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Soil Moisture Constants

Earlier classification divided soil water into gravitational, capillary and hygroscopic water. The hygroscopic and capillary waters are in equilibrium with the soil under given condition. The hygroscopic coefficient and the maximum capillary capacity are the two equilibrium points when the soil contains the maximum amount of hygroscopic and capillary waters, respectively. The amount of water that a soil contains at each of these equilibrium points is known as soil moisture constant.

The soil moisture constant, therefore, represents definite soil moisture relationship and retention of soil moisture in the field. The three classes of water (gravitational, capillary and hygroscopic) are however very broad and do not represent accurately the soil - water relationships that exists under field conditions.

  1. Though the maximum capillary capacity represents the maximum amount of capillary water that a soil holds, the whole of capillary water is not available for the use of the plants.

  2. A part of it, at its lower limit approaching the hygroscopic coefficient is not utilized by the plants.

  3. Similarly a part of the capillary water at its upper limit is also not available for the use of plants.

Hence two more soil constants, viz., field capacity and wilting coefficient have been introduced to express the soil-plant-water relationships as it is found to exist under field conditions.
1. Field capacity: Assume that water is applied to the surface of a soil. With the downward movement of water all macro and micro pores are filled up. The soil is said to be saturated with respect to water and is at maximum water holding capacity or maximum retentive capacity. It is the amount of water held in the soil when all pores are filled.

Sometimes, after application of water in the soil all the gravitational water is drained away, and then the wet soil is almost uniformly moist. The amount of water held by the soil at this stage is known as the field capacity or normal moisture capacity of that soil. It is the capacity of the soil to retain water against the downward pull of the force of gravity. At this stage only micropores or capillary pores are filled with water and plants absorb water for their use. At field capacity water is held with a force of 1/3 atmosphere. Water at field capacity is readily available to plants and microorganism

2. Wilting coefficient: As the moisture content falls, a point is reached when the water is so firmly held by the soil particles that plant roots are unable to draw it. The plant begins to wilt. At this stage even if the plant is kept in a saturated atmosphere it does not regain its turgidity and wilts unless water is applied to the soil. The stage at which this occurs is termed the Wilting point and the percentage amount of water held by the soil at this stage is known as the Wilting Coefficient. It represents the point at which the soil is unable to supply water to the plant. Water at wilting coefficient is held with a force of 15 atmospheres.

3. Hygroscopic coefficient: The hygroscopic coefficient is the maximum amount of hygroscopic water absorbed by 100 g of dry soil under standard conditions of humidity (50% relative humidity) and temperature (15°C). This tension is equal to a force of 31 atmospheres. Water at this tension is not available to plant but may be available to certain bacteria.

4. Available water capacity: The amount of water required to apply to a soil at the wilting point to reach the field capacity is called the "available" water. The water supplying power of soils is related to the amount of available water a soil can hold. The available water is the difference in the amount of water at field capacity (- 0.3 bar) and the amount of water at the permanent wilting point (- 15 bars).

5. Maximum water holding capacity: It is also known as maximum retentive capacity. It is the amount of moisture in a soil when its pore spaces both micro and macro capillary are completely filled with water. It is a rough measure of total pore space of soil. Soil moisture tension is very low between 1/100th to 1/1000th of an atmosphere or pF 1 to 0.

6. Sticky point moisture: It represents the moisture content of soil at which it no longer sticks to a foreign object. The sticky point represents the maximum moisture content at which a soil remains friable. Sticky point moisture values vary nearly approximate to the moisture equivalent of soils. Summary of the soil moisture constants, type of water and force with which it held is given in following table.

Soil moisture constants and range of tension and PF

Sr. No.

Moisture class

Range of tension in atmosphere

Equivalent PF range


Chemically combined

Very High



Water vapour

Held at saturation point in the soil air




31 to 10,000

 4.50 to 7.00


Hygroscopic coefficient




Wilting point





1/3 to 31

 2.54 to 4.50


Moisture equivalent

1/3 to 1

 2.70 to 3.00


Field capacity



Current Category » Introduction to Soil Science