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Wick Watering

December 25, 2005

Hi, U all,

Since I have some grossly overcrowded Balloon flowers growing in a 6 inch pot and drinking around 20 oz a day with wick watering I have begin to wonder if maybe one of the major faults of growing is insufficient water on a 24 hour basis? I do know that top watering is often the source of rot since a lot of plants don't like wet necks.

I have used wick watering on several plants over the years and all have done well with it. One plant that loves it is African Violet. One of my plant clubs several years ago had a professional AV grower as a guest speaker. I recall her stressing that AV's like crowded roots, even moisture, light fertilizer, and light.

So as an experiment in one of my offices I put 3 AV's in 2 1/4 inch pots with wicks and a continer of water under them. She had said to only water them with 1/4 strength Liquid fertilizer so that is what was in my containers. It so happened that the overhead cabinet in my office cubicle there was under some always on security lights.

So with these perfect conditions I started my experiment. My 2 1/4 inch wick watered pots did awesome. The AV's eventually got to be about a foot across and had profuse blooms mostly year round. When vistors would view them few believed they were doing so well under those circumstances.

I finally gave them away from being bored with their constant performance and continual bloom :) Growing them had ceased to be a challenge any more :)

Any one else done wick watering?


Comments (26)

  • soundgarden

    I'm trying to learn about this method right now. It seems like a great way to keep from wasting water, and it seems to be ideal for lazy gardeners.


  • johnva

    Since one of my 6 inch pots is now taking close to a quart a day, I think wicks should be called a 24 hr a day watering machine! :)


  • bumblebees_mom

    JOhn, I was gone on vacation for 2wks over Christmas and I put almost all my plants on wicks. I had a few water pumps called green genius that can water up to 10 plants each, but I didn't have enough for all my plants. The wicks worked very well but I was very surprised at how much water some of my plants drink in. Since this has made my life easier and I don't have to water so many plants every 2 days I'm keeping the wicks in.

    How long have you been using the wick system? And have you had any problems with plants staying too wet? I know that wick watering is highly recommended for african violets but I don't know of anyone doing this for non-AVs.


  • johnva

    Hi Shipra,

    I've been wick watering for years. I've never lost one to too wet using them. I suspect even Cacti would benefit from them if you had a very porous mix (Lots of sand/perlite). Sadly now I wish I'd used wicks more!

    It is amazing how much plants drink when they can :) What this really shows you is how dry they really are too much of the time. Who in their right mind would pour a quart a day into a 6 in pot, but that is what it draws up a wick :)

    I really don't think a wick can push water up a cord. Dry at the top is what draws it up IMHO. Sounds like a good project for some college classes :) In fact when I start with a wet soil mix, immediately upon assembling the wicking system, water starts pouring down the wick from the soil until it reaches optimum wet statis.

    I have always been able to think outside the box when it comes to plants and seldom with disappo9nting results :) (Like getting Balloon flowers to bloom from seed at 3 months under lights with wicks.) Like getting Amaryllis and Daylilies to bloom in their first year in northern Virginia Zone 7. (Not all but some!)

    Luther Burbank is one of my heroes :) Now if I could just find one of his red Balloon flowers :)

    John Va

  • peterls

    John, I really like the principle of wick watering - we all forget to water. But how important is the wick itself? On one hand it is just a channel, which allows the plant to draw up as much water as it wants. But presumably if the wick is too efficient the plant can get waterlogged.

    For instance consider a plant in a tall pot with the pot itself standing in a container of water. Assume the plants roots are a decent height above the water level - say 6 inches. This really is a wick watering system, with the soil acting as a huge wick. But I presume many plants would feel waterlogged and not thrive.

    I assume the wick must not be too efficient - do you have any views? Peter.

  • johnva

    Hi Peter,

    My theory now is that most plants are underwatered! I really don't think a wick can make the soil too wet! It is dry that sucks up water. If you are worried about excessive water then simply put more non wetting compounds in the soil mix. The orchids I am playing with have only bark to get wet so we shall see :)

    I have a bunch of bulbs sitting on top of gravel with soil underneath that seem to be loving it!

    I really don't think you can compare any other watering system to wicking. The other methods of top or bottom watering all have their own set of problems! Wet necks and draining off excess water for example.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post who in their right mind could imagine a 6 inch pot of plants drawing a quart of water a day? This tells me a lot of growing failures are watering related and that wicking can bring that under control!

    I have used several kinds of wicks and I think the most efficient in terms of providing water is the best. That is why I now recommend the tent tie down (parachute type) cord as the best I have found to date.


  • peterls

    John - the only way is to try.

    I have today bought some transparent containers with lids and a small funnel for filling. Keep up the ideas.

  • sysnan

    I have heard of Wick Watering before but have never tried it, I actually forgot about it. Can you point me in the right direction for learning more about this?

    Does the water container have to be above, level or below the plant? I have a large plant on a planter shelf close to the ceiling. It is very difficult to get up on the counter top and water this plant that is above my head, I am wondering if I can put a container of water up there with it?

    I have lost several ivy plants due to lack of water, I'll bet this method will help me keep them in good health.

    Thank you for any information!

  • ironhat2


    I am truely impressed with your experieces in wick watering. Thanks for sharing!


  • the_farmers_wife

    I checked out your propigation method, and I think it's fascinating! I'd love to try it for seedlings this spring, but I have another question - how does it work for larger plants, in larger pots? I struggle with always over or under watering. And of course, there's the "going out of town" bit. I'd love to see my plants do as well as yours are, but they're in heavy ceramic pots.
    I'm assuming this would still work for larger plants, right, after I go through the process of adding the wick?

