Containers forum: Watering containers using capillary mats

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JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 21, 2014 10:36 AM CST
i used acrylic felt fabric as a wicking mat - you can get it around xmas time in green. or most other colors. it does not mildew (as cotton would) and is thicker then flannel and easily washed. it wicks very well.
i often set up a few smaller young plants in a plastic shoe storage box and use upside down smaller plastic box of some kind as a prop. depending on how much water you need in the tray, you can use squarish 'hot-food' take-out container bottoms too, they are quite sturdy. for heavier plants i might fill the large plastic box with lots of upside-down sturdy 3-4-6" plastic pots and then you can put egg-crate on top to create a continuous surface. i put all smaller plants on water-wicks that i then drop thru the grid into water-tray- so i don't have to monitor them as much.
i use double ply acrylic yarn as a light wick, doubled for more wicking and thick braided nylon rope with poly-core for larger pots, even doubled for thirsty plants. the wick goes inside the pot, around the bottom and then up the side to the top to increase wicking. it does serve as 'wick-out' for perched water and wick-in for watering. but your soil mix needs to be adjusted to wick well - it needs at least 30% peat and 30-50% perlite.
also the higher you pot is, the faster the top soil surface will dry up - mulching with something helps a lot. it could even be loose shredded paper. but i do water from top too for this resaon - to rewet the top part of mix well and flush the mix from time to time.
i had no problems with salt build-up ever or root-rot. but i do let them dry up somewhat from time to time too, when they absorb all the water.
but in general i'd say - you can keep the wicking going for 4 weeks easily. i do even more - great for vacations and busy time!

Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
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valleylynn
Aug 21, 2014 10:47 AM CST

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Great information JC. It will come in handy when I bring a few plants indoors for the winter. Thank you so much.
Pennsylvania (Zone 6b)
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Cinta
Aug 21, 2014 12:27 PM CST
JC your solutions sound great.

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
Aug 21, 2014 12:29 PM CST
>> i used acrylic felt fabric as a wicking mat

>> it does not mildew (as cotton would) and is thicker then flannel and easily washed. it wicks very well.

>> i use double ply acrylic yarn as a light wick, doubled for more wicking and thick braided nylon rope with poly-core for larger pots, even doubled for thirsty plants.

>> it does serve as 'wick-out' for perched water and wick-in for watering.

>> squarish 'hot-food' take-out container bottoms too, they are quite sturdy.

Thanks very much, JC! The terms "wick-out" and "wick-in" are really, really handy.

I stumbled onto a sort of amateur-level version of what you're doing, but never found a satisfactory solution for propping up above the water level or supplying a level surface to press the capillary mat aginst holes or slits in the bottoms of inserts and plug trays.

If you have a surface that is not QUITE fine-meshed enough to touch small slits in every cell, adding 1-2 layers of window screening helps a little. But having a thicker capillary pad (like the acrylic felt you use) is better than trying to tweak an unsatisfactory surface. One year I used some batting, which has plenty of loft but mildews and disintigrates quickly.

>> for heavier plants i might fill the large plastic box with lots of upside-down sturdy 3-4-6" plastic pots and then you can put egg-crate on top to create a continuous surface.

Can you clarify what you mean by "egg-crate"? Is that a very large-opening plastic grid? I'm guessing that works only with yarn/rope wicks in big pots, not small pots or plug trays with many small slits.

