The best wicking material

anney(Georgia 8)March 13, 2006

I'm in the process of preparing a 5-gallon double bucket to make a modified grow-box as a test of the modification. I'll plant lettuce in it and something else after the lettuce is harvested.

There's a wick chamber at the bottom of the inner bucket that extends down into the water chamber below, and I'm thinking about the best wicking material to use. Instructions imply that one's pot soil in the wick chamber will wick the water sufficiently, but I want to be SURE that the soil chamber really can receive water from below through the wicking material. Once put together with soil and the water, the double buckets weigh a ton and can't be "fixed" without removing everything if I should use something that doesn't sufficiently wick the water.

So does anyone have some suggestions for a tried and true wicking material in addition to the plant soil itself? I've seen the "thirsty" paper towels recommended and am wondering about putting vermiculite or even those water gels in the wicking chamber with the soil on top of them. Does anybody know about water flow rates through wick materials?

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rain1950(W. WA z8)

The soil in the chamber will wick fine as long as it's the right mix. As for other materials; the woven cotton rope used for closelines woorks good as does hemp rope. But the best wicking I've seen is made by removing the plastic cover from a disposable diaper and cutting it into strips

    Bookmark   March 13, 2006 at 7:10PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The wick material needn't be particularly good at moving water great distances quickly. It only needs to move it a short distance slowly. I would tend to shy away from wicks of natural materials as rot causing biota will eat them up quickly. Some good wick materials are synthetic shoe laces, man-made chamois (100% rayon), the nylon ties from citrus fruit bags, braided polypropylene rope, nylon rope...

Test wick material by dangling it, dry, in a glass of water. If water "climbs" up the wick several inches over several minutes, and it is resistant to rot, it's suitable.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2006 at 8:47PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

Thanks, all.

It's obvious to me that my description of the grow-bucket I'm putting together didn't allow anyone to visualize the setup! This a version of an EarthBox but using two five-gallon buckets nested inside each other with a water chamber below the soil chamber.

The wick chamber is a cup (with holes in the side) that extends from the inner bucket down into the water chamber below in the outer bucket. If filled with soil, the soil is supposed to act as a wick for the soil sitting above it. I just want to be sure that the plants will be able to receive water since the soil chamber above the wick chamber is 14.5" deep -- and the only water the plants in the soil will get is supplied by the wick chamber -- it is not watered from the top.

Just so you know, strips of the inside of diapers don't remain strips if you remove the plastic. Test it out in water. They disintegrate within a few minutes into mashed-potato-like mushes of tiny pieces of gel (Pampers, anyhow) and the material it's encased in! This is probably okay for the part of the strip that remains in the soil, but I'd think you'd lose the "structure" of the part that is in the water in a very short while and it wouldn't work as a wick anymore.

Anyway, I'm still thinking on it. Maybe I'll have to use several different materials in various setups to see which ones will most reliably wick the water into the soil above the water chamber. I hadn't planned on using strips of anything as a wick material since a chamber is available to put wicking material in, and that material might include soil.

Al, thanks. I think a number of non-natural materials would work as wick material -- I have some very old polyester fabric I was going to make something from, and I think it would work fine as wick strips for some setups that are not built on the EarthBox principles. I read the other thread and appreciate it a lot!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 9:03AM
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garaj(9B CENTRAL FL)

I have been growing tomatoes in 18 gallon home made e-boxes for four seasons now. I have used Lambert's potting mix as well as Jungle Growth, and Expert. Ingredients are mostly peat moss with perlite, wetting agent, etc. All have provided excellent wicking performance. I make sure that I've tamped moist mix into the two 1 quart wicking chambers and then wet down the rest of the mix as I fill up. Finally, I top off the bottom water chamber. From time to time, I've checked under the plastic mulch cover and always found tomato-happy damp mix. Once plant growth takes off, I have to refill the bottom water reservior almost every other day. Garaj

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 4:09PM
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leira(6 MA)

Hey, tapla...

Rayon isn't man-made, or at least not really. It's extruded wood pulp, so I imagine it would rot just as well as other natural fibers.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 4:45PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Thanks for the information. That's good to know. The wicking chamber for this 5 gallon double bucket holds about a quart of material with about a gallon of water surrounding it.

I fully expect to have to water it daily when it gets hot and the plants are really growing. I've a great spot for several of these containers not far from our back faucet.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 5:18PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hey Leira - No, but the chamois is (man-made chamois) as opposed to goatskin. Good info, though. ;o)

Anney - It sounds like you needn't worry about additional wicking with the way you're set up.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 5:37PM
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drasaid(zone 8)

of the pot. You want something inert or you are going to get fungus. The part that will be submerged, fill with sand, then for a few inches up. That area will end up not getting any oxygen and nasty stuff develops that way and can spread...that's not very scientific but it has proven correct in my case.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 6:52PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

Hi, drasaid

The double bucket has a horizontal aeration tube that supplies oxygen to the lower part of the soil and plant roots, so fungus, compaction, root-rot, and those nasties shouldn't be a problem. There will be quite a flow of oxygen available to the plants and soil, certainly more than a container that has only bottom watering.

Anyway, I appreciate the comments and am not going to worry about the wick medium any more. It's my first try at a self-watering, self-aerating, self-feeding container that I've constructed myself, so I'm a bit nervous about its working as it should!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2006 at 7:08PM
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I found some 1/4" braided polypropylene tent peg cord at Walmart ($1.48/ 50ft.) that wicked to a height of 9" above the surface of the water. Does anyone have a wick that can pull water higher? I think this may be a limiting factor for the SWC design I am contemplating, thanks

    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 2:12PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It only has to wick water high/far enough to contact the soil, the soil, which also has strong capillary pull, does the rest. Think of a wick as a bridge between the water source and the soil.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2006 at 5:16PM
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anney(Georgia 8)


Thanks for the "think of a wick as a bridge..." I need the visualization aspect to clarify this whole business of wicking, given that I'm planning to grow most of my garden in containers of various sorts this year. A couple will be wicked, about six will be grown in self-watering aerated containers, and some will be grown in large containers that will need to be watered often because they have no water reservoirs OR wicks. So I'm trying to get all the principles of water and aeration under my belt!

Your expertise is much appreciated!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2006 at 2:49PM
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I am testing a synthetic chamois. It wicks up water great at short distances. Guess we will see how it works in a couple of weeks. it is very promising and hopefully wont rot.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2009 at 9:28PM
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I'm making large self watering containers out of used boats, so I need a durable wicking material that comes in large sheets or rolls... Any suggestions?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2011 at 11:25PM
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