The Q&A Archives: Proper Use Of Capillary Mat And Water

Question: I have not seen this question addressed anywhere I've searched. I will be using capillary mats for my seed starting this month. I have designed a system where my seeds will sit on a platform, above a tray filled with water. The capillary mat will be directly under my seed pots draped over the platform and hanging into the tray to draw up the water. Someone told me that I cannot leave standing water in my trays - that I have to drain the excess water out of it after I water my seedlings. I was under the impression that capillary mats were sort of like an automatic watering system and I wouldn't have to do this. Will the seedlings continually draw up water if I don't drain the excess? I don't want my pots to sit on wet material. That just sounds like trouble. So what's correct? Can I leave the excess water in the trays and let the seedlings water themselves or do I have to drain any water that's left remaining? Thank you!

Answer: Certainly it is not a good idea to leave seedling pots sitting with their bottoms submerged in water. This would cause the soil to become overly wet and soggy. With capillary matting however, the bottoms of the pots are on the mat, not submerged, and the water uptake is more controlled or limited. At least one end of the mat however needs to be soaking in water so it can wick it up. You will want to set the mat on a waterproof surface because it is damp. When using the mat, you would not be watering from the top after the initial watering to settle the transplants. Make sure you are using a well aerated, free draining soilless mix, too. You may want to experiment ahead of time with some soil-filled but unplanted pots to make sure your set-up works as expected.

If you are just looking for a way to keep seeds damp until they germinate, it is simple to use a barely damp soilless mix, plant the seeds, water lightly to settle the soil, then cover the pot with plastic wrap or a piece of glass. Leave that in place to maintain the humidity level until the seeds germinate. Once they sprout, remove the lid immediately.

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