The science behind wetting agents for turf

Recent advancements in the effectiveness of ICL’s wetting agents has made them an important tool for turf managers.

February 14, 2022
3 mins

ICL has been providing wetting agents to turf managers for the last two decades to resolve the problem of dry patch and to effectively distribute water through the soil and into the root zone. In recent years, advancements in the development of wetting agents have made them more effective and safer.

As water is an increasingly precious resource around the world, wetting agents now play an important role in aiding water conservation and promoting overall turf health and quality, as part of an integrated turf management program.

Amega Sciences (part of ICL) are experts in formulating specialty products and they do that by utilizing surfactant technologies. Because surfactants are surface-active it means that they affect the surfaces of liquids, solids, and gases. Surfactants are used to manipulate surfaces and that can help to achieve better adhesion of the product onto the leaf, or it could be to increase water infiltration into the soil.

Lewis Peattie (chemist), Chris Taylor (chemist), and Oliver Peerless (laboratory manager).

Why wetting agents are important for turf managers

Water management is a crucial part of growing any plant and that includes turf grass, but there are two main problems with water. First, the costs and availability of suitable irrigation water – using products in the H2Pro range will reduce the amount of irrigation water required so it can help to reduce the cost of the water used. The second problem is in the soil. Water repellency can cause things like dry spots, compaction, and disease, which all cause problems producing a consistent turf surface. Using the H2Pro range of wetting agents as part of the maintenance and fertiliser programme will help against all of those, and provide a healthy sward by distributing water evenly and then allowing drainage where it’s needed.

ICL focuses on quality products that work well. Each product in the H2Pro wetting agent range is designed specifically for a particular job and it can take years to research and develop them.

The complication of bringing a range of wetting agents to the market

A lot of time and effort goes into research. It is not an easy process, and an enormous amount of work goes into the development just for the one product. There are many different surfactant types, there are different chemistries, and they all have different effects on the surfaces they’re applied to. Because there is a blend the different chemistries, they  have to be stabilized in the formulation to make sure that it will be good for 2 years after the product has been produced.

What makes H2Pro different to other wetting agents on the market

“To start a good knowledge of the surfactants is required and tailoring the formulations to do what you want them to deliver in terms of performance. Once the surfactants are selected and stabilized, the formulas then undergo rigorous stability testing at different temperatures to ensure that they are stable around the world in different climates. Tests are undertaken on surface tension, spreadability, penetration, and wetting, among other tests and they’re all conducted in-house at Amega Sciences chemistry laboratories. Then the prototypes are checked for phytotoxicity and performance effects on the target crop in Amega Sciences biology laboratories. After the first screening tests in the biology labs, the best performers are chosen for field trials at different sites around the world. That ensures performance on different grass types, or different crops, and under different environmental conditions. We have various sites around the world either at universities or contract research sites, including the UK, the USA, and Australia.”

Each product is tested at several trial sites before it hits the market. This process normally takes around 2–3 years.

What every turf manager looking to improve their use of wetting agents should know

It’s a common misconception that all wetting agent and surfactant technologies are the same. There are a lot of wetting agents on the market, but they are not all the same. Wetting agent products are designed to do different things, so using high quality products with support in independent trial information is essential. A preventive approach using a programme with wetting agents within a fertiliser and maintenance schedule is always preferred, to ensure even soil moisture and to prevent any issues before they happen.