Wicking Raised Garden Beds

Wicking Raised Garden Beds

In the raised bed world there exists a gardening system called wicking. Wicking raised garden beds is a relatively recent invention and is as good as the standard raised beds in terms of returns and harvest. Work wise, its pretty much the same in terms of what maintenance is required and what we grow in these receptacles. However there is considerably much more work in constructing these raised beds than there would be in the assembly of ordinary raised beds. There are a lot of extra accessories required for these to work, and in some cases they can be quite problematic.

So it’s critical that we know what we are doing if we decide to go down this route for our gardening requirements and its very advisable that we get assistance from professional tradsepeople or at least from someone that have experience in the construction of these. Some of our senior citizens prefer these and also some gardeners that have mobility issues are also very keen on these gardening systems., for reasons that we will explain later. Unfortunately, there are not many wicking raised beds available for purchase on the internet and neither are they available from hardware stores, so that fact would suggest that they are less popular than the standard raised beds.


wicking raised garden bed


What is a wicking raised bed;


Essentially a wicking raised bed is a self contained watering box, whereby it has a reservoir of water underneath the soil. The soil is irrigated from the bottom up and in some cases the watering tasks are somewhat away less than the ordinary raised bed requirements. In the formation of these, the work is front loaded, in that ,we prepare these and its systems before we fill the beds with topsoil and then plant our vegetables. The system is also known as ‘capilliary action’ and that’s where the water is drawn upwards by the vegetable roots as required. There are several systems that can be used in the making of these and it would take some time to put these togeteher, if we are looking at this method of gardening.


wicking raised bed garden book


Wicking raised bed requirements;

  • Raised bed frame 4ft x 8ft x 12″,
  • 4-5ft of 2″ pvc piping with brackets,
  • 4″ plastic drainage piping, with bolckends
  • Weedblock membrane,
  • Plastic non-porus sheeting,
  • Several bags of gravel pebbles or bags of woodchip,
  • Topsoil and compost.


How to make a wicking raised bed;


Assuming that we have the raised bed frame, our first task is to place this bed frame reasonably close to a water source and we then need to ensure that this frame bed is placed on level ground, which is critical for this system to work. Next job is to line and the inside of the frame bed with the plastic sheeting and attach this to the sides of the raised bed, this creates our water reservoir, which is the principal function of this exercise. Empty the bags of stone gravel or the woodchip bark and scatter evenly on the plastic bed, up to a height of approx 3-4″. Our next task is to insert our porus plastic pipe across this bed of gravel, the two ends of this pipe needs to be blocked and insert one of the pvc plastic pipes into one end of this pipe. The other pvc pipes are attatched to the inside of the raised bed frame, with the brackets as these are our watering points for this project. We then add some water to this bed and leave to soak, if we have used the woodchip. Our next item is to cover all of this assembly with the porus membrane. Add the compost and topsoil and we are done.


wicking raised beds image


The purpose of a wicking bed;


From the outset, the whole purpose of this gardening system is to elimimate some of the watering tasks associated with raised bed gardens. The principal working of this system as we said is that the watering is done before the planting essentially and after that, the plants’ roots search downwards for their watering needs. With this method plants are never waterlogged or neither are they short of water. The raised beds therefore do not dryout in hot spells and have a reservoir of water all year round. We need to keep watch on our water levels from time to time and may need to top up whenever necessary, via the upright 2″ pvc pipes which are attached to the insides of this raised bed garden.

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Pros of a wicking raised bed;


The whole advantage or function of this type of gardening is to eliminate the watering and irrigation tasks. These wicking raised beds would only need to watered say once a week or less. We would have to monitor the moisture levels via the upright pvc pipes with a dipstick type of system. If in the event of a downpour, the water soaks through to the reservoir and and is gathered in this receptacle. The other principal element of this method is that the vegetables are watered on a constant regular basis, ie, the veggies reach downwards for water, only as they need it. This gives rise to longer root systems and ultimately to stronger healtier crops.

