Irrigation Water Quality Problems in a Plant Nursery

plant stock at nursery

Canopy Wholesale Nursery

The Business

The Canopy Wholesale Nursery is a small, well established 10 acre nursery situated south of Brisbane, Queensland in Australia.  The wholesale nursery is a family operated business and it specialises in selling sun-grown quality plants to the demanding landscape market in south east Queensland.


iron in water

The bore water before being conditioned

The Hard Water Problem

When Ryan Eaton purchased the nursery the region and state were at the beginning of one of the worst droughts seen in recent times.  Irrigation water for the nursery was kept in large dams on the property but without rain to naturally fill the dams water would need to be pumped up from the bore (well).

The irrigation water quality problem with the nursery’s bore (well) water is that it has a high salt and iron content.  The combined salt levels are 3600 ppm and the iron levels are around 6mg, which is extreme.

  • One affect of using the bore water with such high iron levels to irrigate the large cross section of plants was to turn them bright orange within 3 hours of contact.  This made the plants far less saleable.
  • The other affect is that the growth of the plants is stunted and very slow.

The NGIQ (Nursery & Garden Industry) representative warned Ryan not to use the bore water for irrigation as it would badly damage his plant stock.

The Common Solution

Droughts are times of high expense when nurserymen commonly outlay thousands of dollars to truck in water.  As Ryan looked around for water quality solutions to his dilemma he never imagined there would be any return on his investment.

  1. One common way to control iron in water is to pump the water into a holding tank or dam (pond) and aerate it. This allows the iron to precipitate out and quickly sink to the bottom. The water is then drawn out using a floating suction.
  2. In the case of unusable bore water (as the NGIQ told Ryan his water was) water for irrigation is regularly trucked in and stored in tanks.

With no budget for purchasing water Ryan risked losing his plant stock completely unless he found a way to use the bore water.  So he looked at buying a unit to aerate his irrigation pond.

hard water solution

Cattle now drinking the bore water filled dam after being conditioned

The Best Hard Water Solution

The bore water was pumped through a small SofterWater Conditioner unit that suited the flow rate of the bore, it was pointed skyward for aeration and a small dam was filled.

The dam settled over a couple of days and soon became so absolutely crystal clear that horses and cows were falling into the water because they could not comprehend that the water got deeper as they moved in!

With the main irrigation dam almost empty the dam with the treated bore water was used to irrigate plant stock. A second SofterWater Conditioner was installed on the water tank so then the bore water ran through a unit into a holding dam, pumped from the holding dam through a unit into a storage tank which then irrigated the plants around the Nursery.

The Results

According to Ryan Eaton, “…the results were better than I’d hoped for!”

“The stock did not show signs of iron staining, or calcium build up. It did show signs of some minor salt damage but more like damage from water with a 1500 ppm rate. I was told that I could not grow plants in this water, and although I did experience a reduction in plant growth (nothing beats rainwater) I was able to slowly grow most lines. The reps of the Nursery and Garden Industry were amazed at the quality I could produce with the quality of water I had.”

But the most amazing thing for Ryan was the amount of money he saved by using the SofterWater Conditioner.  “I would have had to buy water by the truck load if I was unable to use my bore. Now I can buy 5,000 litres for $50.00 per load, I used my bore solely for 8 months and I go through an average of 40,000 litres per day. This unit has roughly saved me in my first year of business $48,000.00!”