Hydrogel instead of frequent watering - my experience of using
My first acquaintance with hydrogel took place a very long time ago. Back in the nineties, my husband brought funny colorful balls from Japan, which greatly increased in size if they were filled with water. They were supposed to put bouquets or use for some other decorative purposes. Of course, at first it was funny, and then I played enough and abandoned them, I don’t even remember where I went. But I recently returned to using hydrogel. I will tell about my experience in this article.
Why did I need a hydrogel?
Literally at the beginning of this year, I needed a tool in order to reduce the amount of watering containers with plants on the terrace.
I must say that the beautiful composition of plants in planters is my main hobby this season. But such a pot garden requires a lot of care. And most importantly, daily (or even several times a day) watering. Especially in the heat that was at the beginning of summer.
It is far from always possible to water several times a day. Earlier, to preserve moisture in the soil, I used expanded clay, perlite, or vermiculite, which also made the task much easier. But still, this was clearly not enough.
And then, just in time, I caught sight of the hydrogel in the store, and I decided to try using it for my cache-pots.
I really liked it. Earth mixed with hydrogel became like fluff. Plants perfectly grew in it and did not require such frequent watering. In some cases, watering has been reduced by almost half.
In addition, the hydrogel absorbs nutrients from fertilizers and gradually and evenly gives them to plants along with water. So the hydrogel also successfully solves the problem of frequent top dressing, which inevitably arises due to the constant leaching of nutrients during frequent watering.
I also tried to germinate the seeds using a hydrogel, which also worked perfectly. Especially if the seeds are large, which germinate for a long time and require vigilant control - so as not to dry out or, conversely, not to grow moldy. With hydrogel all these problems disappeared.
Planting seedlings is a pleasure: with a teaspoon we take a piece of hydrogel along with the root and place it in a new place.
Also, the hydrogel is very convenient for grafting, you can mix drugs that help rooting, and forget about the constant monitoring of the moisture content of the substrate.
What is a hydrogel?
According to the manufacturers, the hydrogel is able to absorb from 100 to 400 g of water per 1 g of granules. The exact amount depends on the amount of salts dissolved in the water. When mixed with soil, it gradually gives up moisture and nutrients dissolved in it to plants.
The hydrogel itself is sterile, that is, it requires the mandatory use of mineral fertilizers when growing seedlings in it.
The hydrogel is available in the form of powder or granules of various sizes. If the granules are too large for your purposes, you can always grind them by hand. I tried two different types of hydrogels from different manufacturers with different granule sizes: one, like sugar, and the other, like coarse salt. As a result, the swollen large granules had to be crushed a little.
Ways to use a hydrogel
Ways to use for indoor plants or plants in flower pots:
- Pour the hydrogel granules with water and wait 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size of the granules). Then drain and mix the hydrogel with the soil in a ratio of 1 to 5.
- If you need to provide plants with moisture for the duration of the vacation, make a few holes in the pot around the root and fill them with a quarter or half teaspoon of dry granules, and then water the plant abundantly. This method will forget about watering for 2-3 weeks.
Hydrogel can also be used in soil, for example, when laying lawns or flower beds. In this case, a dry hydrogel is introduced into the soil to a depth of 5-10 cm.
Impressed by the results of using a hydrogel in a pot, when growing seedlings and cuttings, I decided to try it in the open ground when arranging a new flowerbed.
But she made a mistake, introduced a hydrogel under a layer of peat soil, not taking into account that he himself is quite light. As a result, part of the granules appeared on the surface; they had to be additionally repaired for plants during planting.
Hydrogel looked like a panacea for dry shade, where I was going to use it. The plot is on our hill, immediately after the plot there is a deep ravine, groundwater is very deep. The garden is old, overgrown, so there are many problem areas with dry shade and partial shade.
We have a little water, you don’t get enough, the garden is large. The soil is heavy clay, although improved over the years, but not everywhere. There are areas on which sand, humus and other organics were practically not introduced.
With such a large slope, the day after the most severe rains the earth becomes like a stone. I thought that a hydrogel could be a salvation for such a soil. And so it happened. At first glance, everything is fine. Earth is just fluff, plants like it, take root right away. The hydrogel absorbs excess water during rain, and then gradually gives it to plants.
But I still have a few questions that are not answered yet.
The disadvantages of hydrogel - an open question
First question: how will a hydrogel behave in winter in open ground? Will it harm the plants?
And the second question is, is it really so safe?
Manufacturers claim that the hydrogel can last 3-5 years, after which it completely decomposes in the soil. And most importantly, it is absolutely harmless, because it is a spatially cross-linked gel of polyacryamide and potassium polyacrylate, which completely decomposes within 3-5 years into water, carbon dioxide and ammonia.
But Linda Chalker-Scott, an associate professor at the University of Washington’s Horticulture Department, claims that decomposition of the hydrogel produces potassium acrylate and acrylamide, which is a deadly neurotoxin and carcinogen. It is dangerous in contact with skin and inhalation, experiments were conducted on laboratory mice.
On the other hand, polyacrylamide is widely used in many industries, sugar processing and water treatment. But acrylamide still decomposes, however, quite slowly. And the testimony of Professor L. Chalker-Scott is so far the only one. All other sources (there are also few of them) claiming the toxicity of the hydrogel only quote it.
I am not a specialist in chemistry, so the question of using a hydrogel, for example, in a garden, or safety for the environment (including people, insects, fish, birds and mammals) while washing off the products of its decay with water is still open to me. I would like to receive an answer to it from an independent laboratory ...
What do you think of hydrogel, dear readers? We will be glad if you write about this in the comments to the article.