Wicking, Little Trick Of The Seed Starting Trivia


What trick did I use this year to help my seedlings stay healthy?


These are sunflowers seeds that have just emerged from their embryonic state. They’ve used up all the nutrients inside the shell and need a weak solution fertilizing each week. The shells that held the embryonic seed –are still attached to the seedlings.

The shell protected the little embryo until the seed was planted. Once planted, the embryo started to grow and produced two seed leaves. Those leaves are now taking in carbon dioxide from the air and making its own food. The sun provides the energy source to start the chemical reaction that turns CO2  in to sugar for the plant. It’s a chemical reaction that is very complicated.  Pure oxygen is released back in to the air. In a sense–it cleans the dirty air and uses it to make food. Oxygen is the plant’s waste.

100_6546These are my cosmos seeds with their seed sheels still attached. It will soon fall off and break down as food in the soil. These next few weeks until the plant has more leaves and stronger roots are the most critical. Until now, it has been surviving on the stored food inside the seed. Now it needs to make a good root system. It needs to have moist soil but not wet soil.


It’s very important right now that those trays don’t trap too much water. These are strips of terry cloth placed in the bottom of each tray and hung over the edge.


Excess water standing in the tray is wicked away by the terry cloth strip. I only need one to two strips per tray.


I can reuse the water for those plants drying out more quickly. That makes this wicking process a water-wise activity and environmentally friendly. I do reuse these styrofoam cups for a gazillion different projects. The plants in paper cups will go directly in the ground after having a few holes cut in them here and there.


This works on established containers as well. If you have a container that just will not drain then that plant is going to drown. Plants need to breathe and stay moist. But when wet…..they drown. The roots rot. Take a kitchen case knife and gently push a terry cloth strip way down to the bottom of the container. Keep it right up next to the edge of the pot where the dirt meets the side.

Hang enough of the strip over the side that it hangs 3/4 the way down the outside of the pot. Excess moisture will slowly begin to wick away from the roots and out of the pot. You can leave that terry strip in there for the rest of the season If it quits wicking–then add another strip and remove the old one. Old towels and washcloths work the best.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. Annette says:

    I forgot to mention in my ziploc bag and paper towel seed starting trick that I use address labels and write the name of the flower seed on it and than I draw a line across the label and write what seed is on the backside. This helps me to identify what seed I am looking at.

    Good Luck!!
    Excellent post and advice—thank you!


  2. This is super! I hope you use this as a newspaper article too.
    Thank you and I usually write history articles so will have to think of a clever way to work it in. I find it very useful for all my potted plants as drowing can be the number 1 killer of plants—as you well know.


    1. Annette says:

      I never have any luck starting seeds in dirt. A trick I do that grows 90% of a packet of seeds is to get one quart ziploc (cheap brand works too) bags. Wet a paper towel in warm water and ring out the excess water. Fold the paper towel in half and than in half again. Slide this inside of the ziploc bag. I put one type of flower seed on one side and another kind on the opposite side. I will try to separate the seeds to cover the paper towel as much as I can. I have some miracle gro flower fertilizer for watering cans. It comes in a box and looks like blue crystals. I bought a cheap all purpose sprayer. I fill the sprayer up with water than add a small spoonfull of the miracle gro. I will mist this over the seeds and this also helps to make the papertowel wet. I will mist two times on each side. I push on the bag to push the seeds into the paper towel. I will push on the bag while zipping it to work out some of the air.

      This really works great!!!!! I just did this to several different kinds of seeds on 6/27/09 and I woke up the next morning and went out to check on my other seedlings that I have transplanted from seed starters to small cups and also to water them and when I checked on the seeds, they have already begun to sprout. I have 21 ziploc bags and papertowels. This means that I have 40 different flower seeds sprouting. How cool is that?


      Very cool and thank you so much. I will do this next time as it sure cuts down on losing seeds and you don’t have to do all that heat mat stuff most directions call for.


  3. Catherine says:

    Great idea, I’m always trying to drain it while holding the plants in place and am afraid I’m going to end up dumping everything out.
    Now you won’t have to dump. You’ll know how many strips of terry cloth you need right away. Just keep adding the strips until it drains in the amount of time you wish.


  4. Jen says:

    We need to do this in our school greenhouse! The kids sometimes have a heavy hand with the watering can and we’re constantly bailing out trays.
    Everyone has lots of old towels and now we can use them for something to help our plants.


  5. Marnie says:

    Good tip. Rotting has to be one of the biggest causes of failure.
    It’s a fine balance between too much and not enough. This helps a lot.


  6. mothernaturesgarden says:

    Great tip that I must use, Anna.
    Saves a lot of time and energy trying to bail the water out.


  7. Janet says:

    Good tip. You have lots of seeds going! Good for you.
    I have at least that much more to plant. I was going to grow these in my little shed –Copper Top Cottage. I would have had plenty of sunny space. But we have had interrupted weekends with weather and other activities. That has slowed down our shed building process.


  8. Hi Anna

    Good little trick.

    Your seed starting looks so organised. Almost military precision!

    Thanks and when they start getting bigger it’s going to look less organized. I’ll have plants everywhere trying to spread them out. Our last frost date is Mother’s Day around the 10th of May. Charts will tell you it is April 15th. Us old time NCers know better.


  9. Phillip (UK) says:

    Well worth knowing Anna. You are going to have some great plants by the look of it.
    I do have a lot of plants and I’m planting up more today. Now I have to thin quite a few of them.


  10. Deb says:

    Great idea.
    This method has saved so many of my plants.


  11. Blossom says:

    Thanks for the tips, Anna. Those are great tips. Happy baby plants and save water, too!
    I might like the saving water part the most. I don’t have to carry the watering can out there so often.


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