Chemical that helps use less water for turf grass

northtexasJune 25, 2011

It seems like a read a post about some type of spray that you can apply to your lawn that then makes it so less watering is required. Seems like reviews were mixed but now I can't find the thread. Does anybody remember the name of that product?

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Are you referring to a product that is either a wetting agent or a soil surfactant?

Or are you referring to the generic baby shampoo?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:05PM
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andy10917(NY 6a)

It's not cheap, but you may be talking about "Root Zone Antitranspirant". There are university studies that show it can help turf get through longer periods of drought stress.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 1:25PM
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The surfactant things rings a bell. Sorry I'm so vague and thanks to you both for the help.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 2:17PM
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I asked this question a year ago on here, but nobody seemed to have experience w/ it. The product I was referring to is called Hydretain. Google it and see if that's what you're looking for.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 3:55PM
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I had a distributor who tried to sell me some hydretain but I chose not to bite on the offer. I prefer to use Primer soil surfactant for water/soil management.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 5:13PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

nearandwest, what is in that product?

    Bookmark   June 25, 2011 at 11:48PM
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jdo053103(7b - NC)

i've been using southern ag - liquid soil wetting agent for 2 years now in the summer months. i had some really hard spots on my lawn that it has improved.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 9:44AM
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@dchall: Which product are you inquiring about, Primer or Hydretain?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 11:56AM
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Hi all,
First, in the spirit of full disclosure: I work for Aquatrols, the company that manufactures Primer Select and other soil surfactant technologies. That being said, I'm not here to sell you anything, just offering some educational assistance. :)

Over time and for a variety of reasons, soils can develop waxy coatings on the soil particles that make it water repellent. Water repellency prevents water from moving into the soil properly. Water tends to either run off the surface of repellent soils or evaporate before it has a chance to soak down into the soil where turf roots can access it.

Soil surfactants (or wetting agents) 'coat the coatings,' allowing the soils to accept water more easily and distribute it more evenly. Better distribution of water = easier access by plant roots, which means that you'll be able to use less water to get the job done.

Here's a quick 'down and dirty' video I did that shows surfactants in action:

Using soil surfactants is definitely a smart tool for maintaining a healthy lawn with less water. There are a number of very good surfactant products out there, in both sprayable and granular spreadable formulations to meet your application preferences.

Hope this info was helpful. If anyone's interested in learning more about soils and surfactants (non-commercial of course!) or needs some help in locating university research on these products, drop me a line. I'm always happy to help. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Aquatrols website

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 1:22PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

OMG! Colleeen, speaking as a moderator on several lawn care forums (not this one), we love you! Thank you for the disclosure up front. In all these years I have yet to see this done at one my sites. THANK YOU! For what it is worth, I don't know any mods who would begrudge anyone who disclosed up front their affiliation with a product. 99.9999999999% of the time we get business owners signing up and praising a product as if they were just a homeowner. In fact I give you bonus points for being so forthright. BUT BEFORE YOU CLICK THE AQUITROLS WEBSITE, be advised that there seems to be a problem with authentication of the certification as a secure site. Here is another link that seems to go there.

Colleen says, Over time and for a variety of reasons, soils can develop waxy coatings on the soil particles that make it water repellent.

Waxy is a good way to describe it. One or more of those reasons is bacterial and fungal activity. Byproducts of these critters can be a slime that, when it dries, becomes very hydrophobic. Get enough of that and you have problems as shown in the video she linked to. Using a surfactant on soil like that will help to grow beneficial fungi which, presumably, will strip off the coating in a more natural way.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 1:41PM
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I have no problem with commercial surfactants. If you can sell them, fine. But everyone keep in mind a Surfactant is plain ole mild soap like baby shampoo. Add a little stale bear and a enzyme found in human saliva or the Yucca plant and you have a very inexpensive professional grade surfactant.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 2:55PM
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This link is very good read on the subject and may surprise you when you read surfactants or wetting agents maybe completely useless.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 7:09PM
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Lol @ texas-weed...I see you chose to link to an article that was written 28 years ago (1983). I prefer to use research data this is more current and applicable.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 8:49PM
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I need to get my eyes checked. The article was from 1993, not 1983. The researched source of information was from 1983.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 9:09PM
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@dchall_san_antonio You are quite welcome. :) I don't think manufacturers and distributors should have to hide who they are on forums - we really can be an excellent source of information. (And thanks for fixing my botched link!)

@texas-weed - Excellent reasearch. :) You are correct that surfactants are classified in the same chemistry range as "soaps" (baby shampoo included), but keep in mind that this range is quite wide. An occasional drench with a mild soap-based mix probably won't do much damage (my grandmother swore by an occasional tossing of dishwater in the flowerbed!), but many soaps are anionic which over time can deflocculate your soils. (Meaning that it will keep soil particles from naturally clumping together, which is necessary to create pore spaces for air and water to circulate correctly through the soil profile.) I did a quick check of name-brand baby shampoos and most of the "no tears" kind are listed as non-ionic (same general chem class as turf surfactants), but I would still be cautious of using on a regular basis. Test it on a small area for a while first to make sure it's working the way you want it to.