I'm going to add a link to your post to my "idea". You've gone far beyond what I worked out. Thanks again.

http://garden.org/ideas/view/RickCorey/646/Bottom-Watering-S...
JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 21, 2014 2:38 PM CST
i'm pretty f-aar gone...almost to the farside. nodding
'egg-crate' is what they call a plastic grid for fluoro-tube fixtures as a light diffuser - don't know why, as i see no resemblance to actual egg-crates . it's used widely as a prop with seed trays. you prolly use it already.
i add 2tsp 3% peroxide per gal - to keep algae at bay, since i use large water quantities for wicking. ok to use with seeds, helps with dampening too.
if you're worried about contact, adding a trailing acrylic wick to the pot helps (half curled inside on bottom, half outside under a pot covered by the pot) - it'll compress under the pot bt will be in full contact with the mat.
i stumbled on the idea in african violet forums, after i got more then 15 AV's to water... Thumbs down
and i read-up on bottom irrigation, semi-hydro,etc. i do some extra stuff - prolly should pop a sep thread for detail, if there's interest. but basically since i am concerned with too much dampness on the bottom , i take coir-matting and make a little liner and then stuff the soil mix in it. it helps with aeration bottom/sides + it wicks and rewets very easy too. i often put it on top as mulch too: easy to flip up to touch the soil unlike with other kinds of mulch.
there's more to contact (pun intented): you could cut out a good wide circle in the bottom of the pot, easy to do especially if it's very flimsy. then stuff a little flat wad of same coir matting (what they use for wire baskets, but you can get it by the foot on the roll): aeration+wicking. if you plant your pots yourself, you can do that better - like a little liner on the bottom, will help to keep the soil in too. i do all the way up to sides too: when you lift for repot - no root disturbance, nothing falls out. coir matting wicks great.
but enough about me. I tip my hat to you.
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
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valleylynn
Aug 21, 2014 3:06 PM CST

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JC and Rick, I split this into it's own thread so we don't loose this valuable information. Let me know if you would like the title of the thread to be worded differently.
JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 21, 2014 4:29 PM CST
oh, i knew i was over-stepping the bounds...i knew it! *Blush*
kidding, but barely so...
but it's nice now - this way we can safely stay on topic. it just happens sometimes that useful info goes sideways...
can we extract some more ? since there's rick's info that started "Mar 18, 2014 10:13 PM EDT" about wicking mats (until cinta's last post on 1st page)?
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Aug 21, 2014 4:49 PM CST

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You did not step beyond the bounds, I just didn't want to loose all this great information in a big long thread. Thumbs up
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
Aug 21, 2014 6:41 PM CST
Thanks for the new thread! I have great difficulty staying on topic.
Would "Watering with capillary mats" be too narrow for the topic?

P.S. Clarification: most of my use of cap-mats has been with trays of seedlings in small insert trays or plug / propagation trays: like 50, 72, or 128 cells per 1020 tray. I was planning to start lettuce in some 200-cell trays but got busy instead.

>> i add 2tsp 3% peroxide per gal

That's nice and dilute, but it's good to know H2O2 is still beneficial at that low concentration


>> plastic grid for fluoro-tube fixtures as a light diffuser

Ahh, "light diffusers". No, not yet. I want my grid to be much finer than that so every slit presses against the mat - around 8 mesh, or 8 wires per inch, would keep me happy. 4 mesh (1/4" hardware cloth) might work, especially with some stiff window screening over it or a really thick pad, but I'm not sure I'd be comfortable until I tested it with several trays.

I suppose even a 1/2" grid SHOULD work, since cotton-flannel-over-1020-trays does work, and those channels in 1020 trays have dimensions around 1/4 to 1/2". I see that my qirks are showing, or whatever neuroses are related to phobias about poor drainage or under-watering.

>> coir-matting and make a little liner and then stuff the soil mix in it. it helps with aeration bottom/sides + it wicks and rewets very easy too.


Oh, yeah! That what I'm TALKIN' 'bout! I would never have tried that since someone once told me that abrupt changes in soil structure can "break the capillarity", so I permanently filed that with my drainage-phobias. But I would be quick to believe that coir is great at wicking water up, down and sideways no matter what is on either side. "Coir-matting", you say? It might be tedious to add that to every cell in a 200-cell plug tray, but for 4" pots it sounds great.

