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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: Teri
Mount Bethel, PA
Charter ATP Member Region: Pennsylvania Hibiscus Container Gardener Clematis Region: Northeast US
Annuals Echinacea Winter Sowing Seed Starter Lilies I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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Roses_R_Red
Jan 14, 2014 1:44 PM CST
If I had known this before, I might have considered sowing under lights again. I need to leave home so often this winter that I know my DH does not have the patience to drip water into every little cell. Last year, half were dry and half were drowned. What a great idea. Thank you, Rick

PS....I'm printing this out and copying and pasting it into my gardening computer folder.
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 4:11 PM CST
Thank you! High praise indeed.

>> my DH does not have the patience to drip water into every little cell.

It was super-easy to "water the mat, and the mat will water the cells".

I would test it for a week or two before leaving it to a non-gardener.

You could even leave one central cell empty of mix, so he can pour a measured amount of water right into that cell. You could measure how much water is needed to bring a dry mat or mostly-dry-mat up to water-logged or very slightly awash.

I think the key thing is that every cell has to have a drain hole where the mix can TOUCH the fuzzy mat.

It did WORK for me using the skinny-slit that was "burned" or melted into the cheap 72-cell inserts, but I didn't trust it as much as I trusted plug trays that had big honking HOLES. If I was watering Dixie and Solo cups this way I would drill 1-2 1/4" holes on the bottom.

(Maybe add a few small slits or small holes on the side, for letting air exchange without having to diffuse through a damp cap mat. I did not do that either of my first two years starting seeds this way, and they seemed OK. Perhaps because I have such a coarse mix that air can diffuse all the way down from the surface. But next I plan to try some very deep 50-cell plug trays, and maybe a mix that does not drain QUITE so fast, Maybe a deep cell with a fine mix will benefit from air holes on the sides.)

I do think that almost any mix with any peat will wick well enough, since I had a very coarse mix that wasn't very water-absorbent (lots of small bark nuggets).
Name: Teri
Mount Bethel, PA
Charter ATP Member Region: Pennsylvania Hibiscus Container Gardener Clematis Region: Northeast US
Annuals Echinacea Winter Sowing Seed Starter Lilies I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
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Roses_R_Red
Jan 15, 2014 8:10 AM CST
Really great advice. I'll print that post out also!!
Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
Charter ATP Member Garden Procrastinator Greenhouse Dragonflies Plays in the sandbox I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
The WITWIT Badge I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Dog Lover Enjoys or suffers cold winters Container Gardener Seed Starter
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woofie
Jan 15, 2014 9:56 AM CST
And, oh, duh! I never thought of just leaving one cell empty to water through! Rick, you are a genius!
Confidence is that feeling you have right before you do something really stupid.
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 15, 2014 12:16 PM CST
*Blush*

Thank you!

>> leaving one cell empty

It really does help to be able to see the mat clearly. If you can see it between the rim and tray edge, and between two cells, that's fine. Or if you cut your insert or plug trays so that you can lift just one row and see the mat, that's good.

If you can see or touch the mat, you can tell right away how dry the soil in the bottoms of cells is (are?) because the mat and the bottoms of the cells or pots will be almost equally dry. That helps me avoid over-watering, since I have no excuse as long as the mat is wet or even damp.
Name: Teri
Mount Bethel, PA
Charter ATP Member Region: Pennsylvania Hibiscus Container Gardener Clematis Region: Northeast US
Annuals Echinacea Winter Sowing Seed Starter Lilies I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Image
Roses_R_Red
Jan 15, 2014 3:26 PM CST
I posted this thread everywhere that I could think of!
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
Image
RickCorey
Jan 15, 2014 6:04 PM CST
Wow, thank you! I hope it does attract new members.

If I had known, I would looked for some attractive male and female models to point at the rims of the inserts and the turkey baster!
Name: woofie
NE WA (Zone 5a)
Charter ATP Member Garden Procrastinator Greenhouse Dragonflies Plays in the sandbox I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
The WITWIT Badge I helped plan and beta test the plant database. Dog Lover Enjoys or suffers cold winters Container Gardener Seed Starter
Image
woofie
Jan 15, 2014 8:35 PM CST
Well, I understand that you can now go back in and edit articles. I could provide a couple of very attractive models, with very pointed noses, but they'd probably run off with the turkey baster. Hilarious!
Confidence is that feeling you have right before you do something really stupid.
Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cut Flowers Winter Sowing Charter ATP Member Seed Starter
Echinacea Plant and/or Seed Trader Region: Ohio Region: United States of America Butterflies Hummingbirder
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kqcrna
Jan 16, 2014 6:08 AM CST
Hilarious!

I use this method with varying success. Some random thoughts:
Humidity trays help to keep a reservoir of water in the bottom of the tray. It allows them to suck up water as well as raising the humidity around the plant. For more water, use screw on lids from pop or water bottles, or milk jugs, to elevate the grid. Drape the capillary matting over the humidity grid and let one end hang into the water.
Humidity grids http://indoorgardensupplies.com/product/humidity-grids/humid...

Flower pots and cells with small drain holes will have a harder time trying to get water. Open bottom cells work the best. Pick up plants occasionally as roots will easily penetrate the fabric and become an entangled mess.
Current favorites for this method are my APS system (bought as the whole system). I have begonias germinating in them now
http://www.gardeners.com/APS-12/32-575,default,pd.html?start...

