Wetting Agent Technology
By Chris Williams
Chris Williams is a product manager for Helena Chemical Company and a former golf course superintendent. He covers the turf, ornamental, lawn care, and industrial vegetation management markets in the eastern United States, from VT to FL. Chris lives in North Myrtle Beach, SC.
In today’s public environment, water usage on turf and ornamentals is a hot button topic, to say the least. Ornamental growers, golf course managers and lawn care operators are under constant scrutiny over the consumption of water. Wetting agents and their usage have become a large part of this conversation, with chemistry varying considerably across the market. APEs, block co-polymers, reverse block polymers and the newest variation - modified methyl-capped block co-polymers - are all examples of terms used to describe these products. While the actual chemistry is important, from a water conservation standpoint, the results are the most important aspect.
These products can be classified into two categories: penetrants and holders. Of course, penetrants and holders are not technical terms, but it is a way of distinguishing the differences between these types of products. Penetrants, like Helena’s Injector®, break the surface tension of water. Holders, such as Helena’s Soaker®, aid the soil in obtaining and retaining water more efficiently. The results provide higher quality plants of all types, with less consumption of the vital resource water.
The main purpose of penetrants is to allow complete and thorough movement of water into the soil profile. The reduction of the surface tension of the water and capillary action of the soil allows both horizontal and vertical movement, resulting in a completely moisturized profile while draining the excess water away. The results often mirror that of a soil active material, due to even distribution of the water, both horizontally and vertically in the soil profile. However, the longevity of the effects are short lived. Most of the products in these categories wet the profile but only for a few days to a couple of weeks, depending on the application rate.
On the other hand, holders form varying lengths of chains or films of hydrophilic substances around the particles of sand or clay. The hydrophilic material encapsulates the soil particle or particles and attracts the water as it passes through. Each of these products affects the soil differently according to the amount of active molecules in the formulation. These types of products, on a molecular level, are different and will provide varying levels of holding capacity. Think of these chains as forming buckets or cups attached to the soil particle. The size of the buckets or cups will correlate with how much moisture is held. The residual effects of holders depends on the product, rate, soil, and surprisingly, microbial activity.
In today’s market, products are available that use both types in one mix to get the best of both worlds. For example, Soaker® Plus is a penetrant mixed with a holder, and it provides the user with a product to increase movement of water and holding capacity in the soil. Typically the application results in a well-drained, well-hydrated soil for an extended period of time. Of course, results have varied with different rates and products on different soil types, until the creation of methyl-capped technology.
Methyl-capped technologies are proving to be game changing. Methyl-capped polymers, the same technology in Aristocracy®, provides water penetration and holding without combining two chemistries. Like previously discussed, penetrants like Injector are short lived, and the penetrating benefits may be long gone before the increased water holding benefits. The newer methyl-capped technology, found in Aristocracy, alleviates this issue. The same molecule accomplishing the holding is also accomplishing the penetration. Along with providing the beneficial aspects of both penetrating and holding, other benefits include firming the surface, reducing moisture pockets (which can act as fungal breeding grounds) and decreasing the incidence of algae formation in the canopy of finely grown turf. The effects of an Aristocracy application are more consistent as well, and the strong bonding capability of the methyl capping provides peace of mind to the consumer.
Water usage in the turf and ornamental world will continue to be a major source of contention for the foreseeable future. As managers of these areas, it is important to steward over this resource as best as possible. Wetting agents lend a valuable tool to show concern and care for the environment we are entrusted to foster. The large number of choices in wetting agent products available in today’s market leads to confusion as to what is best for a manager’s plants, soil, water and budget. Technologies are growing at rapid rates in all aspects of the industry, and introducing new products can open a whole new world. Trialing these materials in growing systems is the only way to know what is best for an operation.