Does higher pressure increase spray penetration?

A very common question we hear at sprayer demonstrations is:

I want to drive the spray deeper into the canopy – does higher pressure help?

Well, here’s the classic government answer:

…yes and no.

It depends on two things. First, the size of the droplet and second, your tolerance for drift (ours is almost zero, BTW). The following video explains how Fine droplets behave very differently than Coarse droplets. It’s always nice to get outside and toss a few balls around:

Well, that last statement in the video isn’t strictly correct…

It’s true that changes in pressure have greater impact on the momentum of Coarser droplets, but there is some small impact on Finer droplets, too. Sufficiently high pressure makes for a Finer spray quality and Finer sprays have been shown to penetrate dense canopies more effectively. We have seen improved canopy penetration in ginseng, field peppers and matted-row strawberry using Finer spray under higher pressure. If pressure is high enough, it will impart additional momentum to even Fine spray droplets over a short distance, but it’s a case of diminishing return. That is, it takes a lot of pressure to do it and relatively speaking they only got a bit faster/further. In our work, we used pressures between 90 and 300 psi. Excepting hollow cones, that’s generally on the upper end, or beyond a nozzles rated pressure range and it may even be outside the pumps capacity.

The reason we downplay pressure as a tool for improving canopy penetration is because Finer spray under high pressure causes unbelievable drift. A fraction of the spray does get deeper into canopies when you “fog it in”, but the plume of spray blowing beyond the sprayer is entirely unacceptable. Slowing down the travel speed, spraying on cool, humid, low-wind days and lowering boom height can help, but in every trial where we’ve used high pressure and Fine spray quality, we see the image below… or far worse:

Staged drift in peppers using water

Staged drift in peppers using water and high pressure combined with Fine spray quality

The compromise in canopy penetration is to use a Medium spray quality and higher water volume. Stay within the pressure range the nozzle requires to achieve that Medium spray quality. If canopy penetration is still insufficient, consider canopy management (like planting density and pruning) and explore drop-arms to direct the spray, or booms that offer an air-assist or air-deflection option (a few shown here) to entrain and carry spray into the canopy.

Don’t use higher pressure to increase canopy penetration.