I wanted to test this system out for a couple of seasons before I recommended it to you. Now is the time to let you all know about this plant waterer I’ve been using for my seedlings because it’s life changing. Today I introduce you to the capillary mat.
The quickest way to kill a plant is by jumping up and down on it. Just behind that is over or under watering. If you underwater a plant it will die. If you overwater a plant it will die. The smaller the plant is the more quickly it will croak from either of these things.
Watering is where most people get into trouble when they’re starting seeds.
Problems from under watering
Letting the soil dry out during the germination phase of a seed is deadly. If the seed has already cracked open when the soil dries out, all of the insides of the seed dry out too. That means its reproductive organs shrivel up and croak.
Letting the soil dry out during a plants growing phase will either kill the plant because of lack of hydration or it can stress it so much that it might continue to grow but not the way you want it to. Stress on hot peppers can make them even hotter by triggering them to produce more capsaicin (the oil that makes peppers hot.) Although this is a bit of a contested theory.
Problems from over watering
Letting the soil remain too wet during the seedling phase of growing can often cause a condition called Damping Off. Damping off is a soil borne disease that LOVES wet conditions. You might have the fungus in your soil and not even know it if you never overwater.
Damping off is a fungal disease that causes seedlings to rot at the soil line. The stem just turns black, withers up and seemingly dies overnight. One day you have perfectly healthy looking seedlings, the next morning they’ve all croaked and fallen over.
Damping off normally only kills seedlings, not larger more established plants.
O.K. that’s enough blah, blah, blah because I really want you to see this watering system I’ve been using because it’s SO effective. It works EXACTLY how it says it’s going to.
The Capillary Mat
It’s called a capillary mat system. A capillary mat looks like a piece of felt and is similar to felt, but it’s not the same. For this to work as well as it has for me, you need to get genuine capillary mats. You can get them on Amazon or at Lee Valley.
Most local hardware or garden centres (around here anyway) don’t carry them but I suspect they will in a couple of years the same way they didn’t used to carry seed starting mats but now do
What the hell is a capillary mat?
A capillary mat is a piece of fabric that you cut to whatever size you need and lay it down on a flat surface. It wicks up water from an external water source (a bucket or other container of water) and releases the exact right amount of water to any plants sitting on it.
That means with a capillary mat …
- You never, ever have to water your plants.
- You never, ever have to guess if your plants are too wet or too dry.
- You can go on vacation and your plants will water themselves – for weeks.
This has changed everything for me. And it will change everything for you too.
Once you learn how to *properly* set it up it’s foolproof.
Please ignore my ugly setup. You can make a “cute” setup if you have it in you.
Setting up a Capillary Mat System
- Pick the area you want to set your plants. In my case, plants always go in my 3 tier grow light stand.
- Lay down plastic sheeting (it’ll come with your mat) if you’re placing the mat on wood or anything else you don’t want to get wet. I laid plastic so the water wouldn’t leak through the crack in between my two black trays.
- Cut the felt to fit the area, making it a little smaller than that plastic.
- Soak the mats thoroughly. New Mats won’t soak the water immediately and you’ll have to push the water around the mat with your hand. Older mats that have been used before soak more easily.
5. Once the mat is soaked, set up a water tight bucket, bin or planter so the lip of the container is level with the surface of the mat. **THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT** If the container you hold your water in is too low, the system won’t work properly.
6. Fill the container with water.
7. Cut a strip of capillary mat so it’s long enough to run from the bucket to underneath the mat by several inches.
8. Soak the strip so it’s fully absorbed water and then run it from the bucket or bin to underneath the capillary mat like a wick.
You’re done. That’s it. All you have to do is check to make sure there’s still water in your bucket every once in a while.
The mat will automatically absorb the exact amount of water you need to water plants from beneath the perfect amount.
Capillary mats will work with soil blocks or pots that have holes right on the bottom. If the post has a raised bottom where the drainage holes are raised up, it won’t work as well.
The reason your water source has to be level with the capillary mat is because it can only wick upwards for a few inches. If the drop down to the water is more than a few inches, the water won’t be able to make it all the way up to the mat.
Capillary mats are ESPECIALLY kartwheel worthy when it comes to tiny, mini soil blocks. These tiny little cubes of soil are so small that they can dry out in hours. With a capillary mat they always have the perfect level of moisture.
I wrote a whole love letter to soil blocks and how to make them in this post. I use them for starting most of my seedlings.
PERFECT FOR COTTAGERS OR ANYONE WHO GOES ON VACATION
If you don’t start your own seeds, don’t reject this SYSTEM based on that fact! If you ever go away you can use these mats inside or outside to water your plants for weeks at a time.
Care tips for the capillary mat.
- When the season is over, I let the mats dry out then take them outside and brush all the dried dirt off of them. I shake them out like a rug (you could probably vacuum them too) and then I roll them up and store them in a bin.
- Don’t ever squeeze water out of mats. Squeezing the material breaks it down and ruins its wicking quality.
- If it doesn’t seem to be wicking make sure the mat is wet (if it isn’t it won’t wick) and the water source is level with the mat.
If this watering system interests you in any way don’t be an idiot and put it off for years like I did. Just get it. It works.
Get it on Amazon in the US.
If you have anyyyyyy questions about it just ask me. I might not have the answer but I’ll put a really valiant effort into making something up. Promise.