Plant leaf surface and pesticide effectiveness
By Candace Pollock
By Candace Pollock
March 1, 2010 – Whether in the
green industry, turfgrass profession or agriculture, those
who think that pesticide applications work the same on all target
March 1, 2010 – Whether in the green industry, turfgrass profession or agriculture, those
who think that pesticide applications work the same on all target surfaces …
Ohio State University researchers have found that the surface makeup of a
plant’s leaves – hairy or waxy or varying degrees of both – plays a huge role
in the effectiveness of liquid applications.
“The ultimate goal is to get the most out of pesticides, to get the
biggest bang for your buck – achieving maximum efficiency while promoting
environmental sustainability,” said Erdal Ozkan, an Ohio State University
Extension agricultural engineer. “One way of doing that is make sure that the
droplets hit the target, remain on the target and the pesticide active
ingredients in droplets are taken up by the target.”
How that product is deposited is just as important as how much is being
deposited, and knowing what kind of plant surface a grower is dealing with can
Ozkan and his colleagues at the U.S. Department of
Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service Application Technology Research Unit
at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Centre in Wooster studied the
impact of liquid pesticide applications on waxy and hairy geranium leaves and
found that hairy leaves captured and retained the droplets more effectively
than waxy leaves. In addition, droplets deposited on hairy leaves covered more
surface area as they evaporated and spread over the leaf more quickly,
increasing plant uptake of the pesticide by 50 per cent.
“Foliar uptake efficiency is affected by chemistry of the product
applied, target surface characteristics, droplet size, evaporation time, and
how much the surface area is wetted,” said Ozkan, who also holds an OARDC
appointment. “Our objective was to investigate those parameters.”
Ozkan said that the “hairy” characteristic of the plant leaf is more
effective than a smooth or waxy leaf because the hairs protect the droplets from
rebounding and drifting and allows the droplets to spread out over a larger
“Hairy leaves are hydrophilic (water-loving) and so evaporation times are
short,” said Ozkan. “Waxy leaves are hydrophobic (water-hating) and so
evaporation times are much longer for those droplets that do manage to remain
on the leaf.”
In addition, researchers found that by adding a surfactant (a wetting
agent that lowers the surface tension of a liquid) to the pesticide application
mix, droplets cling better and are taken up by the plant much more readily.
“Adding a surfactant reduces the contact angle the droplet has with the
leaf, making the droplet more stable and less likely to roll off,” said Ozkan.
“We found that in medium-sized droplets, the surfactant helped increase the
contact area with the leaf by a faction of two for waxy leaves and a faction of
four for hairy leaves.”
Ozkan said that the findings are useful for chemical companies who can
recommend specific pesticide dosage and application methods when target
surfaces are known to achieve maximum product benefit.
“Companies can invest into making more detailed descriptions of how a
product will work for different types of surfaces,” said Ozkan. “By doing so,
you could be saving the grower money on pesticide application costs.”
For example, said Ozkan, a farmer may only need to apply half of the
application on surfaces with hydrophilic characteristics.
The research, funded by the USDA-ARS, helps to deepen the understanding
of how droplets behave when they impact plant surfaces. But not all mysteries
have been solved. Ozkan said that the droplet sitting on the middle of a leaf
surface behaves differently than those resting along leaf veins or leaf stems,
and researchers are still trying to figure out why.
Other researchers involved in the project include USDA-ARS researcher
Heping Zhu; and two former Chinese visiting scientists at Ohio State
University: Yang Yu, from Yunnan Agricultural University in Kunming City, and
Linyun Xu from Nanjing Forestry University in Nanjing City.
Candace Pollock is a communications specialist with Ohio State