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How to Make 3 DIY Self-Watering Planters or Containers


One of the common errors of beginning gardeners is that they do not know how to water.  They either forget or overwater their plants.  But did you know that there is a way to water your plants without you physically watering them.  Well, there is and it takes a little understanding of how soil and water work together.

Dry soil when exposed to water will wick the water away from its source.  Another way to look at it is that the water through capillary action fills the tiny spaces between the soil particles.  Once all the tiny spaces have been filled, the soil stops taking up water.  If there is a “drainage system” or reservoir available, excess water will flow to this area.   In just, that is how a self-watering planter or container works.  It provides some type of reservoir by which water can be stored and taken up.

The Easiest DIY Self-Watering Planter

One of the simplest DIY self-watering planters to make requires two items.  One is a potted plant and the other is a saucer.  To create this self-watering planter, simply place the potted plant on the saucer.  Once that is done, fill the saucer with water.  Monitor the water level after a few hours.  If the water seems to have been taken up quickly, add more water.  If, on the other hand, there is still water in the saucer, pour it out.  This later step is very important to keep the plant from rotting.

DIY Self-Watering Container with a Wick

This is another easy planter to create and starts with a plastic nursery pot that has holes in the bottom.  You will also need some wicking material such as a piece of an old flannel shirt or wick for a candle, a bowl with high sides, a plastic container that will fit on top of the bowl nicely, and an ice pick or small screw driver. 

Once you have all your supplies together, the next step is to plant your nursery pot with your chosen plant material.  When making this self-watering container, do not add drainage material.  The reason for this is the fact that you will never overwater nor will you lose soil out of the holes since you are not watering from the top down.

After your plant has been potted, take your wicking material and push it through the holes in the bottom of the container.  Continue to push up until you reach the root ball.  Once that has been reached, you can stop pushing the wick into the container.  At this point, you will have excess hanging out of the planter.  Do not worry, this is what you want.

Next, poke a hole in the center of the plastic container and work the wick through this hole.  Once that is done, fill the high sided bowl up with water and place in the location where you want to display your plant.  Then, place the plastic container on top.  Make sure when doing this step that the wick is in the water.

While you can stop at this step, help your plant out by watering the top slightly.  This will speed up the beginning of the wicking/watering process.

5-Gallon Bucket DIY Self-Watering Container

While this type of self-watering container is a little more involved, it works wonders with large plants.  The supply list for this project is somewhat long and the tools required may not be owned by apartment dwellers but do not give up.  Once you read the directions, you may be able to come up with some substitutes that you have.

To begin with, you will need a food-grade 5 gallon bucket with lid.  Once you have it, make sure to clean it out.   Since most of these come from restaurants, you do not want food residue in your planter.  After that is done, take the lid and cut it down so that it fits inside the bucket.  An easy tool to use for this is a saber saw but a sharp knife may also do the trick.  Make sure to test the lid before moving on to the next step.

Once the lid has been cut and tested, drill 15 5/16 inch holes in the lid.  To help hold up the lid in the container, you will need three plastic containers the same size.  Some ideas for these containers include small yogurt cups, sour cream or plastic juice cups.  When selecting this material, again make sure it is made from food grade plastic.

After you have found your three like containers, place them in the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket.  Next, measure 2-inches from the bottom of the bucket, mark and drill one hole at this location with a ¾ inch drill bit.

Take a 6-inch piece of ½-inch plastic tubing, wrap it with electrical tape, and run it through the hole in the bucket.  This tubing will be located below where the lid will go.  To keep the tubing from pulling out, run a nail into the tubing 1-inch from the end that is located inside the bucket. 

Next, take a clean, plastic milk jug and cut an “x” above the handle.  Run the other end of the tubing through this hole.  Now you are ready to plant.

Once the bucket has been planted, move to where you would like to display your plant.  You will need to take into consideration the growing requirements of this plant but you will also need to plan to have a location for your milk jug.  The jug itself will need to be 8-inches below the bucket.  After the planter has been placed in its location, fill the milk jug up with water and replace the cap.  To aid in the watering this first time, pour water from the top.  Once that is done, consider adding a layer of decorative mulch to the top of the soil.  This will slow down evaporation.

Now, you may be wondering how this planter works.   The process is simple.  The water reservoir in the bottom of the bucket will hold water.  Dry soil will “wick up” the moisture as needed.  As the plant grows, roots will go down through the lid and into the reservoir.  At this point, the plant is watering itself in a way.  Excess water is returned to the milk jug through the tubing.

If this planter is placed outside, you will need to monitor the level of moisture in the soil.  To do this, stick your finger all the way down into the soil until you reach your hand.  Then, pull it out straight.  If there is damp soil on your finger then you do not need to water.  One the other hand, if you finger comes out dry, you will need to water but do not reach for that watering can.  Instead, simply open the milk jug and pour the stored water into the planter. 

While there are many self-watering containers that can be bought, those listed above are so easy to make it is worth the effort.  Please keep in mind though that if you are planning on planting edibles only use food grade plastic for the planter and water reservoir.


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