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Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Posted by my4cowboys zone 5 - UT (My Page) on
Sat, Feb 13, 10 at 13:52

Hi all - thank you for your patience with all of my newbie questions!

So I'm getting ready to plant my first seeds today (I don't know why I'm so nervous about this - I guess I just want to do it right!), and I have one of those kit things I bought from Burpee. It has a lower tray to hold water, and then a wicking mat to bring the water up to the cell packs that sit above. Does it matter how much water I put in the lower tray - do the plants just take in what they need? Or, if I put in too much, will the plants get over-soaked?

I'm hoping I can just put a bunch of water in the bottom tray and the plants will get what they need. But, like I said, I am completely new to this, so teach me otherwise!

Suzanne


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

I'm hoping I can just put a bunch of water in the bottom tray and the plants will get what they need.

Sorry but no, it doesn't work that way. Reason: oxygen is just as importnat to germination and root development as is water. Soil that is too wet and is kept constantly wet is oxygen-deprived - seeds rot and so do young roots. So seedlings should never be left sitting or standing in water or on a constantly wet wicking mat.

The tray is there to fill with an inch or so of water, allow the cells to absorb enough just until the top of the soil is slightly damp (avg. 10-20 mins.), then dump out the rest of the water in the tray. The wicking fabric will remain damp for another hour or so and then dry out. A few days later put more water in the tray and repeat the process.

The goal is to keep the soil in the cells just slightly moist like a wrung out sponge, not wet, not soupy, not dripping, just lightly moist.

Dave


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Well thats pretty much what I do is add some to the bottom and let them soak it up for a while but then don't add more until the cells start to dry a little bit


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

You'll probably have to experiment with it a bit. Is the link below they setup you have? If so, it looks like there's a trough around the edge, and then the mat sits up higher. I'd put water in it so that it almost filled the trough, but no higher. That way, the capillary mat wicks up the amount of water it 'needs', not the dirt in the bottom of the cells. Try it this way for a bit and see if the dirt in the cells is staying too dry, too wet, or just right. Too dry will feel like...well, like dry potting mix, hard and crunchy. Too wet will be shiny with water and if you touch the dirt, water squishes up. I've not used a capillary mat; what I do is fill my bottom tray up with water. Holes in the bottom of the container allow water to hit the dirt at the bottom, and the dirt naturally wicks water up to the top. Once all containers are damp enough, I pour the remaining water out. If I let the containers sit in water all the time, they would literally be a soupy mess. Hope that helps. Oh, and you know this I'm sure, but you want to get your soil mix good and wet before you sow; I like to get it nice and wet and then sort of 'wring out' the soil by pressing it down and pouring off the excess water. Hope that helps!

Here is a link that might be useful: burpee growing system


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Sleepy33: your link is indeed the setup I have. I'll check my new seeds and their soil carefully over the next few days to make sure I get the right balance. Thanks for your help!


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

cowboys, what are you planting this early in the year?


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Today I started some broccoli, and will do cauliflower in about two weeks, followed by tomatoes and peppers a few weeks after that.

Having said all that, I am completely a type-A personality who likes to have things all figured out and planned before-hand. Because I am a complete novice when it comes to starting seeds indoors, I have lots of questions (and so far, people here have been very patient!).


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

I'm with you. This is my first year too, and I've bought gardening books, asked countless questions on here, and attended a class at the arboretum. I can't stand to just jump into something.

I've learned a lot of things that I'm sure will help. With that knowledge, and my million pages of notes and charts and books, it should be pretty productive. :)

Kim


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

I'm finding it very odd that people are recommending repeatedly filling and emptying out a self-watering container, such as these seed starting trays with a bottom reservoir tray, wicking mat, and elevated planting cells... I have several of them (from Gardener's Supply, not Burpee) and the whole point of them is that you don't HAVE to water all the time, or constantly worry about whether they are too dry or too wet. I keep my bottom reservoirs filled with water all the time (of course the water level is lower than the plant cells themselves), and the wicking mat keeps the cells nicely moist (yes, like a wrung-out sponge) but not soaking wet. That's the way they're designed... they are essentially a "self-watering container" for seedlings.

I get lovely transplants from them, I could not start plants indoors if I had to fuss over the watering schedule!!


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Yes Gardener's Supply APS systems say "Just keep the reservoir filled and the soil will remain perfectly moist."

Unfortunately the soil isn't supposed to remain perfectly moist all of the time. Research how plants grow. It is supposed to dry out somewhat between watering episodes so that the roots can have adequate oxygen for proper growth and development. Not to mention that their definition of "perfectly moist" is too wet. Yes we tested the APS systems in the greenhouse when they first came out so I have hands on experience with them.

But then they also show 4" tall plants still under the the high humidity domes they push which any experienced grower knows is the best and fastest way to kill your plants.

The point is you can't believe all the manufacturer hype on their products. I'm glad you find that they work for you but sometime you might want to compare the plant growth/health that results keeping the tray filled with water all the time with the growth that results when the soil is allowed to dry out between waterings. You might be in for a surprise.

Keep in mind that what is most convenient for the gardener is not always what is best for the plants. ;)

Dave


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

Dave,

I defer to your experience in that you're likely correct, scientifically, about what is actually best for plants... but it doesn't bear out in my personal experience. I find my plants "stop and start" and struggle along more if/after they are potted up to different containers than they do while still in the APS units... perhaps because of the human factor there! I am a rather scatterbrained mom with three small children underfoot... I am hopeless about remembering to water even a few houseplants, so you can bet my success rate with more finicky seed starting systems was about zero! Then again, maybe the "scatterbrained" thing has worked out to my benefit, in that my reservoirs do dry out once in awhile before I notice it... haha! But that is different from keeping the reservoir empty except for specific watering times...

There are an awful lot of people who are enthusiastic proponents of Earthtainers and other self-watering container systems who would argue your point...


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RE: Help Me to Understand Bottom Watering

There are an awful lot of people who are enthusiastic proponents of Earthtainers and other self-watering container systems who would argue your point...

Ahhhh but there we are talking about established plants, not young seedlings. ;) Been awhile for me as my kids are all grown but you'll understand, it is just like "kid's needs aren't the same as those for adults".

I find my plants "stop and start" and struggle along more if/after they are potted up to different containers than they do while still in the APS units... perhaps because of the human factor there!

Nope its not the human factor it's the plant factor and good for them in the long run. Those stops and starts are the triggers the plants need for switching to root development vs. top growth just as kids have growth spurts and plateaus while their bones catch up with them.

Just some thought to consider. :)

Dave


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