I love a DIY self-watering planter. As the name implies, these types of containers make watering a cinch. Now, does the planter walk over to the faucet and water itself? No, but what most self-watering planters have is a reservoir at the bottom that holds water. This reservoir allows the plants to soak up water from the bottom up, just like in nature.
The Perfect Container Garden
One of my favorite self-watering planters is the Earthbox. Using an Earthbox is how I first started container gardening. Containers are notorious for drying out quickly, and if you’re not diligent about watering, your plants can suffer. You then have to worry about over watering plants once you finally remember about the whole watering thing. Well, a DIY self-watering planter takes the guesswork out of over watering, and it also cuts down on how often you need to water plants.
How Self-Watering Planters Work
- Water Reservoir- Unlike a traditional flower pot or planter, a self-watering planter’s soil does not touch the bottom of the pot. Instead there is a barrier that keeps the soil raised above the bottom at least several inches. This reservoir beneath the soil holds the water.
- Wicking Container- This wicking container is what will absorb the water and allow the plants to get water themselves.
- Water Tube- This tube is put in place before the soil and allows the gardener to fill the water reservoir when it gets low.
- Potting soil- A good quality potting soil will go a long way to a productive container garden! A trench of fertilizer is also a great idea in a self-watering planter. You can see how I put in a layer of fertilizer in my Container Salad Garden.
- Landscape Fabric– If your soil and water separator is not a solid piece (mine had lots of holes in it) then landscape fabric can be added to keep your soil from falling directly into the water reservoir.
- Optional Support- If the material you’re using to separate your soil and water reservoir is not quite sturdy enough, you can support this piece with small plastic containers (think 1/2 cup size or simply cut a plastic cup to 2-inch rings).
What You’ll Need:
- Container- The sky is the limit. I loved the galvanized container I found at my local hardware store. You can find similar ones on Amazon. Any type of container will do.
- Small plastic flower pot or container- this will be the wicking container
- Plastic plant flat or any larger piece of plastic that can be used as a barrier between soil and water reservoir. (Your local nursery or hardware store has these and would probably be happy to give you one.)
- 1-inch PVC pipe, cut to height of container
- Potting soil (purchased or make your own)
- Plastic cups or containers for extra support (optional)
Here’s a quick video breakdown before the detailed instructions:
Building Your DIY Self-Watering Planter
- Begin with a container you love. My dad built his self-watering planters using rubbermaid tubs following directions he found on Grow A Good Life. They work really well for him, but I wanted a more decorative planter that I could use on the front porch. So feel free to get a large container that may not really be for plants.
- Grab a plastic lid or plant flat for your separator between water reservoir and soil. I used a flat that plants come on. I cut the corners, since my container was not a rectangle and placed it in upside down. The existing edges could be used to support the weight of the soil. (If you use a solid piece of plastic for this barrier, be sure to put holes in it.) Next, cut a hole in the middle of your plastic for the wicking container (small flower pot) to go into. And also cut a hole or space in the corner for your watering tube.
- Grab your small plastic pot and punch or drill holes in it all around. You want water to be able to come into this pot from the reservoir. Place the pot in the hole you created in the middle of your plant flat. Now add your watering tube. Be sure it does not sit flush on the bottom. Water needs to be able to get into the reservoir. (My container had ridges at the bottom, but you could set your tube at a slight angle, or place something small under the edge of tube to keep it slightly elevated.)
- NOT PICTURED: Before we go further, you’ll need to grab a drill and make several holes in the side of your container. Use a sharpie to mark on the outside of the container slightly below where your separator is sitting. Drill a few holes side by side in this area. These holes will allow you to know when your water level is high enough. When water comes out of these holes, you’ll know your reservoir is full.
- If your reservoir separator needs extra support for the weight of the soil, use small plastic containers (think sour cream containers) that are cut to 2 inches high and place them under your separator so there’s no risk of it caving in. Then lay landscape fabric over your separator and cut the fabric so the wicking container isn’t covered.
- Fill your wicking container with MOIST potting soil. You want to pack that potting soil into the container before you fill the entire thing.
- Now you are ready to fill your container with potting soil, adding in a fertilizer trench if you’d like, and give your plants a new home! Many self-watering planters include some kind of covering that the plants stick out of, but I just mulch around my plants to keep the moisture in. Here’s my planter three weeks after making it and planting some salad greens. And if you’ve seen my Container Salad Garden post, then you know that these salad greens looked pitiful when I planted them. Yay for self-watering planters!