Wetting Agents

Written by Courtney Salinas
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Some types of soils become resistant to water, otherwise known as hydrophobic. When these soils are watered, the water just rolls away, like water off a duck's back. A wetting agent is made to help these kinds of soils absorb water so that plant life can better live in them. Wetting agents help permeate waxy organic coatings that don't allow water to penetrate the soil, but they do not improve the condition of the soil or change the structure of the soil.

A wetting agent is like a detergent. It reduces the surface tension of water, which allows the water to wet the waxy particles that it could not wet before. The water is then free to move between the soil particles and provide water to plant roots.

Wetting agents are part of a chemical group called surfactants. Surfactants can be used not only to help soil water absorption, but are sometimes applied to help fungicides, herbicides, and fertilizers be absorbed into leaf tissue. Soil wetting agents should not be applied to plant leaves, though, because it may damage the waxy surface that protects leaves on many plants.

Being Safe with Wetting Agents

Because of their nature, wetting agents generally are not very biodegradable or they just wouldn't be effective for very long. Wetting agents can cause interference with some aquatic life, so care should be taken that the soil the wetting agent is being used on does not drain off directly into a body of water. A concentrated wetting agent can be very poisonous and should be stored appropriately.

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