So-called biostimulants have gained increasing attention in recent years for their apparent ability to increase turf's resistance to stresses, including drought stress. One effect of drought stress is an increase in oxidation inside plant tissue. It's thought that plants resist the destructive effects of oxidation with naturally occuring antioxidants. Biostimulants may help boost their activity, thereby protecting plants.

Biostimulants typically consist of mixtures of complex organic compounds, but there may be a simpler alternative. Researchers Yiwei Jiang of Kansas State University and Bingru Huang of Rutgers University studied the effects of calcium on drought-stressed plants and found that calcium provided protective effects that may relate to antioxidant activity.

Using tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, the researchers treated (with foliar spray) some plants with calcium chloride and others with plain water. The plants were then subjected to drought stress and compared to others that were supplied with ample water throughout the study.

Consistently, the calcium-treated plants showed greater tolerance to drought than plants that only received the foliar water spray, as manifested by better overall quality, higher tissue water content and higher chlorophyll content.

A potential explanation for this might be that calcium directly affects osmotic (water) potential inside leaf tissue. However, the investigators looked at this and found no such effects. Rather, they found that it was increases in antioxidant activity that protected the plants against drought. One specific result of this was a more intact cell membrane, which enables the plant cells to retain tissue water more effectively.

Could calcium sprays become a practical method of protecting against drought? The potential seems to exist.

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