Many times adding water to a dry lawn, dry garden, dry farm, golf course or other dry soil will not help. Soil surfactants that improve soil health are a solution.
Soil surfactants, wetting agents and soil penetrants
Many soils may repel water, not allowing water to get deep into root systems. This of course leads to unhealthy turf and other plants. Soil surfactants can be used to help manage water.
Soil surfactants will improve:
- How fast water goes into the soil.
- How much water the soil can hold.
- How well the water moves through the soil from wet areas to dry areas.
- The ability for soil to move water upwards.
- Soil health longterm (depending upon the specific surfactant, see soilsurfactant.com)
Soil that can retain and appropriately move water helps conserve water as well as lead to plant health.
Soils with high surface tension cannot properly manage water, leading to unhealthy turfgrass and plants.
What is surface tension?
Surface tension is the repulsion of water that does not allow water to evenly penetrate soil because the nature of water is that it is attracted to other water molecules and repelled by non-water molecules. However, most soil particles have negatively charged surfaces that attract the positively charged end of water molecules. This can be an ideal combination of attraction between charges and surface tension for water to be drawn into cracks and spaces between soil particles for water retention. If there is not a proper balance of this surface tension and attraction, soil either will not allow water to penetrate the surface and/ or soil will not retain water. This is where soil surfactants, wetting agents and soil penetrants can help.
Soil surfactants are used on hydrophobic, or water-repellent, soils. Wetting agents, soil surfactants and soil penetrants are all terms for treatments that improve water penetration and uniform distribution throughout the soil profile; water retention; efficiency of water and drainage.
Soils the repel water cannot support healthy turf and plant health.
How do you know if the soil is repelling instead of properly absorbing water?
If soil is not properly absorbing and retaining water, adding more water will not help. Adding more water could even lead to disease, black layer, fungus, algae and other problems as well as lead to a waste of water if soil is not absorbing water properly. Water management is critical to soil and plant health.
One water repellency test shared in a Washington State University study is to simply place several drops of water on air-dried, powdered soil. If it takes longer than five seconds for the water droplets to penetrate the soil, the soil may have some degree of repellency and a soil surfactant, soil penetrant or wetting agent may provide benefits.
If the droplets quickly flatten and the water is absorbed in less than five seconds the only issue to consider may be water retention. If the soil is not property retaining water, that too is a problem for potential waste of water, leading to over-watering, as well as poor soil and plant health. Humawet helps soil to retain water while also adding the benefits of humates and organic matter. HydraHawk and SoilPlex are two other options.
Samples should be taken from several locations.
Soil surfactants conserve water and can avoid use of fungicides and future soil & plant health problems
Water-repellent soils, soil that do not allow water to penetrate the surface or soils that are not absorbing water cause several problems. These problems include water sitting on the surface of soil causing moist conditions leading to disease susceptibility and anaerobic/ low oxygen conditions. These soils also cause higher runoff and cause a lack of uniformity in water distribution leading to patchy grass or worse. The water going into concentrated areas leads to localized dry spot in some places and deep percolation in others leading to poor irrigation efficiency, wasting water and poor crop performance or turfgrass quality.
How do wetting agents, surfactants and soil penetrants work?
In the most general sense, soil surfactants, wetting agents and soil penetrants overcome water repellency problems by adding molecules to water. These molecules have a polar, hydrophilic, water-attracting end and non-polar, hydrophobic, water-repelling end. The repelling non-polar end sticks to the water repellent coatings on the soil and draws the water in it.
Soil surfactants are helpful for soils with a lot of clay, compaction, poor tillage and/or very dry soils. Penterra can be useful for overly soggy soil as it is the fastest-soil penetrant on the market and gets water moving quickly through the soil for fast drainage when needed following heavy rains or flooding. It is particularly helpful to apply Penterra when a heavy rain is in the forecast or in the case of severe flooding, applied after much of the flood waters have receded to assist with faster flood recovery.
Other ways to improve water management in soil
Surfactants are used to address low infiltration or low water penetration and high water repellency issues. Other methods to assist in these conditions is to not allow soils to get excessively dry by irrigating more frequently in small amounts; avoid compaction, maintain the soil structure, increase surface storage with dams, dikes proper tillage practicing and not burning fields, if applicable.
Choosing a soil surfactant, wetting agent or soil penetrant
Water not penetrating through soil. (Check out www.DryLawn.com)
Solutions: Soil penetrants. Penterra: Fastest-acting soil penetrant. One of the most highly concentrated soil penetrants on the market. Moves water through the soil profile quickly and improves soil health longterm. Used prior to heavy rain and after flood events. Used to prevent frost delays, frost damage and damage from traffic on turf. Available for home lawns at www.ShopGeoponics.com. Profasorb: Soil penetrant that improves soil health longterm. Great for large areas and commercial use. Does not need to be watered in and can be effective left right on surface.
Soil not retaining water. (Check out www.DryLawn.com)
Solutions: Humawet, HydraHawk, SoilPlex. Home lawns: Humawet and SoilPlex. SoilPlex is organic. Humawet includes humates and organic matter. HydraHawk is a favorite among golf course superintendents for its optimal efficacy immediately and long term.
Soils with water management challenges are often also anaerobic soils. Check out Agriox for adding soil oxygen for a quick burst in growth and boost in color as well as longterm soil and plant health.