You might not think too much about the mats on your greenhouse floor. However, the right mats can make all the difference. And in some cases, they can help you curtail costs and grow more robust plants.
Capillary mats—which are designed for soil or media-based growing systems—water plants from the roots up. Traditionally, they retain water and hold it at the plant base. They’re nothing new in cultivation, but one Denver-based firm, WaterPulse, has engineered a relatively new material that allows the mats to mimic the capillary action of soil.
Irrigating from the bottom up does a favor to your plant’s structure and root system. It “helps the plant drive its roots toward the bottom, establishing themselves faster and more aggressively,” said Scott Kegerreis, National Sales Manager for WaterPulse.
However, simply holding water at the roots can create problems. “When plants sit in water too long, they’re susceptible to root rot,” he said. This can also drown the roots.
That’s where the capillary action comes in. The WaterPulse mats include a geotextile middle layer that distributes the water evenly across the mat surface. This yields several benefits, Kegerreis said, including those within the plant itself. “In many cases, you’re getting a much healthier and stronger plant because of the even, consistent watering across the entire production surface,” he said.
This also helps conserve resources. The mats can reduce water usage by 70 percent or more, compared with watering by hand. If you use fertilizer in your water, you can expect the same reduction in fertilizer use, Kegerreis said. He added that the capillary irrigation mats help keep foliage dry, which cuts down on foliar disease. It also can help reduce greenhouse temperatures and cut fuel costs.
The mats can work on surfaces that aren’t completely level. They can move water evenly on floors that have up to a 5 percent slope, and they also compensate for small dips in the underlying surface to prevent pooling, Kegerreis said.
WaterPulse irrigation mats work with a variety of containers, including fabric pots, poly grow bags and hard-sided plastic pots. When using hard-sided pots, growers should be sure that the drainage holes are at the bottom, allowing the soil to make contact with the water, Kegerreis said.
As a grower, you have several options for how to use these mats. You can go the old-fashioned way and simply water them by hand. Or, for a more high-tech solution, you can fully automate your system by connecting it to a water source and setting a timer. Setups are also available for anywhere in between, Kegerreis said.
A fully automated system might be the best option for growers looking to cut down on personnel expenses. An automated system can reduce labor costs by nearly 80 or 90 percent, he said.
If you’re thinking of using a capillary irrigation mat to meet your bottom line, you wouldn’t be the only one. WaterPulse mats are gaining traction among cannabis cultivators as the cost of doing business increases, Kegerreis said. “Now we’re seeing a rise in minimum wage and labor wages. And we’re seeing labor becoming more difficult to get and keep.”
In addition to yielding heartier plants, these mats can also help cultivators address the rising costs of doing business “because you’re reducing those expenses, which is allowing for more profitability,” he said. “Profitability is the key.”
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