The Yellow Farmhouse Garden

July 6, 2012

Using a Surfactant to Save Water in the Garden

Filed under: Water,Weather — bob @ 2:00 pm

Because of the heat wave and lack of rain, I’ve had to water the garden just to keep the plants alive.

To conserve water, I’ve been syringing the plants one at a time with a watering wand.  Syringing uses much less water than spraying the entire area with an oscillating or impulse garden sprinkler.  It also helps keep the weeds down in between the plants since the soil there is so dry.

Using a water wand to syringe garden plants.

The soil in my garden is so dry it has become hydrophobic. The water,  instead of soaking into the ground, beads up on the surface  like water on a newly-waxed car hood.  So when I try to syringe a plant, instead of going down into the soil where the plant can use it, the water just runs off into the garden path. This is a common problem in many soils when they get too dry.

When my soil gets in this condition, I use a surfactant to help the water move into the soil. I keep a box of biodegradable dishwasher detergent in the garden shed just for this purpose.  About a tablespoon or so of the detergent to a couple gallons of water does the trick in my soil.

I use about this much detergent in my watering can.

I use my watering can to apply the solution right under the plants. You can see the change it makes in the soil as the water sinks right in instead of running off. This saves even more water when I syringe the plants.

It takes some time, but a watering can lets me put the solution right where I want it to go.

The surfactant won’t last all season but so far, I have had to make only one application. A couple of good rains will solve this problem.


Here’s a link to a good publication on hydrophobic soils:

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