Do you find coir matting to be good for wicking "up the sides", as well as for aeration? I was debating with myself about improving the wicking in 5-gallon tomato pots filled with a fast-draining bark mix. Something like toweling up the sides of the pot, but strips of acrylic felt or bulky multi-strand yarn sound better.
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
Aug 21, 2014 6:44 PM CST

>> if you're worried about contact, adding a trailing acrylic wick to the pot helps
>> ... will be in full contact with the mat.


I started down that road, threading cotton butcher's twine in a serpentine pattern through the slits in the bottom of each of 72 cells, then up the side and down the next cell in an insert tray, but that got pretty tedious and made people laugh or look at me funny. Also, I had to cut each string before planting out or even dividing up the "tear-away 6-paks". Now I just watch carefully too see that no cell dries out before all the others.


>> the higher you pot is, the faster the top soil surface will dry up - mulching with something helps a lot.


BTW, I also top-water occasionally to keep the tops damp and potential salts flushed. That's when I most carefully use a turkey-baster to remove wicked-out salty water from the tray.

I see you don;'t use pine bark. I love biggish bark chips on top of each cell as mini-mulch. They dry out instantly to prevent damping off, but reduce evaporation and perhaps reduce slat build-up. If I'm tempted to move the chips aside to check the surface for dryness, I just top-water a little or a lot instead. I figure, "if the mat is damp, so is the soil in the bottom of the cell where most roots are anyway".

I also use finer shreds and some dust in the mix to replace peat but keep "open" fast-draining mix. . In my very limited experience, peat prevents water from flowing through, and causes damping off in response to over-watering. I know I'm in a minority, since most gardeners worship peat for starting seeds! I haven't mastered my over-watering compulsion so I make fast-draining mixes for seed starting.

Now that use the under-pad for "wick-in, wick-out" I make my mix more wicking, but still try for the extremely open structure that pine bark shreds give. I could live with top-watering daily if that was what it took to keep a very open mix damp, but under-watering when bottom-watering still scares me for no valid reason.

I just feel like "I'm not doing my part" when I water if nothing comes out the bottom!

Maybe that comes from growing some plants indoors in the 1980s in heavy soil with soluble fertilizer and insufficient drainage and little flushing. Salt built up in a crust on the surface! I know better now, but maybe I go too far in the opposite direction.


JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 21, 2014 7:26 PM CST
lots to bite into!
-abrupt changes in soil structure can "break the capillarity"
since the coir liner is on outside - you're not breaking anything, and it's very thin - i usually split the matting (webbing some people call it) in half - so it's more like a loose net, then anything else - with pretty large holes. water just pours thru it. in bigger pots i make it thicker: the roots love it they grow thru and a little and then stop - there no circling. it air-prunes. been doing it for at least 4-5 years. for most of my plants below 11-12" pot.
-some stiff window screening over it
it has to be synthetic or it will rust. you need smth plastic - like what aquatic net-pots are made from. i am sure i've seen trays made from fine plastic grid.
for small cells what you need to worry about is wicking too much water, not the other way around. so just using acrylic felt should be fine. what i do for seedling AV's that cannot be put on reg wicks - is use pure perlite in last 1/2"-1" of the pot . it worked for me with other water-sensitives too.
-cotton butcher's twine
never use cotton- it rots and mildews and can get stinky too. use nylon twine or acrylic or braided nylon with poly-core (HD).
-I see you don;'t use pine bark.
fine bark is very hard for me to find. and i find that coir matting provides better aeration, since it's very porous (i have problems with gnats from time to time, since i wick most everything...new plant - and here we ago again!)
-peat prevents water from flowing through, and causes damping off in response to over-watering
for seedlings it needs to be cut with 50% perlite. but consider coir peat instead: the product has become much better and most nurseries are now converted to it, even for cacti! as a gen mix i go with 1:1:1 coir-peat/perlite/fine bark (sometimes coir chips instead when i don't have bark.
-but under-watering when bottom-watering still scares me for no valid reason
i have found that plants require MUCH less water when bottom-wicked. i am an underwaterer - when i start DOTING on plants, then i better watch out...things get wetter and worse off nodding
-flushing
i think i know where you coming from with bark/flushing/watering thru ;) - and constant nitrate feeding? see, i liquid feed constant from the bottom too, but at much lower/slower rate, 'cause the water intake is rather slow and with mulch water last even longer. so i find no need to flush often, i've never had problems with salts. i flush just on occasion. i prefer economic use of water Hilarious!
i have a LOT of plants for a city apartment - like 75 and at least half on constant wicks. including all aroids: anthuriums/spathe/african masks , which are supposed to be sensitive to salts.
-Salt built up in a crust on the surface
if you use mulch - you can just replace it and you're done!

