With most of us across the State of Michigan running a 2” surplus of rainfall entering May 2023, not many of us would have imagined the droughty conditions across the state the past 6-8 weeks. With many of us receiving plenty of rainfall this week, we finally have a minute to catch our breath and refocus on how we plan to make it through the remaining “drier months of summer”.
For many, pump systems are already in an exhausted state and while ponds have been refilled this week, it is a great time to re-evaluate best practices and plan for the future. In addition, though we’ve seen plenty of rainfall, hydrophobic conditions have been in place for several weeks and will take several soaking rains in most cases to recover.
So what are hydrophobic conditions? As simple as it sounds, these are soils that have lost their ability for water to stick to them, typically due to a waxy buildup around the soil particles, causing them to repel water. This can happen during prolonged droughts as soils continue to dry or even in situations where irrigation systems miss cycle after cycle. It is important to remember that irrigation systems are a helpful tool to supplement moisture to plants, but rarely are perfect in coverage at all times. Many factors can affect your irrigation, so it is important to check the usual culprits first, before taking further actions. Low heads, improper system pressure, line breaks, wind, and shade all affect irrigation efficiency.
Once you’ve evaluated your system for inefficiencies, it’s time to consider the other options that can take pressure off of your irrigation system. Wetting agents and soil penetrants are by no means ‘New Technology’, but in many cases have been looked upon as either too cost inefficient or too confusing to utilize. So I’ll do my best to simplify. Most wetting agents options fall into two categories as separated by their manufacturers - hydration that helps hold moisture in the soil, and infiltration which helps to push water into the soil. While both options can be useful at different times, it is important to understand that many products are built as a blend of both hydration and infiltration.
Hydration products are often thought of during periods of drought, however infiltration products also provide many benefits, at typically more cost efficient levels for large acreages. With heavy soils that have completely dried out over the last month, it may be more efficient to use an infiltration product to help push moisture back into the soil profile, rather than locking it only at the surface. If the pattern becomes much wetter than typical Michigan summers, Infiltration options can help to remove water from the surface, lowering disease pressure and improving footing for athletes. On the flip side, coarse sandy soils that have naturally high percolation rates may be better off during drought to use a product more geared toward hydration, as this will improve the moisture retention in the top 2” of the soil.
As you navigate the decision of which product may be best for your situation, don’t forget that these products also have many uses outside of full field applications. Many of these products can be used in spot applications, especially around sportsfields. In soccer goal mouths, to push water through compacted soils, infiltration product may be an option to limit further compaction if aeration is not immediately possible. On the flip side, many folks building a divot mix would benefit from adding in a granular wetting agent like Precip G (90% Hydration) in order to keep moisture near seed in their mix. InFlow Wetting Agent has been built specifically for baseball and softball fields as a granular applied product. This product helps to push water into the infield (65% Infiltration), while also improving the ability to hold water in the top 2” (35% Hydration) and has 100% grass safety for surrounding areas.
While many think of wetting agents as liquid applied options only, the granular options that are on the market can offer variable timing and product stability for non-irrigated fields that need to depend on rainfall for dispersion. As you evaluate your water management program for the remainder of the season, speak with your local distributor reps to find out what products will be the best option for your soils and goals to achieve in moisture management.
Stephen Lord, CSFM
Advanced Turf Solutions
M: (214) 763-4869