grow. Native rainwater is sure to be your plant's favorite drinking source as it contains the balance of oxygen, magnesium, and calcium that they crave.
When we bring them indoors, we take them away from the source that they're used to, which is one of the reasons why our domesticated plants are so picky, and who can blame them?
Tap water (not only in the UAE, but globally!) has many of these minerals added to it.
However, the amounts can be too much for our plants and even result in poor growth, discoloration, and salts buildings upon the soil.
Even though distilling your water might seem like the easy option here. Ideally, your water shouldn't be stripped bare. Sure, the process of distilling water gets rid of the "bad stuff," but it also gets rid of the good parts in the tap water.
It's the minerals in rainwater that ensure your plant experiences healthy growth. So the verdict isn't that distilled water will cause any harm to your plants, but they're unlikely to grow as quickly as they would otherwise.
However, if you have to use distilled water, there are other ways to make sure your plants don't miss out. More on this later.
2. How does UAE tap water fair according to the above? Quite well, actually. Though, nothing’s perfect.
The UAE doesn't have access to much fresh ground or spring water, which means the UAE tap water is seawater that's undergone the process of desalination to make sure it's safe and drinkable.
So, what exactly is desalination? It's when excess salts and minerals are removed from water. In the UAE, water is desalinated using chlorination, meaning that one of the things left in your tap water is chlorine.
There isn't a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to chemicals and minerals in their water. For example, some plants can tolerate higher levels of magnesium, calcium, etc., but others are a lot pickier.
For example, a Black Velvet Alocasia Reginula can be very sensitive about the number of salts, minerals, and chlorine in tap water. In this case, opting for spring water or filtered water is your best option.
Contrastingly, a hardy Pothos plant can thrive on a diet of tap water. But even they're picky when it comes to the amount of chlorine.
Tip! Since tap water in the UAE is chlorinated, we'd recommend leaving tap water out for 24-48hrs before using it. This allows chlorine time to evaporate out of the water before using it. Also, keep an eye out for scorched leaves or build-up of salts on the soil - these are your plants' signals that the water quality is not hitting their standard!
What are the water habits of our plants?
Here’s our list of the pickiest drinkers. Ideally, they prefer filtered water or freshwater. But, if this isn’t possible, definitely make sure you’ve left the water out for the upper end of the 24-48hr limit to make sure enough of the chlorine has had time to evaporate.
Now here are our hardiest plants. They’ll most likely (see note!) be ok with water straight from the tap.
Note! Even between cities, the amount of chlorine in tap water varies. So watch out for tell-tale signs of too much chlorine or calcium even with the plants on this list.
Scorched brown tips at the leaves = too much chlorine.
Crystals on the earth = too much calcium.
If you notice these signs, it’s time to start leaving your water out overnight.
3. Yes, the type of water makes a difference, but what’s more important for UAE plant parents? Watering technique.
We get many questions about how much water to give plants, but what about the watering technique? Life is full of surprises, and plants being picky about how they like to receive their water is one of them.
It’s easy to think it’s sensible to water plants on a schedule. But as spoken about in our Watering your plants 101 articles, this isn’t the case.
What’s important is that you pour water into the pot until it drains out the bottom. You want the water to be flowing right through the soil, making it moist enough to feed the plant - doing this also prevents the minerals from sitting on the soil on top, which can lead to crystallized salts forming.
4. Is watering giving my plants enough of everything they need?
As we talked about at the start of this article, distilled or desalinated tap water doesn't have all the minerals plants need, such as magnesium, oxygen, and calcium. So you should use fertilizer to make sure your plants are getting all the nourishment they need for these reasons.
Unlike their outdoor siblings, an indoor plant can't send new roots off in search of food. So once it finishes the nutrients in its potting soil, it needs more. Most standard fertilizers have three essential macronutrients in them that plants need:
- Nitrogen, which stimulates healthy growth
- Potassium helps the resist disease and insects.
- Phosphorus, encouraging new shoot growth.
When to fertilize
After you’ve bought a new plant, you should wait at least 6 months before fertilizing them to give them time to use up the fertilizer in their potting soil. The best time to start fertilizing is in the Spring through to Summer - this is when they experience the most vigorous growth!
Tip! Different fertilizers require different amounts. Always read the instructions on the label of the product you buy and follow that.
We treat plants like people, and, like people, they have preferences! When it comes to water, you might love it ice cold, or maybe you infuse it with lemon or cucumber. We all have different tastes, and every plant is different. But there are key takeaways when it comes to plants and UAE tap water:
- Some plants need filtered or freshwater, while others can be ok with tap water - see our list above for what our plants prefer.
- Even with hardier plants, watch out for signs of too much chlorine, such as scorched leaves. If you notice them appearing, it’s time to start leaving your water out for 24-48 hr to let some of the chlorine evaporate.
- When you’re watering, make sure you pour the water until you see it coming out of the bottom of the pot.
- Fertilize to replace the nutrients your plants need.