edit: the quotes were missing, had to put them back in. things were looking very cryptic without quotes !
[Last edited by skylark - Aug 21, 2014 8:41 PM (+)]
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Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Aug 21, 2014 8:10 PM CST

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Take a look at the thread title now. Does that work?
JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 21, 2014 8:45 PM CST
that looks good. though i am talking about wicks a lot too, but i'll try to keep it short.
about mats: IF you use acrylic fabric , make sure to wash it. they use fabric sizing to make it stiff and smooth, it needs to be washed out for wicking. same about any rope/yarn: need to wash it with a bit of soap.
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
Aug 22, 2014 11:44 AM CST
Lynn: thanks for the title! I think that wicks and mats both fit into that title.

>> IF you use acrylic fabric , make sure to wash it. they use fabric sizing to make it stiff and smooth, it needs to be washed out for wicking.

Ahhh! That's probably why felt and yarn always look and feel totally water-repellent to me.
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
Aug 22, 2014 11:53 AM CST
>> for small cells what you need to worry about is wicking too much water, not the other way around. so just using acrylic felt should be fine.

Thanks for pointing that out. I've had such a coarse mix that it probably doesn't wick enough for me to have seen that. When and If I go back to a seedling mix that wicks more, I'll watch out. I "should" use a better-wicking mix if I try to bottom water.

What I've done up to now has been to lay cotton flannel felt on the bottom of a no-holes 10-20 tray with "channels" and then set the insert trays or plug trays on top of the flannel. I never allow standing water to be visible. It just sits in the grooves and soaks the flannel. My goal is to keep the flannel a little damper than I want the soil mix, but I THINK my coarse mix doesn't wick enough to keep the top of the cells damp enough. So I "mulch" it and also top-water a little once or twice per week.

>> coir matting provides better aeration


I believe it! I have to screen all the fines out of bark when it comes from a bag of "mulch" or it would mat down and leave little air space. "Mulch" at HD is filthy stuff, usually full of dust and powder and even twigs pebbles and dirt. Log yard trash!

Then I went over to buying fine pine bark "nuggets" from Lowes - which are too coarse, but at least they have little or no powder. I mix in enough fines to make the nuggets wick almost enough. I think the result is 60% air, with lots of LARGE channels that can't clog with capillary water.

The best bark I ever found was $8 per 2 cubic foot and mostly chips and shreds (longer than they are wide or thick).

I tried bulk coir around 4 times. Every brick I bought had totally different texture: powder, chunks, a mix of everything, and just once, the kind of coir fibers I wanted. I finally gave up before finding a reliable source.

I was influenced by an Internet article claiming to have found enough salt in at least one batch of commercial coir to salt-burn seedlings. Maybe that was published by "the Peat Council of America", I don't know.

But coir matting sounds very promising. It would HAVE to be fibrous. I love the idea of preventing root circling by air pruning! Do I understand right that you wrap matting around the inside of a big pot, then fill it with soil? And the matting lets enough air in and humidity out that roots stop before they reach the plastic pot wall itself?

>> -peat ... needs to be cut with 50% perlite. but consider coir peat instead:


Actually I use "fine" bark nuggets to cut a peat-based commercial mix that imitates Pro-Mix.

