Increased Water Use Efficiency with a Surfactant

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  • 1 Texas A&M Univ. - Dallas, Soil & Crop Sciences, Dallas, TX 75252
  • 2 Texas A&M Univ. - Dallas, Horticultural Sciences, Dallas, TX 75252

Soils exhibit a degree of hydrophobicity and can repel water rather than absorb it. Surfactants lower the surface tension of water which may increase its infiltration into the soil and adsorption to soil solids. The objective of this study was to determine if water treated with a surfactant would increase conserve soil moisture and decrease the amount of water needed to sustain healthy plant growth. Clay and sandy loam soils were placed in 15-cm greenhouse pots. Impatiens seedlings were transplanted into each pot. All pots were fertilized equally and the Impatiens flowers were allowed to grow for 8 weeks. Then the pots were treated with tap water or tap water mixed with a commercial surfactant at one times (1×) or two times (2×) the recommended rate. After applying the water treatments, pots received no additional water. Each pot was weighed twice per day and the plants were observed for signs of wilting. Upon initial signs of wilting, each plant was rated on a scale of 1 to 3 with 1 = no wilting, 2 = leaves starting to droop, and 3 = wilting leaves and stems. Addition of the surfactant at the 1× and 2× rates slowed the loss of water from both the sandy loam and the clay soils. The effects of the surfactant were apparent within 3 to 5 days in the sandy loam soil and 6 to 10 days in the clay soil. The benefits of reduced water loss from soil were manifested by reduced wilting in Impatiens plants in soils treated with 1× and 2× the recommended rate of surfactant. In the clay soil, use of the surfactant increased the amount of time before Impatiens plants began to wilt. It appears that adding a surfactant to irrigation water can conserve soil moisture and extend the time between water applications.

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