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Made In Britain Homegrown Company
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What Is Capillary Matting? And How Does It Work

What Is Capillary Matting? And How Does It Work

11 minute read

At Two Wests we sell lots of different equipment to help you water your plants, including matting, both capillary matting and water matting. We are often asked ‘What Is Capillary Matting?’ when a customer is trying to decide how they want to water their plants.

Here is our comprehensive answer to ‘What Is Capillary Matting?’ where you will learn about what capillary matting is used for, how to use capillary matting and the benefits using capillary matting will bring.

what is capillary matting

What Is Capillary Matting? What Capillary Matting Is Made From 
Capillary matting is a recycled material, non-toxic, rot proof and mould proof making it perfect for keeping plants and flowers healthy.

The capillary matting that we sell is made from recycled fabrics – it contains a mixture of polyester, polypropylene, cellulose and viscose.  It is approx. 3mm thick and is sold per metre - we stock it as 50 metre rolls so you can order as many metres as you require and it will be cut and supplied as one continuous length. 

Although made from recycled materials, it is not recyclable, so once it is deemed to be at the end of it’s life it should be put into your general waste bin.  

Capillary matting is flexible, so can be moulded to shape. This means it’s a good material for use in hanging baskets, lining watertight trays etc etc. In fact, you will find it being used in many different gardening products which are designed for automatically watering plants, such as the Quadgrow Planters and the Hozelock Growbag Waterers.

capillary matting with quadgrow plants

This means that if you need to replace the matting within one of these products you can buy the capillary matting per metre and cut it to size as required.

hozelock growbag waterer

Capillary matting is usually two different colours, having a light side and a dark side. If you use the dark side uppermost it’s useful for hiding unsightly soil spillage and discourages algae growth. However, it will perform just as well with the lighter side uppermost, with the lighter side reflecting more light which can be beneficial when growing light sensitive plants.

What Is Capillary Matting? The Water Holding Capacity
The water holding capacity of capillary matting is how much water it can retain – this could be shown as how many litres per square metre or how many pints per square yard. The higher the mats capacity, the more water it can buffer / hold. This is important if you are going to be away and need the matting to hold sufficient water until you get back.  If water is being dripped on to the matting or fed from a reservoir, if something goes wrong with the water source, this ‘buffer’ gives you time to solve the problem.

For example, if you were away at work and the drippers stopped, the matting would still have water held in it to water your plants until you got home and fixed the drippers.

The capillary matting we stock will hold about 5 pints per square yard.  

What Is Capillary Matting? The Capillary Matting Effect 
The ‘capillary matting effect’ is used to describe the level to which the matting evenly sucks up, holds and then distributes the water over the surface of the mat. When matting has a good capillary matting effect it means this process is being carried out efficiently and your plants are being watered well – the greater the capillary effect the faster the water will be distributed to your plants.  

What Is Capillary Matting? The Benefits Of Using Capillary Matting  
There are several benefits to using capillary matting to water your plants – both advantages to you and to your plants.  

Benefits To You

  1. You are being guided by professionals – many companies that produce potted plants use capillary mats / capillary matting systems for their irrigation.
  2. No water is wasted – capillary matting supplies water directly to the roots of the plants and only releases the water that the plants need.
  3. Waters plants whilst you are away – you won’t have to ask your neighbours or a friend to water your plants when you are away. When you want to water your houseplants whilst you are away on holiday, simply use a piece of capillary matting on your draining board and place all your potted plants together on it. Then fill your sink with water and use a matting wick to transfer the water in the sink to the capillary matting.   

Benefits To Your Plants

Capillary matting in self watering trays

  1. All your plants are evenly watered - a good example of this is when capillary matting is used within Self-Watering Trays. These self-watering trays will hold sufficient water for up to two weeks of watering - so before going away you just need to fill the trays with water and your plants will be automatically watered whilst you are away. 
  2. Plants put on better root development – when plants are watered from below, as with capillary matting, they form healthier root structures. 

What Is Capillary Matting? Using Capillary Matting For The First Time 
When you are using capillary matting for the first time – whether as pieces on a self-watering tray or lengths along a shelf or bench – you must always thoroughly wet the matting first otherwise the capillary action – the ability of the matting to suck up water from a source and let it spread over its surface – will not take place.

New capillary matting will take longer to soak up water for the first time than matting which has been used in a previous growing season. So it is important to give yourself sufficient time to do this prior to setting up your watering system.

To ensure the capillary matting effect continues to occur you should never let your matting dry out completely – otherwise you will have to re-wet the matting completely again. If you are constantly letting the matting dry out then this will adversely affect the lifespan of the matting.

