What are wicking beds?

By Karen Retra

Height of summer and no heat stress in this wicking bed

Height of summer and no heat stress in this wicking bed; nor does the gardener feel pressured to water daily.

Wicking beds are frequently discussed at our Seed Savers gatherings, with quite a number of members having created this type of bed (or pot or other vessel) in their garden.

For those not so familiar with the concept here’s a quick overview and some resources for further reading.

Please proceed with caution – wicking beds are proving quite addictive!

A broad overview

The concept of wicking beds is similar to the way self-watering pots work. They are built to include a reservoir of water below the soil. The ‘wicking’ part refers to the soil and plants being kept moist as the water ‘wicks’ from the reservoir into the soil. An overflow ensures that the bed doesn’t flood. Instead of watering onto the soil above the plant roots, as we usually tend to do, in a wicking bed, you instead fill the water reservoir using a dedicated inlet. When the reservoir is full, any excess water is released via an overflow.

Some advantages of wicking beds, particularly for our summers, are that they allow for constant soil moisture without becoming waterlogged. Wicking beds require less frequent ‘watering’ (refilling), so they are great for those who go away, for workplaces and just to avoid the need to water every day in summer or risk losing your plants. As the water is stored below the soil, it is possible to mulch the top of wicking beds heavily, which further helps to reduce evaporation from the soil and can help keep the soil cooler too. They do take more time, materials and effort to build, and there are some maintenance considerations for wicking beds.

As with any garden approach or tool, it’s important to ensure wicking beds are a suitable match for the type of garden and plant choices you have in mind.

Need more detail?

Probably the best way to understand wicking beds is to build one (or follow the process of how they are built!) and there are several options to do that in the project that we’re currently running, so please consider coming along to one of those events.

You might also like to view the materials from our session on wicking beds in our sustainable gardening workshop series last year.

And some other content online about wicking beds that we found useful
(there’s no shortage of information, but some is better than others!):

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