Last spring, we learned how to make a self-watering planter from Root Simple. Their tutorial is great, but it’s pretty ugly. We didn’t want 5-gallon buckets sitting on our deck, so we figured out how to make our own pretty self-watering planters out of ANY pot.
It was pretty easy AND cost under $20 for a 3 gallon-sized planter. They are really handy during summer travel or just for people like me, who forget to water. You can buy self-watering planters already made, but they cost quite a bit and they really don’t work as well as the homemade version. So, we tossed around some ideas and came up with this. Here it is:
How to make a self-watering planter (from any pot):
All you need is:
- A planter (with no drain hole in the bottom), like this, or this pretty one.
- A plastic planter saucer (a sturdy one like this, not the flimsy 50 cent version)
- An empty plastic one or two-liter bottle
- A length of PVC, about 2 feet
- A drill (our favorite that has lasted us over 5 years of remodeling)
- A hand saw (just a simple one, or whatever else you have that will cut plastic)
- Potting soil and plants
- And a helper is always handy:
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The general idea is this: the saucer will go inside the planter to create an upper and lower section inside your planter. The lower section will be your water reserve, and the soil and plant will sit on top. To get the water to the bottom, we’ll insert a watering tube through the saucer. To get the water to slowly wick back up into the soil and plant roots, we’ll insert a cup (or cut off bottle) with holes in it, into the center of the saucer. This bottle will be filled with soil and absorb the water from the lower section as the plant needs it. K? It’ll make sense when you see the pictures.
The tutorial is for a 3-gallon planter, so if you use a different size, adjust everything accordingly.
Test the size of the saucer before you buy it, it should fit into the planter and hold itself up about 2 to 4 inches from the bottom of the bottom of the planter. Depending on the size of the saucer, you may need to turn it up-side-down to have enough space for the water, like this:
1. Prepare your wicking bottle.
This is the bottle that is going to sit on the bottom of the planter and act as a wicking device to get the water to the soil. Drill lots of holes (around 5/8ths of an inch is good) in the bottom half of the bottle. (This is a 1.5 liter bottle–bigger than it looks in the picture.)
2. Cut a hole in the center of your saucer, just large enough for the bottle to fit through.
3. Cut the bottle so it will sit flush with the saucer.
Place the saucer and bottle into the planter. Press the saucer and bottle down as far as they will go. Mark your bottle just above the rim of the saucer, then take the bottle and saucer back out and cut the top of the bottle off along that line.
4. Prepare your watering tube.
Place your pipe on the saucer (anywhere between the bottle hole and the edge will work), and trace it. Cut out the hole you just drew.
5. Adjust the height of your watering tube.
Place the pipe inside your planter and look at how tall it is. You don’t want it to stand too far out of the soil and look like you planted an ugly PVC pipe. You only need it to be 2 or 3 inches above the soil line, so mark that spot and cut down your pipe as needed.
Place the saucer back in the planter. Insert the plastic bottle and the watering pipe.
6. Add a drain hole to your new self-watering planter.
You can either measure or eyeball it, but the drain hole should go through the planter and be just under the base of the saucer. This will do two things: keep the soil from holding too much moisture and it will let you know when you are done watering by spurting water out the side when it’s full.
7. Carefully start filling your planter with potting soil.
Use a little scoop or cup at first. Make sure that the plastic bottle wick is filled first, then load up the pot. As you are filling the pot, pull the top of your watering tube towards the edge of the planter so that it sits at an angle. (This will make for easier filling and it will ensure that the water can escape at the bottom and you aren’t just fruitlessly filling the tube with water and not the pot.)
You’re done! Plant away! And load it up with water. (At the initial planting, you should also water the top like a traditional planter, but for the rest of the season, you’ll only need to water through the pipe unless the top gets really dry.)
You are now free to go water your plants and forget about them for a week. Have fun and let me know how it goes if you tackle the project yourself.
Update: Another post with more self-watering planter options is here.