If you’re getting married, you need a wedding agent. That’s different. Here, we talk about wetting agents, or surfactants. These are compounds that are designed to help water penetrate the soil more thoroughly.
Some wetting agents are made from corn cob granules that have been impregnated (after the wedding, of course) with detergents and an acid to break down the corn, slowly releasing the surfactant over time.
Wetting agents are available in liquid and granular form, can be expensive, and need to be applied regularly. They are applied to the lawn and then watered in.
Why would detergent make a difference? It’s because of the nature of water. Water has a skin that carries a positive charge (just like newlyweds) that repels other positive things, like soil. If the water is hard, it has more positive charge. Soft water has much less positive charge, but it contains sodium, which is a salt.
We use detergent in our homes every day to break the surface tension to clean things, like our hands. The water gets “small” and can penetrate the smallest cracks, and even mix with oils and float them away.
When soil gets wet, how wet is it? That all depends on the surface tension and the pore size. If the soil has lots of tiny air spaces – spaces the water can’t wet, the soil can’t hold on to what it never had. Using a detergent allows the water to penetrate the smallest air spaces; those that would otherwise never get wet.
You’ve seen what happens to water on a duck’s back, haven’t you? Now that’s runoff! When you see water that acts like that on your lawn, your lawn might be hydrophobic (unable to absorb water efficiently to some degree).
You can make your own wetting agent using the same soap you use on your sponge, your hands and dishes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lux, Ajax, Dove or Palmolive (your lawn is soaking in it); you can use it as a wetting agent.
Some people say to avoid “antibacterial” types of detergents because they destroy some good bacteria that eat thatch. However, all detergents are antibacterial in many ways because soaps and detergents kill bacteria.
Homemade Wetting Agent Recipe:
Use this ratio: 1 cup detergent (NOT laundry detergent!) mixed in 3 cups of water per 1000 square feet’ (roughly the size of two 2-car garages). Put the water in a bucket, then stir in the detergent. Apply the mixture to your lawns using a hose jar sprayer (set on high) or a watering can like Mary Contrary had. Then water it in.
You’ll be amazed at how much better the water soaks in before running off. Remember, this won’t make the soil softer (that’s what aerating does); it will make your water go farther.
Another Option: Moisture Manager is a hygroscopic humectant (it attracts water) and is an excellent way to reduce overall landscape water use. When applied to turf or landscape areas and watered into the root zone, this product will allow plants to more effectively utilize any water they receive through rainfall and irrigation.
When water is applied to the soil, it has one of three fates. Firstly, it can be pulled down by gravity deeper into the soil and eventually added to the ground water. Secondly, it may evaporate and escape the soil back into the atmosphere above the soil. Finally and most favorably, it can be used by the plant.
Moisture Manager effectively minimizes the loss of soil water to evaporation by condensing the escaping water vapor back into liquid form for the plant to use. In fact, Moisture Manager has been documented to reduce overall water use by as much as 50 percent.
Moisture Manager is effective, inexpensive, lasts three months and will make a huge difference in the amount of water you use.
NOTE: Be sure to also have your lawn aerated. Lawn aeration is even more important than wetting agents because having your lawn aerated is the only way to ease soil compaction.
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