I "cut" 20-30% of the commercial mix with 70-80% bark of various sizes. So it's more like "seasoning" screened bark with a little fluffy peaty mix to help it wick. (It's also around 1/4 the cost of all-commercial mix.)

For some reason I don't like Perlite - it looks like I'm growing pot. I will look for coir peat ... is there a brand name you favor? The idea of excess salt really turned me off.

>> i am an underwaterer - when i start DOTING on plants, then i better watch out...things get wetter and worse off


I agree totally, but have not yet been able to refrain from pampering plants to death. That's why I use a mix that drains SO fast that it's physically impossible to overwater.

I've only been bottom-watering for two years, so it may sink in someday how to avoid over-watering. Gardening has taught me that I'm incredibly resistant to change once I think of something as "my way". It was humbling! I thought I had an open mind and loved to try new things.

>> i find no need to flush often, i've never had problems with salts


I haven't actually had a PROBLEM with salts since the 1980s. I don't fertilize my seedlings at all, usually. I just have a paranoia that if I don't flush every plant in a container at least weekly, the boogeyman Salt gonna get 'em.

For some reason that seems most important when I'm first sowing seeds or potting up.

Probably the unconscious memory that drives me there comes from planting bushes or shrubs. I think THEY need to have their root ball saturated to settle the soil and ease the transition into the ground.

The rules "MIGHT" be different for planting tiny seeds in a 128-cell propagation tray, and for transplanting shrubbery. But try to tell my subconscious that!

>> -Salt built up in a crust on the surface
>> if you use mulch - you can just replace it and you're done!

True, I used to scrape that nasty crust off and throw it away. But I was so ignorant back in the 1980s that it amazes me today. I don't know how those plants survived what must have been nearly anaerobic soil! Now, I think I "know better" about many things, but still have some bad habits that I can't seem to shake.
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Aug 22, 2014 12:20 PM CST

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I have to tell you two, that I find this thread intriguing. I may end up being able to start plants from seed with things I am learning here.
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
Aug 22, 2014 12:42 PM CST
>> I may end up being able to start plants from seed

It might be different for every person, but for me, "it's easy except for overwatering".

Using flats to start seeds, and having to untangle roots, just freaks me out. It seems like doing surgery. But others find that easy and natural. (I usually use small cells so I don't have to untangle.)

Once I tried it the other way and it worked just fine as long as I untangled the seedlings on THEIR schedule, when THEY needed it. But it was still intimidating and I seldom do that now.

I don't mind starting seeds on a coffee filter and then dropping them into soil. But it's more work and the time window for transplanting safely is short, so I don;t bother.

Pre-soaking difficult seeds does help.

Maybe starting with some very easy species would work for you, or show you the one mistake you tend to make. Is there some "easy" species with a cultivar you would like, but whose plants are expensive or unavailable?



For me, starting from seed is probably the biggest "garden miracle" there is. Little things that look like a grain of black pepper or a mouse dropping go through some magic underground and then emerge as a baby plant! How is that not a miracle?
Name: Lynn
Dallas, OR (Zone 8b)
Charter ATP Member Garden Sages I helped plan and beta test the plant database. I helped beta test the Garden Planting Calendar I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator
Forum moderator I helped beta test the first seed swap Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant and/or Seed Trader Garden Ideas: Master Level Sempervivums
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valleylynn
Aug 22, 2014 2:39 PM CST

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It really is a miracle.

