Soil surfactants, wetting agents, penetrants, wetters! Different names for the same thing, or are they?

THERE'S MORE TO SURFACTANTS THAN JUST KEEPING YOUR SOIL WET!

Soil surfactants, wetting agents, penetrants, wetters! Different names for the same thing, or are they? Are they worth the cost and the bother of having to apply them? Well, you could easily produce a thesis on that subject matter!  

Over the past number of years, I have carried out numerous studies in the areas of disease control and turfgrass growth. Today I want to share results from some studies involving the use of surfactants. I won’t be naming any products, but I will provide some interesting data. 

These trials were carried out between May and September 2020 and 2021, based on Poa annua greens on a USGA sand rootzone. Randomised treatments, comprising surfactants and controls, were applied sequentially at 28-day intervals. 

Assessments included: 

  • Volumetric Water Content
  • Normalised difference vegetation index
  • Turfgrass quality
  • Wilt/drought stress

A significant amount of data were gathered from these trials and today is just a snapshot of some of the more interesting results. The summer of 2020 here was exceptionally wet! So, no useful data regarding drought responses! However, assessments of plant health, showed significantly better results in all surfactant treatments compared to controls. In a sentence, none of the treatments produced differences in drought responses, but all surfactants improved plant health and turfgrass quality over the four-month period compared to controls. Conditions during 2021 were better, during July, we experienced extremely hot and dry weather. All the surfactant treatments significantly reduced wilting compared to controls, and although some performed better than others, statistically they produced the same results. 

Plant health assessments, in particular turf quality, again provided  significant data, supporting the conclusions of the 2020 trial. 

All legit producers should have research data to support their products performance, So, carefully decide what you need from your program and match your needs to the product data!

 Dr John Dempsey
Independent Turfgrass Research

Email: [email protected]
Web: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4745-1541

For me, there were a couple of  standout results from these trials. Firstly, when the effects on moisture levels for both years were calculated there was no statistical differences between any of the surfactants. But it was how different surfactants caused the variations in soil moisture under different precipitation periods which was particularly interesting. We found some surfactants allowed for drier rootzones during periods of precipitation but maintained greater moisture during dry periods.

A second standout result was  how surfactant treatments enhanced turfgrass quality, even during non-stressful environmental growth conditions! The influencing factors I would surmise  would be better infiltration, reduced soil repellency and uniformity of water distribution. Also, there was  greater retention or availability of nutrients following sequential surfactant treatment. So, there’s more to surfactants than just keeping your soil wet!

Overall, these trials produced interesting results, way too much data to fully report in this short article.  I would recommend the use of surfactants, the key for their successful use is for end-users to firstly determine the target criteria for their use at their facility and then to research the technical aspects of available products and  determine what they can deliver to help you achieve your targets.

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