About Wicking

What is Wicking?

Wicking is the movement of water by capillary action without the assistance of gravity. In a gardening or horticultural context, it is the upward movement of water through soil, giving plants the ability to absorb water from below. Water wicking beds eliminate the problem of deciding when and how much to water. They can last up to 4 weeks without watering, in contrast to surface watering, which needs frequent watering at intervals, as often as daily depending on climatic conditions.  Apart from the frequency of watering, there is a substantial saving of water itself in using the wicking method.

Up until the launch of WaterUps®, the main method of constructing wicking beds was to use river sand or scoria. WaterUps® have proven to be a much more cost effective and commercially viable method of constructing wicking beds. They also operate more efficiently. Refer to our Comparison between WaterUps®and River Sand Wicking Beds.

History of Wicking

In Australia we use the term “wicking”. In America they call it “sub-irrigation. Water wicking is not, however, a new invention. Wicking has occurred naturally on earth since rivers first formed. Archaeological evidence of gardens irrigated by capillary action dates back about 2,500 years to near the City of Old Jerusalem. In more modern times, utilisation of wicking for plant watering can be traced back to Ohio USA in the 1890’s.

‘Popular Mechanics’ magazine in 1909 made mention of a “Self Watering Flower Box” that “protects plants from neglect”. The sketch in the article on the left shows an inlet pipe and a water reservoir very similar in design to those seen today. A patent was actually granted in the United States in 1917 for a sub-irrigation planter. In Australia, where water is a scarce resource due to our climatic conditions and sometimes harsh growing environments, the application of wicking beds in organic agriculture is fast becoming a popular method to help grow plants and keep them healthy.

However, until WaterUps from DownUnder® launched its wicking cell, all “wicking” and “sub-irrigation” applications were inbuilt in planters. WaterUps® is the first product that has allowed this well proven concept to be applied to virtually any plant watering environment, because of its modular design.

Academic Research

WaterUps® Wicking Bed Gardens – Water Use Comparison Trial

Trial conducted at: Kimbriki Eco House & Garden Education Centre, Terrey Hills NSW.
Trial conducted by: Peter Rutherford, Senior Ecologist, Kimbriki.
Published: 25 March 2019

Extract: “Our regular observations of the gardens showed that the plants in the wicking bed gardens maintained a more even and ‘lush’ growth, compared to the plants in the traditional gardens.”

Evaluating the Efficiency of Wicking Bed Irrigation Systems for Small-Scale Urban Agriculture

Niranjani P. K. Semananda, James D. Ward and Baden R. Myers
School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia.
Published: 26 September 2016

Extract: “Overall, the results of this study indicated that WBs matched (or exceeded) WUE and yield achieved with best-practice surface irrigation, and offered a potentially substantial labour saving for gardeners.”

Subirrigation: Historical Overview, Challenges, and Future Prospects

Rhuanito Soranz Ferrarezi, Geoffrey Matthew Weaver, Marc W. van Iersel, and Roberto Testezlaf
Article in HortTechnology – June 2015

Extract: “The first documented subirrigation system was described in 1895, and several variations on the basic design were used for research purposes before the modern ebb-and-flowtype systems emerged in 1974.”

A Semi-Systematic Review of Capillary Irrigation: The Benefits, Limitations, and Opportunities

Niranjani P. K. Semananda, James D. Ward and Baden R. Myers ID
School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia.
Published: 1 September 2018

Extraxt: “This review paper identifies that traditional capillary irrigation systems such as capillary wicks, capillary mats, and ebb and flow systems have been shown to produce higher crop yields and use less water than conventional irrigation methods.”

An evaluation of conventional and subirrigated planters for urban agriculture: Supporting evidence

Clare Sullivan, Thomas Hallaran, Gregory Sogorka and Kallie Weinkle
First published online 25 April 2014

Extract: “This study provides critical information about potential yields and economic returns on an urban garden scale, where individuals, be they gardeners, farmers or project coordinators, make decisions about allocating scarce resources.”