How to Make a Self-Watering Plant Pot

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Adding fertiliser to self-watering container

In hot, sunny weather, keeping plants in containers watered can take up considerable time. Then there's always the anxiety of how plants will fare when you're away for a well-earned break. One solution is to use self-watering containers. It's actually very easy and inexpensive to make your own.

You'll need two containers which when stacked, will leave a gap between the bottom and top containers. The gap will serve as your water reservoir. Two five gallon (20 litre) food-grade plastic buckets work well, and can often be picked up for free from restaurants or very cheaply from DIY stores.

What parts you'll need to make a self-watering plant pot

You'll also need a one-inch or 2cm-diameter plastic pipe long enough to run the length of the two buckets; a plastic cup, yoghurt pot or similar to act as a wicking chamber; and of course some quality potting soil and your plants.

Prepare the Wicking Chamber

Start by preparing the wicking chamber. This should dangle down from the top bucket into the bottom. Stuffed with potting soil, it will draw, or wick, water from the reservoir up into the top bucket.

Preparing your wicking chamber

Use a marker pen to trace an outline of the pot onto the middle of the top bucket, then cut it out. The wicking chamber will need lots of holes all over the sides to allow the water to enter from the reservoir.

Cutting an angled end for the water delivery pipe

2. Prepare the Water Delivery Pipe

Now for the water delivery pipe. Cut one end of your plastic pipe at a 45-degree angle. This will allow the water to freely flow from the pipe into the reservoir without getting blocked.

Cut the top end of the pipe to length so that it stands clear of the final soil level.

Now cut a hole into the bottom of the top bucket, so the pipe can pass into the reservoir. Make sure it’s a snug fit by tracing the outline then cutting to size.

3. Make Some Drainage Holes

The top bucket will need some drainage holes for healthy root growth. Drill lots of quarter-inch (5mm) holes into its base. You can go for a random pattern or an orderly effect – whichever you prefer.

Making the water overflow hole

Assemble Your Container

Now it's time to assemble the container. Insert the top bucket into the bottom bucket. Fill the wicking chamber with potting soil, firming it in for good contact, then slot the chamber snugly into its hole. Slide the water delivery pipe into place, pointy end down. Fill the top bucket with potting soil, moistening with water as you fill.

Adding soil to a self-watering container

Plant Up Your Self-Watering Pot

You can plant several plants into the top bucket, according to their spacing requirements. Or set one plant, such as a tomato, at the center. This allows you to cover up the remaining soil surface, which will reduce evaporation – especially important in hotter climates. Use a lid for this, cutting appropriate holes to accommodate the plant and pipe. Alternatively use a thick garbage bag secured at the sides with rubber bands, a bungee cord or string.

Adding a plant to the container

You could also add a shallow ring of organic fertilizer around the plant. The moist potting soil will gradually draw the nutrients down into the soil to feed the plant's roots.

This is a fantastically elegant solution to daily watering. We’d love to hear your methods for making watering plants effortless – drop us a comment below.

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Show Comments


"In the picture for #3. Make Some Drainage Holes, is this photo of the BOTTOM BUCKET that you are drilling holes into the side of? Otherwise, how do you keep from over-watering since there is no float in the pipe? P.S. I have dreams and aspirations of what I can do with an afternoon and a stack of free pickle buckets from a local restaurant or two!!! THANKS!"
Beth on Friday 15 July 2016
"Hi Beth. Yes, you're right. The overflow hole is being drilled into the bottom bucket. This means when the reservoir is full it simply overflows, so the compost in the top bucket never becomes waterlogged. Good luck with this if you decide to make it. Mines growing well now. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 July 2016
"What a wonderful alternative to EarthBoxes, which can be rather expensive and bulky. (We still have 4 of them, but I can see us making these for single plants!) Thank you for simple and easy plans to do this!"
Joy Brown on Thursday 1 December 2016
"Thanks Joy. It's a really fun project and once you get the hang of it very easy to upscale."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 1 December 2016
"Another nice touch, though not necessary for success, is to add a cap by using a PVC joint fitting to close off the water feed tube when not in use. I've also had success making a self-watering planter with only one 5 gallon bucket by drilling overflow holes up a couple of inches on the sides from the bottom of the bucket for excess water to escape and just planting directly into it. While the roots of the plants could then conceivably grow all of the way down in the bottom below the overflow where the soil could remain quite wet, just as they could grow into the wicking tub which sits down into the water reservoir area, they shouldn't need to. "
JV in KY on Monday 4 September 2017
"That's brilliant - thanks for that suggestion. A cap would be a nice finishing touch."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 4 September 2017
"my doubt is , what is the purpose of pvc pipe , you can very well water the plant directly on the soil and allow the excess water to over flow thought the side hole , if there could be a floating indicator in this pipe to indicate the level of water in the pot it would have been useful"
femina on Friday 3 November 2017
"The pipe delivers the water straight down to the reservoir. This way the potting soil is being kept consistently moist through the action of the wicking chamber. Of course, water can also reach the plant from the top when it rains, but by applying additional water through the pipe it avoids disturbing the surface and ensures there is always enough water in the reservoir."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 6 November 2017
"this seems like a great way to use grey water on potted vegetables, seeing as how it won't touch the plant/fruit and goes directly to the roots!"
katy on Saturday 27 August 2022
"The simplest option is to wrap a 5" perforated flexible drainage tube in weed proof fabric cloth and place it in the bottom of a bucket. Drill a weep hole that is 1" below the top of the tube. This creates the all important airgap to stop the soil going anaerobic. I have used a pvc water feeder tube jammed down the edge of the bucket into the soil, but to be honest, too watering until water weeps out does same job."
Más del Puch Spain on Thursday 24 August 2023

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