The Impacts of Bio-Based and Synthetic Hydrogels on Soil Hydraulic Properties: A Review

Toby A. Adjuik, Sue E. Nokes, Michael D. Montross, Ole Wendroth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Soil hydraulic properties are important for the movement and distribution of water in agricultural soils. The ability of plants to easily extract water from soil can be limited by the texture and structure of the soil, and types of soil amendments applied to the soil. Superabsorbent polymers (hydrogels) have been researched as potential soil amendments that could help improve soil hydraulic properties and make water more available to crops, especially in their critical growing stages. However, a lack of a comprehensive literature review on the impacts of hydrogels on soil hydraulic properties makes it difficult to recommend specific types of hydrogels that positively impact soil hydraulic properties. In addition, findings from previous research suggest contrasting effects of hydrogels on soil hydraulic properties. This review surveys the published literature from 2000 to 2020 and: (i) synthesizes the impacts of bio-based and synthetic hydrogels on soil hydraulic properties (i.e., water retention, soil hydraulic conductivity, soil water infiltration, and evaporation); (ii) critically discusses the link between the source of the bio-based and synthetic hydrogels and their impacts as soil amendments; and (iii) identifies potential research directions. Both synthetic and bio-based hydrogels increased water retention in soil compared to unamended soil with decreasing soil water pressure head. The application of bio-based and synthetic hydrogels both decreased saturated hydraulic conductivity, reduced infiltration, and decreased soil evaporation. Hybrid hydrogels (i.e., a blend of bio-based and synthetic backbone materials) may be needed to prolong the benefit of repeated water absorption in soil for the duration of the crop growing season.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4721
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • cellulose-based
  • evaporation
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • infiltration
  • literature review
  • natural
  • soil water retention
  • starch-based
  • super absorbent polymers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics


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