What Is Capillary Matting? Setting Up A Capillary Matting System 
If you are setting up a capillary watering system over a larger bench or work surface and you need to use more than one length of matting to cover the area, you need to make sure you overlap the edges of the matting by about ½ inch / 1.5 to 2cm so that there are no gaps and the water will carry from one piece of matting to the next uninterrupted.

You can help to prevent the plants roots from growing into the surface of the capillary matting – and prevent algae from forming in the capillary matting - if you cover the surface of it with another material which will still allow your plants to access the water in the matting but stops the plants having direct access to the surface of the matting. A good example of a material which you could use is perforated polythene. Doing this will keep your capillary matting in a cleaner, less damaged state so it should extend the lifespan of the matting.

If you are setting up a capillary watering system like this on staging or benching, you need to make sure the surface is flat and level to prevent puddles from forming – so, if your staging is slatted you would need to cover it first with a length of thick polythene and put the capillary matting on top of the polythene.

Capillary watering systems, like the one described above, work best which soil blocks, jiffy pots, biodegradable pots or seed trays or pots which have drainage holes right in their base rather than the holes being raised up. The reason for this is that the matting needs to be in contact with the compost your plants are growing in so that it can supply water as the compost dries out.

What Is Capillary Matting? Supplying Water To Capillary Matting
There are lots of different ways in which you can supply capillary matting with water – you could use a watering can, or ‘drip’ water onto it from a bag drip watering kit etc – but the usual way to use a ‘reservoir’ of water from which the capillary matting can draw water as it needs it – as shown in the photograph below, where capillary matting is being used in our greenhouse to water pots on some wall mounted shelving.

capillary matting with a water reservoir

When using a reservoir to supply water to capillary matting, so that the system works correctly the reservoir should be at the same level as the matting it is feeding with water or up to 4 inches / 10cm below it. The reason for this is that the capillary matting which we sell can ‘lift’ water up to 4 inches – so can transfer the water from the reservoir. However, if you put the reservoir higher than the matting it is supplying it will create a ‘gravity fed’ system and the water will simply empty from the reservoir until it runs out – resulting in the matting being over-supplied with water and flooding.

To transfer the water from the ‘reservoir’ to the matting on the surface of your greenhouse staging a capillary wick is used. This is simply a strip / piece of capillary matting which is placed with one end at the base of the reservoir and the other end tucked under the capillary matting covering the staging. Just as you do with the capillary matting itself, with the wick when you first set it up you need to make sure that the wick is thoroughly wet before placing in position.

What Is Capillary Matting? Cleaning Capillary Matting 
As you can be using capillary matting for many months at a time in your greenhouse or polytunnel, it is important that you keep it clean. This will not only extend the lifespan of the matting, it will also prevent any pests or diseases getting into the matting and being passed to different plants.

If you have covered the surface of your capillary matting with perforated polythene (as suggested previously) then you could just replace the polythene – in this way you will be removing any loose compost or algae or any dirt, and you are likely to find that the matting is fairly clean underneath as the polythene has protected it.

If you do want to wash the capillary matting – something which you should always do at the end of a growing season before storing the matting - you can clean the matting in tap water – NOT stored water from a water butt – and you could add a natural disinfectant to the water (such as Citrox) to make sure it’s completely clean.

You should NEVER put your capillary matting in a washing machine – the vigorous washing action would destroy the matting.

You should NEVER use a pressure washer to clean the matting – again the action would be too aggressive for the structure of the matting.  

What Is Capillary Matting? Top Tips For Caring For Capillary Matting 
When storing capillary matting it should be cleaned (as described above) and then allowed to dry. It can then be rolled up and stored away until it is next required.

When you buy capillary matting and aren’t going to use it straight away then ideally leave it rolled up and store it away somewhere which is dry, cool and dark.

What Is Capillary Matting? How Long Does Capillary Matting Last?
How long your capillary matting will last will depend on how it is being used and how you are taking care of it.

When commercial growers use capillary matting they will change it every season as a matter of course - this will mainly be based on ease, as they haven't got time to be cleaning it before it's reused. 

However, for the domestic gardener you would expect to be using it for a number of years - albeit it might start to look a bit worn and over time may become less effective. 

Our guide to What Is Capillary Matting has been created from our personal knowledge, information gathered by speaking to other gardeners or manufacturers in the gardening industry, by reading gardening magazines and devouring information from books and the internet. We aim to be as accurate as we can, so if you find a mistake, please remember, we’re only human. if you have any queries you can contact us today!

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