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Cons of a wicking bed;

This is an area where we would have to look at very carefully as there are several disadvantages to using this system of gardening. First and foremost, the cost is easily four to five times more expensive than the standard raised garden beds. Unless we had some maintenance skills, we would need to hire a tradesperson to install this system. Its very intrcate to get this idea up and running with all the pipework and the other elements of this project, so its very concievable that something can go wrong with this at any time. If we have to dig out all the soil and vegetables midway through the growing period, this would not be very satisfactory.

The other important issue to take into consideration is our reservoir will freeze during the frosty cold weather, so from that point onwards the wicking bed is rendered useless. In the springtime this wicking bed will take longer to thaw-out and thus delays planting and sowing. This of course, depends on where we live and the existing climate. As we may or may not know, that the soil compacts and subsides during dry and watering periods, so this movement will impinge on our plumming and watering works. When it comes to replenishing or upgrading the quality of the soil in our bed, we will need to be careful so as not to puncture or tear the plastic sheeting, when adding some extra compost or nutrients to our raised bed.

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In summary;


We can see from the above overview of this type of gardening, that it’s  very complicated and intricate. There is a lot of work initially in getting this type of raised bed in full working order. The costs and expense incured woud dictate that this system woud have to be installed and constructed to a high degree of workmanship. We could convert a standard raised bed into a wicking bed, by just purchasing the extra accessories. In summary, I trust that this information is useful and informative, if you would like to join in this conversation, we would love to hear from you, via the comments section here under.


6 thoughts on “Wicking Raised Garden Beds

  1. Hi Phil!

    Loved your post! I never knew what a wicking garden bed was until you wrote this blog. I love how informative it is. Now I can just go right to your site to get the list of materials I need to build this garden bed. Thank you for going so into detail on the benefits of a wicking garden bed and how they are used.

    1. Hi there Tonya,

      Many thanks for stopping by and reading this post, its greatly appreciated. In fairness, not many people would have come across this type of gardening method and its a system that is not used very often, due to its complicated nature in getting this process set up and running.

      Hopefully, in this post and website, there is all the information and more that will be of assistance to you in your gardening adventures.

      Thanks again for dropping by,

      Cheers      Phil Browne.

  2. I had never heard of wicking before for a raised garden bed. The main question that comes to my mind is this. If you use the wicking, is that not really similar to just watering. I mean when I water, doesn’t the water just flow to the bottom anyway? I am not sure what I am missing really. What is the main advantage of wicking over traditional watering ?

    1. Hi there Matt’s Mom,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading this post. I know exactly how you feel about these types of gardening, they are certainly different and in general, you would not come across many of these garden beds.

      The principal is exactly the reverse of the standard raised bed system. With this method the watering is done from the bottom up instead of the other way around.

      Normally we would water the standard raised beds from the top down, but with the wicking raised beds, there is a reservoir of water contained in the system itself. The vegetable roots reach downwards according as they want the water. That’s basically the principal of how this system works.

      So to be fair, one would not see this type of gardening very often.

      Thanks again for the interest in this post

      Many thanks    PB.

  3. Hi, Phi. Thanks for the great post on wicking raised garden beds. Another name for them is sub-irrigated planters or boxes. I’ve used sub-irrigation myself with Grow Boxes, which have a reservoir underneath that you have to fill with a hose occasionally, and I’ve used the rain gutter wicking method where I use a float to regulate the water in the gutter, so I never need to fill a reservoir.
    Have you heard of that method? I found it on You Tube. Both worked very well, except for this year. I’ve found that the growing medium is pretty important. I used a lower quality mix and it’s not working as well.
    Anyway, I’m a fan. Thanks again.

    1. Hi there Grant,

      Many thanks for dropping by and reading this post, its greatly appreciated. I have seen the vids on this type of gardening method that you have mentioned and I agree with you that it’s a great way of gardening and its like gardening on auto pilot.

      It really takes some of the irrigation and watering tasks out of the equation and makes gardening a little easier.

      If we have the time, patience, and know how its definitely a great method of gardening. Having the rainwater redirected into these containers is even better again. Thanks again for stopping by.

      Happy gardening again,

      Cheers       Phil Browne.

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