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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - November 07, 2011

From: Belton, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Watering, Grasses or Grass-like, Trees
Title: Is sulfurous well water affecting leaves on trees in Belton TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We installed an irrigation system for our buffalo grass lawn last spring. The grass is fine but the leaves on the trees are burned where the water hits them. I suspect that the well we are using for irrigation, which is sulfurous, may be the cause of this. The water test showed ph of 8.1 and sulfate 80 mg/L (testing limit). It doesn't seem to bother the live oaks but the elms and other trees' leaves look burned. Higher up the tree where the water doesn't spray, the leaves are fine. What to do? We thought our plants would love the extra minerals. We water in very early morning, so I know it's not leaf burn from water droplets.

ANSWER:

Just when we think we have heard everything, a question like this comes along. So, we had to do some research. The best article we found on this was from eHow Health on The Effect of High Sulfure Content in Tap Water, from which we extracted this:

"If you turn on the water in your home and it smells like rotten eggs, it is a safe bet that you have a high sulfur count in your water. Sulfur is a mineral that exists naturally in groundwater, since rain and surface water seeps through rocks in the earth and picks up minerals present in the rocks. It is one of the minerals that is measured during a water quality test."

If you are also using that water for drinking, you might want to read the whole article for information about how it can affect health, especially of young children, as well as plumbing and water heaters, not to mention the smell. However, we could find no mention that it affected plants adversely in any way.

So, we have two suggestions. First, the reason for planting Bouteloua dactyloides (Buffalograss) is that it does not need a whole lot of watering. Just don't use any more than you need to in order to keep the grass going. Second, if possible, reset the sprinkler system so it sprays lower. Water thrown up in the air is partially wasted by evaporation into the air, anyway, and if it looks like the water is hurting the leaves, don't hit them with irrigation water any more.


 

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