The article you cited is correct, in that a soil that is not water repellent doesn't need wetting agents. Why fix something that ain't broke? ;-) As long as a soil remains moist, it is less likely to develop water repellency issues. The problem comes when it's allowed to dry out -- in very basic terms, the water-catching organic matter on the soil particles starts to curl in on itself, and if let go too far will harden to the point that it no longer readily accepts water. If you have gotten to this point, wetting agents are the easiest fix for the problem.

The best way to tell if your soils are in need of wetting agent help is to do a Water Droplet Penetration Test (WDPT). I couldn't find a simple protocol for this on the internet, but I can get one from our R&D department if you're interested. It basically involves pulling a soil core, drying it out for a couple of days, and then putting water droplets along the length of the core. How quickly the water drop absorbs into the soil (or if it does at all) will help you determine the level of water repellency, as well as how deep into your profile it goes. (Most often it's just within a 1/2 inch of the surface.) Knowing how severe and how deep the water repellency is (if present) will help you determine the best product for your needs. If you have the patience, pulling and testing cores from several areas across your turf will tell you if you have a localized problem that only requires spot treatment, or if it's an issue that needs area-wide treatment. (Just remember to label where each core was pulled from!)

Thanks for allowing me to participate in the discussion, and please let me know if I can help with any additional information!

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 10:12PM
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Lol @ texas-weed...I see you chose to link to an article that was written 28 years ago (1983). I prefer to use research data this is more current and applicable.

It is a Mature Science like a firearm. Example Remington Model 870 Shotgun was the best shot gun made in 1950. Today it is still considered the best. It is used worldwide by hunters, sport shooters, self defense, and military.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 11:32PM
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Are these the same materials recommended to help break up heavy clay soils along with the addition of organic material?

    Bookmark   June 26, 2011 at 11:47PM
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texas-weed: My knowledge of a soil surfactant and its relationship to a soil matrix serves me well when I need to address an issue of soil hydrophobicity and any possible related condition, such as superficial fairy ring. I can assure you that plain ole soap ain't gonna solve the surface tension problem like the soil surfactant I choose to use. If someone chooses to use soap or baby shampoo and it resolves their issue, then that is a positive result for them.

The outdated article to which you linked contained some general information about wetting agents, but it did not provide any significant argument to support the claim that surfactants and wetting agents are completely useless. I will be glad to provide selected statements from that same article to support my point of view.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 12:41AM
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Nearandwest you are missing the point I was trying to make. Wetting agents only work in water repellent soils and not a cure all. The last or Conclusion titled: Deciding When to Use a Wetting Agent is the point I was making. The actual wetting agent is irrelevant.

Sometimes advertisements for wetting agents and the labels on these products claim or imply that they are universally effective under all soil conditions. These claims are misleading. Tests in which wetting agents have been applied to normal, wettable soils have failed to substantiate claims that these products will increase water infiltration, plant population, nutrient uptake, and crop yield. They are effective only on soils that are at least somewhat water repellent.

Several methods can be used to determine the extent to which a soil is water repellent. The most precise methods require laboratory facilities, but several tests can be conducted in the field. The one most useful for preliminary tests is simply to place a drop of water on the soil surface and observe how long it takes to penetrate the soil. On a wettable soil, the water drop will flatten and move into the soil within a few seconds. On more water-repellent soils, the drop of water will stand more upright and will move more slowly into the soil.

As mentioned earlier, water infiltrates more slowly into fine-textured soils than into most coarse-textured soils. Poor tillage practices can also reduce infiltration rates. Before spending money on a wetting agent, be sure that slow infiltration is being caused by water repellency, not some other factor. Wetting agents will improve infiltration rates only in soils that have water-repellent properties, regardless of their texture, tilth, and aggregation.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 1:24PM
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Yes, I missed the point you were trying to make, because your comment about surfactants and wetting agents being useless was very misleading to me. I know for sure that was not your intent. However, I think you also missed the point that was being made by the author.

Oh, and by the way, your statement "Wetting agents only work in water repellent soils" is not a true statement. Do you know why it is not true?

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 3:51PM
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Ok, I need to end my contribution to this thread. The reason that the statement is not true is as follows:

When wetting agents are applied to a soil as part of a regular program prior to the onset of a hydrophobic condition, the soil never becomes water repellent. Therefore, wetting agents can work in soils other than those which are water repellent by preventing the water repellent condition from occuring in the first place.

Ok, I'm done with this discussion. Weed, I apologize if I offended or irritated. That was not my intent. I think some of the comments just pegged my meter :).

Have a nice day.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 1:27PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

nearandwest, if you come back, what are the ingredients in the products you mentioned?

    Bookmark   June 29, 2011 at 8:17PM
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