    If so, what about the water containers? Do you have suggestions for other containers and/or placement for plants like I've described? Is it always best for the plant to be on top of the water source?


  • johnva

    First of all the water source for wicking needs to be under the plant, otherwise it would just act like a siphon and drown the plant.

    Second I would suggest some kind of shelf over the water source. One that would hide it from the front but give access in the rear for viewing fluid levels and for refilling.

    I see no reason why it wouldn't work great.


  • phann100

    john, I have been fooling around with the wick watering system and am wondering whether you could have a central jug of water with 4 or 5 pots grouped around it. I have also found that you definitely need to put the cord in the pot about midway then replant the plants. I have been trying to adapt all of my geeen house pots to the system so I have to almost repot each plant. Simply burying the cord within the soil on top of the pot does not work. My next project is to try this in the vegetable garden with tomatoes any thoughts? I concur about the tremendous amount of water that is being used by the plants that I finally got working with the wick, I wonder whether the plant is calling the shots, or the soil?

  • johnva


    Plants like even wetness, and I agree it is probably the soil, but it is the plant that is using the water in the soil so...:)

    The wicks seem to work best when they circle the pot about half way up the side. If you are adding it to an existing system I would suggest you totally wet the soil after adding the new wick. I see no reason why you could not have multiple wicks on one source as long as the source is below the level of the pot bottoms.

    Earth Boxes are a kind of wicking system using soil as the wick. They work great for tomatoes and other veggies. For larger pots you might consider several wicks.

    Please take some pics to share :)


  • phann100

    How do you post a photo ? I have digital shots but I couldn't find any instructions on this site I went ahead and got the 36" by 5 inch by 22 inch "under bed storage box and drilled holes for watering and wicking, It looks good but we'll see about the performance, phil. ( phann 100)

  • ntaylor_2006

    I think this might be the best thing to try at the cottage, on the dock. John, if it were a large pot, say 16 inches or so, how many, or what type of wick would you use?

    Thanks, btw, this is great.

  • johnva


    I would try 3 and I would make each of them long enough to go around the inside of the pot one time. I would then space them 2-3 inches apart like stacked donuts near the middle of the pot using soil to space them apart if possible.

    If you are trying to apply them to an existing plant ball I would try tying them in place abd pulling the wicks trrough the borrom as I eased the plant back into the pot.

    Once you have them in, completely wet the pot until the wicks are acting like drains. You want to make sure the wicks establish a water to soil bond :)


    To post pictures you need to store them on the net somewhere and then post the link here to pull the pictures from. I use pbace.com but there are many others that will work.

    The picture command is "<_img src="link" location>" You usually have to add ".jpg" to the link location inside the brackets to get it to work. Also leave out the underline at the start which I had to include to get it to display :)


  • sistersibling

    I hate to bring this thread back from the dead, but - can you use a pipe cleaner to make a wick? Seems I have a ton lying around the house.

  • origami_master

    This is a very interesting discussion. I've just recently been looking at making self watering pots and came across this method. Pipe cleaners will not work, as it is wire covered with fuzzy 'stuff.' String is needed because the water can move up it (I think it's called capillary action). Water won't be able to move up a wire.

  • Suzi AKA DesertDance So CA Zone 9b

    What if you already have containers without wicks. Is there a way you can do this trick AFTER the fact?

  • taxonomist

    I hate to appear so stupid,but I am not at all familiar with the wick watering business. If someone would offer a clear and complete description of the technique, I believe that many of us would very much appreciate it. It certainly seems to be a most unique system of watering and applicable to the growing of many plants.

  • logrock

    John (or any other who has pictures),

    The pictures on that thread you referred to are all missing. Could you repost a couple of the key ones?
    It is hard to visualize, never having seen this, but what think this looks like is a container holding a lot of water with a flat lid. That lid has two holes in it, one in the center and one close to the rim. On top of the center hole is a pot with soil. Inside that pot is that poly cord wrapped once around the inside of the pot about midway up. That cord hangs down through the center hole of the pot and through the lid of the reservoir into the water. The pot is sitting on the lid of the water reservoir. The plant is watered by pouring water into the bottom container through the hole by the rim. Did I get it right?

    Thanks, Ron

  • Sherwood Botsford (z3, Alberta)

    I have 5 tomato plants in #5 pots. The following method occurs to me.

    1. Straighten a coat hanger, then put a small loop on one end.

    2. Run the coathanger through the drain hole, pointy end first.

    3. run a 3" wide strip of cloth through the loop before it enters the drain hole.

    4. Pull the strip through to the top.

    5. Trim the bottom end of the cloth about 4" from the pot.

    Repeat for 3 strips through 3 drain holes.

    6. Place the pot in it's saucer on spacers about an inche off the bottom.

    7. Keep tray full of water.

  • andrew_mcf_hotmail_com


    I have tried to set up a wick system on a couple of occasions but have yet to find a material which can draw enough water. What material would you recommend?


  • Dean37

    Wick watering seems to be the way to go for me. But can anyone please tell me why it is not enough to bring the wicking rope directly from the water reservoir to the root area of the plant without using any soil or other medium?

  • Pyewacket

    What? I'm not sure what you are describing. If there is no soil or other medium around the plant roots, how are they being supported?

    The only thing I can picture are some of those aeroponics systems where the roots grow out into the air and are bathed in a constant nutrient fog so they never dry out. The plants are supported by rigid styrofoam boards about 2" thick.

    In which case, you don't need any wicking at all.

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