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Plants prefer rainwater

Wisconsin Technical College System

By the time this column reaches the paper the drought of 2012 will hopefully be a distant memory. Here at Oakfield, from June 15 through June 18, we received 0.8 inches of rain, while less than 10 miles south of Oakfield they have not received any meaningful rain for over a month. Last night, June 18, areas across the north to Manitowoc got more than 2 inches in addition to what they had received a few days ago.

Sunday during church fellowship time the drought became the main topic. Even at church men will tell tall tales based of course on their own home-applied research studies. We all agreed that rainwater far exceeds city or well water in its ability to provide positive growth effects in plants. Based on our coffee clutch’s combined experience of nearly 250 years of flawless observation, it was confirmed from our side-by-side backyard scientific studies that in fact, rain water is more powerful in stimulating plant growth than water that does not fall directly from the sky onto soil and sod.

Is there any scientific proof to backup this phenomenon? It so happens there is some grounds for this wise tale. Older farmers are aware of the fact that after a rain and especially a thunder storm, fields of corn and other crops will “green up” virtually overnight.

So is there any science to back up this so called “green up” effect? As it turns out there are some plausible explanations. Our atmosphere consists of about 21 percent oxygen and 78 percent nitrogen, but only legumes plants can take nitrogen in directly from the atmosphere. Nitrogen is the plant nutrient that powers the rapid green growth we characterize with healthy plants. Legumes have a partnership with rhizobia bacteria, which in turn form nodules on roots of legumes. It is these bacteria that can assimilate nitrogen directly from the air. Legume plants include alfalfa, clovers, beans, peas and some trees. All other plants must take up nitrogen from the soil through their root system.

Rainwater also has what are referred to as some secondary and or micronutrient attributes. As rain falls through the atmosphere it picks up valuable micronutrients, which become part of the soil water and therefore made available for plant growth. Plants have a need for some elements in very small amounts as opposed to the major elements like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, as the atmosphere has been so called “cleaned up” the soil in many rural areas has become low in some essential micronutrients. Sulfur being the most notable soil deficient element.

So the next time you are discussing drought and plant growth with your friends, just tell them that rainwater is more effective in keeping plants green and growing than groundwater because of the nitrogen and sulfur that is dissolved in rainwater and can be very quickly taken up by plants.

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