Can You Grow Vegetables With Salt Water?

With the changing climate and decrease in freshwater worldwide, many gardeners wonder if growing vegetables with saltwater are possible. 

Since 97% of the earth’s water is salty, it will become necessary to use it for agriculture in the future. Can you help by growing your backyard veggies with salt water? 

Unfortunately, most home-grown vegetables don’t work with saltwater. The types of vegetables that thrive in saltwater aren’t the kinds traditionally grown in a garden. 

You need a specific type of soil, atmospheric conditions, and vegetables to be able to grow vegetables in salt water. 

Seaweed in saltwater

Can You Grow Crops With Salt Water? 

It is possible to raise certain types of crops in saltwater. However, most agriculture around the world still relies on freshwater. 

So, although the freshwater supplies are far less than the readily available abundance of saltwater, many crops will not grow with too much salt in the soil. 

Growing crops in seawater is an experimental way to help preserve the freshwater on earth for human consumption. Although the average farmer isn’t expected to do it, certain agriculturists and experimental farmers have successfully raised specific types of saltwater crops. 

Almost all plants, vegetables, and mainstream crops require freshwater. Some farmers use reclaimed water from waste facilities to save drinking water, but it is still freshwater. Even with experimental farming methods, it will be long before saltwater is widely used in farming. 

Sea Water Farming

Seawater farming is an experimental form of farming that uses salt water instead of freshwater. 

This farming has been done on the coasts of America, Scotland, and throughout Europe to see what crops work well in the saltwater. It’s been partially successful, and farmers can eventually hope to use salt water for certain crops. 

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Unfortunately, many traditional farming crops, such as corn and wheat, don’t perform well in saltwater. However, certain grains, lettuces, and marshy vegetables actually can grow well in salty water. 

Seawater farming is a highly technical agricultural skill and is not widely practiced. It’s also not available to anyone who lives far from the ocean. However, the experimental usage of seawater farming has been successful, and it will likely increase in the future. 

What Crops Grow in Salt Water? 

The best crop types to grow in saltwater are halophytes, naturally occurring seaweeds, or other native ocean plants. 

These edible vegetables thrive in salty water, consuming more carbon than the average vegetable. Although halophytes aren’t mainstream yet, they are becoming popular in Great Britain. 

There is a surprising variety of crops that can grow in saltwater. From broccoli to rice, scientists have found a wide range of acceptable vegetables, grains, and leafy plants that can thrive under the right conditions. These plants include: 

  • Certains types of rice
  • Lentils
  • Barley 
  • Types of potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Red onions
  • Cabbage
  • Halophytes 
  • Lettuce
  • Chard
  • Chicory 

The key to growing a plant in saltwater is to monitor the salinity of the soil. If soil is too salty, it will kill the seeds or bulb of the plant in question. 

However, specific types of crops are hardy and don’t need a specific salinity level. These are the crops that often work well when irrigated with saltwater. 

Garden by the sea

Can Sea Water Be Used for Irrigation? 

Unless you are irrigating plants that have been planted in salt water, seawater cannot be used for irrigation. The excess saline will overpower and kill the plants, preventing any fruit and making the soil devoid of necessary nutrients. 

Excess salination is a problem with wastewater and reclaimed water as well. Although it’s possible to use these types of water for irrigation, it often causes too much salt to enter the soil. 

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However, reclaimed water is an option for nourishing crops as long as they are cooked before being eaten. 

Saltwater should never be used to irrigate regular crops, as it will kill them. Even if they’re planted and fully grown, freshwater is the best option for watering and irrigating crops. Too much salt can also damage the soil for further crops. 

Is Salt Water Good for Vegetable Plants? 

Vegetable plants such as tomatoes, carrots, and peppers do not thrive in swampy, salty conditions. Salt water will kill most common vegetable plants because they require regular soil and freshwater to absorb the proper amount of nutrients. 

It is nearly impossible to take a vegetable out of its natural habitat without killing it. Their natural habitat consists of rich, aerated soil, sunshine and shade, and freshwater for most backyard vegetables. If one of those elements doesn’t come together, the plant or vegetable will die. 

Salt in the soil prevents it from being healthy. Even if it has the necessary nutrients for plant life, the salt will kill the good bacteria and the germs of life in the baby plant, preventing it from even breaking the surface. 

Vegetables That Grow in Salt Water

Of course, some vegetables do grow in saltwater. These usually need a marshy, swampy area to grow (unless you want to flood your backyard, probably not the best option).

Here are some of the vegetables that grow well in saltwater: 

  • Seaweed
  • Varieties of potatoes
  • Broccoli 
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Red onion 
  • Mallows
  • Certain types of lettuce
  • Chard
  • Rice
  • Barley 
  • Lentils 
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While some of these are familiar plants, the agricultural experts who have experimented with them do not recommend trying to irrigate plants with saltwater at home. 

These strands of vegetables have been experimented with and proven to be stable, but saltwater won’t mix with regular soil or other plants in your garden. 

Seawater FAQ

Here are some frequently asked questions about growing crops in seawater and how the saltiness of the water affects vegetables. We hope they answer your questions and help you on your gardening journey. 

Can you water plants with sea water?

Unless you are already familiar with seawater farming and which plants can handle a high salinity, you should never water plants or vegetables with seawater.

They were meant to thrive in specific conditions, and freshwater is one of those conditions. 

However, if you want to run a seawater experiment, look up instructions online and pick a hardy potted plant to try it out on. This way, you can see the effects of seawater without ruining your entire vegetable garden. 

How does salt water affect vegetables? 

Saltwater does more harm than good to the majority of vegetables. Plants require three things to survive: sunlight, water, and nutrients in the soil. Various species have different needs, but they all need these three things. 

Most plants need certain amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to grow. Also, too much salt or water in the soil will kill them. While saltwater is necessary for most marine life, it is too salty to feed plants and vegetables. 

Dirt that becomes overly salinated will kill the vegetables and prevent further crops from being planted there. To water them properly, use fresh water instead of saltwater. 

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