I have wanted to try some of the hard to find alpine/rock garden type plants. But starting from seed is daunting to me.
JC/NYC (Zone 7b)
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skylark
Aug 22, 2014 3:40 PM CST
it is a miracle, but you need to be watchful and tend them. for me the biggest 'problem' is that i am absent a lot and sometimes long and sometimes just want to do other things (imagine that!??!). so tending seedlings is exceedingly difficult. but i love travelling and am not about to give it up - hence the necessity of some sort of passive automation (wicks, domes/tenting).
i figured out how to put my small aloes/hawortias on wicking mats! yep! no wicks, and they are in 4" clay. it wicks the water up the clay walls! i can stuff them in nooks impossible to reach for watering and forget about them!
there's a salt build up from hard water on clay, but i just washed it off and they are fine. just bloomed.
of, course that's just for 4-6-8 weeks tops. but that's a miracle too! nodding
this conversation is getting very complicated....
i am not sure, but i think sometimes you're just talking about seedling trays and sometimes about other potted plants. these are two diff things in my view as far as soil mix goes. seeds need finer particle mix especially fine rooted ones - i never use bark in any form on those. bark by itself does not wick at all. besides it can harbor all kinds of spores and molds - that's just too risky. perlite is sterile and wicks great (oh, i don't rinse mine either! Rolling my eyes. ). i root and sprout in pre-moistened perlite, when domed it needs very little watering.
- I "should" use a better-wicking mix if I try to bottom water.
have you read raybo's recommendations for self-watering sub-irrigation mixes? it's 3:2:1 peat moss/bark fines/perlite. that's only 34% bark! and half peat! and it's never medium or coarse bark. no wonder your mix does not wick. for my 'wicked tropicals' (pun intended) i use 'jungle mix' approx 5:5:3 peat/perlite/fine bark= 35%, 35%, 21% - it wicks fine but never too moist. most of my moisture lovers are on it permanently and loving it. most are top-watered from time to time, but without drenching and flushing (ok may be a light flush 2-3 times a year at most)
if you're growing in med/large mostly bark mix you'll just have to top-water! and feed and flush - that is just the nature of the mix. it's labor and water and fertilizer intensive.
are we talking like up to 4" pots for seedlings? or just lil'plugs?
i think once you get above 4" you can use some bark. and yes, i know about 'best to keep the mix the same thru the pot' ... but all the starts are done in peat... may be with some perlite - if you strip the mix you damage the roots! it's just counter productive. there's mix/procedure for woody perennials that are already with good tough roots and then there's one season annuals with fine roots. in my view that's a diff treatment . but that's just my view - i am strictly indoors. and i understand the virtues/convenience of bark for outdoor containers under the skies/sprinklers.

-I tried bulk coir
coir have changed dramatically in the last ten years. i've used inadvertently MG exand-n-gro (had some sort of soil mites in it! but otherwise was fine) and just now ordered coir-peat bricks from nature's footprint. just don't buy the cheapest stuff and try to find reviews. hydroponics people use it - so pays to read the forums.
the coir matting is pre-rinsed - it's the same stuff they use to make liners for wire baskets. google 'coco fiber liner' or 'bulk coco liner' - i can buy it by the foot at my nursery.
by the way - you can't remove reg peat from roots easily without damage, but coir peat just falls out magically! so if you do insist on bare-rooting and full repot into new mix - it is easily doable with coir peat. i did it, it's a breeze! coir peat does not compact even when wet, so aeration is much better then with reg peat. and it does not turn into mush in 1 season like peat either. i actually read that it could be reused - like it gets better as it ages ;), so long as it does not have pathogens and dead rotting roots in it. try shaking it off the roots - and you'll see it's possible. i reuse mine from succulents when i repot them into new mix. and by the way all cacti/succs come in coir peat now ;).

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
Aug 22, 2014 3:52 PM CST
valleylynn said:It really is a miracle.

I have wanted to try some of the hard to find alpine/rock garden type plants. But starting from seed is daunting to me.


True, perennial seeds with dormancy issues (complicated stratification needs) are tricky. I either avoid those, or try to start a low % of them without doing the stratification. Sometimes, "needs stratification" isn't true if you can live with 10-30% germination. Once I tried winter-sowing Penstemon ... they germinated eventually but they were so slow to grow larger that I lost them eventually.

>> alpine/rock garden type plants

Have you seen the Alplains website? Rare alpine & arid seeds galore!
http://www.alplains.com/

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