Even better for larger seedlings, still open bottom
http://www.gardeners.com/Seedstarting-Trays/35-696RS,default...

Sharp draining potting mixes which have high perlite content don't suck up water or moisture as well. Ditto larger pots.

Karen
Name: Peter
(Zone 9a)
The only scarce resource is time
Dahlias Dog Lover Bee Lover Cottage Gardener Roses Bulbs
Seed Starter Lilies Hybridizer Garden Ideas: Level 2
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Cantillon
Jan 16, 2014 1:23 PM CST
I mix vermiculite into the potting mix, with the added grit and that provides a little more water retention.
Name: Karen
Cincinnati, Oh (Zone 6a)
Forum moderator I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Cut Flowers Winter Sowing Charter ATP Member Seed Starter
Echinacea Plant and/or Seed Trader Region: Ohio Region: United States of America Butterflies Hummingbirder
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kqcrna
Jan 16, 2014 1:34 PM CST
Yes, that does help.

Karen
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
Image
RickCorey
Jan 16, 2014 7:18 PM CST
>> Sharp draining potting mixes which have high perlite content don't suck up water or moisture as well. Ditto larger pots.

I agree.

I love the looks of that "humidity grid", and if they were 6-10 times cheaper I would say "problem solved". I think that MY problem is that I'm too cheap to ever be satisfied until every material comes from Goodwill or a dumpster.

I guess also, I don't travel much, and don't have any real, practical need for a reservoir. I need to discipline myself to NOT wtaer twice a day. Building a setup that meant I didn;t need to water for 4-8 days would actually frustrate the heck out of me and drive me crazy!

On the other hand, I am thinking about growing tomatoes and peas, maybe beans, in 3-5 gallon pots. If those are well aerated, they probably will not retain a whole day of water for big, fast-growing vegetables.

Hence I've been thinking "Earth Pots" ... like a water-and-air reservoir in the bottom of each bucket.

The container mix I'm thinking of would be gritty or chunky, in order to stay very well aerated. If that had insufficient WICKING as well as insufficient water retention, I might build lay some wicks between the bucket and the soilless mix. But I don't want them to rot. So I'll be experimenting with materials like nylon (polyamide) and synthetic felt, fleece or thick yarn (Polyester? Microfiber? Polypropylene? Acrylic?) It should be an "open" weave. Worsted?

i think synthetic chamois is 100% rayon.

Three issues are how FAST it will wick, for HIGH it will lift water, and how cheap it is.


I think the default would be "anything cotton" from butcher's twine to flannel, rolled up Tee shirts or terrycloth towels. And throw them away after a few months.
Name: Teri
Mount Bethel, PA
Charter ATP Member Region: Pennsylvania Hibiscus Container Gardener Clematis Region: Northeast US
Annuals Echinacea Winter Sowing Seed Starter Lilies I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database!
Image
Roses_R_Red
Jan 16, 2014 7:40 PM CST
Geez, Rick....you really cover all the bases!!
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
Image
RickCorey
Jan 16, 2014 8:21 PM CST
I've been called "infuriatingly detail-oriented".

One boss advised me to "stop majoring in the minors".

And there is no doubt that I have an advanced case of O. Seed D.

But I have fun, doodling around with gadgets and looking for cheaper and more complicated ways to do things ... perhaps even a way that is easier or works better! Anything is possible!

The farther you travel down a path less traveled by, the better the chance that you'll stumble over something new.

Or that you'll go so far around the bend that you can't even SEE the bend any more in your rear-view mirror.

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
Image
RickCorey
Feb 3, 2014 4:24 PM CST
By the way -

It can be tricky cutting big plug trays or propagation trays into rows or segments that are easier to plant out from. Even the rims are tough to cut off, since a pair of tin snips may not fit between the outermost row of cells and a curled-over edge.

I find that using a knife usually slips and cuts down into the walls of cells instead of just slicing neatly between cells.

I have a pair of scissors with thin, long blades. They are thin enough to fit between cells, even in a 200 cell plug tray (10x20 rows). I keep them sharp enough to cut the fairly thick plastic.

The blades are long enough to span 3-4 cells, which helps a lot at keeping the cutting point on the rim between cells. I cut with "small bites", like only one cell at a time. The scissor-blades extend 1-2 cells PAST the cutting point. That keeps the cuts straight and I don't chop down through cell walls.

P.S. If you damage some cells but still want to use them, you can retire one row of cells to use as "patches". Carefully cut a single cell free from the discarded row. Now drop that cell into the damaged cell so that the "chopped" wall of the old cell is blocked by a whole wall of the single free cell. However, note that the doubled bottom of the 'repaired" cell may not easily wick water from the flannel pad. You might need to tuck in a bit of cotton to bridge the gap.
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
Image
RickCorey
Aug 21, 2014 12:35 PM CST
Skylark / JC put a great post in the Containers forum thread "Do you plant right into the pot?"

Look there for great ideas about using acrylic felt and yarn, and nylon rope was wicks.

Also something I never figured out: how to suspend small pots ABOVE water level and still have a flat surface pressing the capillary pad against small holes and slits in insert cells.

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