Definition - What does Hydrogel mean?
Hydrogels are usually made from synthetic materials and can absorb hundreds of times their own weight in water. There are many industrial applications for hydrogels, including horticulture, specifically when it comes to improving a grow medium's water-retention abilities.
In horticulture, the water absorbed by the hydrogel is slowly released into the surrounding soil or soilless grow medium, helping to limit the need for watering and cutting water usage.
Hydrogels should not be considered a grow medium or amendment, rather, they are an inert substance used primarily to improve irrigation schedules. They can be used in hydroponic systems, but are more commonly used in soil gardens.
MaximumYield explains Hydrogel
Plants need water to survive, but that can be a challenge in arid areas of the country, as well as for those hoping to cut their water usage needs but still wanting to grow healthy plants. Hydrogels offer a way around these problems.
Hydrogels are made from synthetic materials, usually superabsorbent polymers like polyacrylamide, and are capable of absorbing significant amounts of water and even nutrients. Once absorbed, water and nutrients are then slowly released back into the environment, keeping plants watered and fed even if the gardener is unable to water regularly. This reduces water usage, but also helps reduce overall gardening maintenance.
Gardeners can purchase hydrogels through many online resources, including sites like Amazon, and through specialty garden retailers and manufacturer websites. Numerous name brands have cropped up over the years, including Terra-Sorb and HydroSource.
Using hydrogels in your gardening efforts is actually relatively simple. In general in-ground garden applications, you should mix one ounce of hydrogels per cubic foot of soil. If adding around trees, you’ll need to apply up to two pounds per cubic yard of soil. For potted plants and container gardens, you’ll need .5 teaspoons per quart of soil.
Note that these application instructions are general in nature, and specific products may have different application requirements. Always read your packaging to ensure accurate application. Also note that salt content in water will reduce hydrogels’ ability to absorb the water, but this again varies from product to product so read the instructions on the package carefully.