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Bottom-Watering Seedling Trays with Cotton Flannel Prevents Water-Logging

By RickCorey
January 14, 2014

You can bottom-water seedlings right in their tray if you put a fuzzy capillary mat between the pots and the water-holding tray under them. Add only a little water at a time, and the mat will carry that water in equal amounts to every pot or cell.

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Name: Peter
(Zone 9a)
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Cantillon
Jan 14, 2014 11:37 AM CST
You know I have trays, pots, capillary matting , plants and water, and I never thought of combining them like this. I am glad to learn this and embarrassed at the same time.

I feel like I have been making hexagonal wheels for my wagon and Rick Corey has wheeled in a round one.

Have an acorn, great job.

Acorn

I tip my hat to you.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 14, 2014 12:42 PM CST
Thank you, thank you!

The basic idea came from Al / Tapla of "pine bark gritty mix" fame. He talked about wicks even though he thinks they usually just make up for the drawbacks of poor container mixes.

Since i used to ALWAYS overwater seedling trays, I knew that I needed something to pull excess water down and out of the tiny cells. My fi4st try was some synthetic "batting". The loft and fuzziness was good - it made good contact with soilless mix through small holes in the bottoms of inserts.

But batting was very bad in terms of getting dirty and falling apart into fragments in a few weeks or a month of use.

Cotton flannel turned out to work well. Amazingly, it even seems able to reach through thin "burned" slits in "1206" cheap 72-cell trays (twelve tear-able six-packs with skinny drainage slits).

At first I was only using it to cure overwatering: I would top-water to excess as usual, and water would then be pulled out into the mat. Mission accomplished.

I kept seeing ads for cap mats used to distribute water to all the pots on a bench. And I could see that the water from some over-watered cells was being distributed by the flannel to the under-watered cells.

Eventually that combination of simple things that I already knew penetrated into my brain and became an actual thought.

I realized that I was already bottom-watering the "dry" cells without carrying flimsy trays hither and yon, and without getting my bathtub drain clogged with perlite, grit, bark and peat..

So I cut one 72-cell out of one corner, and began bottom-watering instead of top-watering. That worked, too. And the soil surface stayed even drier than my coarse bark mix was already achieving.

I can't take any credit for smarts, here. It was more like discovering that a silly work-around for the bad habit of over-watering had a side benefit ... bottom-watering and water-sharing by default.

But I will definitely and proudly keep the acorns and thumbs!

P.S. I'm still looking for material for home-made capillary mats that never rots, lasts forever, has lots of loft and water-holding capacity, can be washed and is as cheap as possible. Maybe something with microfibers and other synthetic materials. I'll be testing some kinds of felt (when I get around to it, one of these years!) Any ideas would be very welcome, or sources of commercial cap mats that are cheap.


and fat wicks
[Last edited by RickCorey - Jan 14, 2014 12:46 PM (+)]
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Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Jan 14, 2014 5:32 PM CST
You can now buy the Sham-Wow at some dollar stores...for a dollar.
They are easy to launder and last a long time.
I can send you a couple so you can experiment.
Sunset Zone 28, AHS Heat Zone 9, USDA zone 8b~~"Leaf of Faith"
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Vegetable Grower
Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Charter ATP Member
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RickCorey
Jan 14, 2014 6:17 PM CST
No thanks, I still have to test the fabrics you already sent.

Hmm, a 1020 tray is around 1.7 square feet. One fifth of a square yard. I'm hoping for something really cheap, but the sham-Wow might be like a commercial capillary mat: a sure-thing fall-back if I can't find other solutinos.

The idea that used clothing and sheets are cheaper than new fabric sounded promising.
I wonder about used towels (terrycloth)? But they're probably cotton, which i already know will rot.

Hey! Maybe bottom-watering with 0.1% hydrogen peroxide would prevent the cap mat from rotting!

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