If you're interested in gardening with self watering containers, but still want to make use of your existing standard planters, here's a great way to convert all your planters into self watering containers. This project would also be good for gardeners interested in growing in self watering containers, but want something more visually attractive than storage totes.
To convert a standard planter into a self watering container you'll need a watertight container with a lid, this will act as the water reservoir, a tall water bottle, this will act as the fill tube, and 2 strips of fabric, these strips will draw water from the reservoir to the soil above.
Try to find a container that matches your planter in shape and width. I lucked out and found a bowl that just fit into a 16" diameter pot.
Mark the lid of the container with 1 large hole for the fill tube, 4 slits for the fabric strips, and a bunch of small holes for soil aeration.
Also, don't forget to add an overflow hole near the top edge of the water reservoir. If you will be placing this planter on an uneven surface it's best to drill holes on all sides of the reservoir to ensure proper drainage.
I used an electric drill to make the holes, but the plastic was soft enough that a sharp knife and elbow grease would have worked just as well.
Insert the spout of the water bottle into its hole on the lid and insert the fabric strips into the slits. Make sure the fabric strips are long enough to reach the bottom of the water reservoir.
Special Note: If you use 100% cotton for the fabric strips they will eventually biodegrade and will need to be replaced at the end of the growing season. Poly cotton blends or all synthetic fabric strips will last longer.
If you're going to add a cage to the planter add it before you add the soil. Have the spokes of the cage pass through the air holes of the reservoir so that the cage rests at the bottom of the planter. A cage that rests at the bottom of a planter will be much more stable than a cage that sits in only the top half of the planter.
Top water the soil after it's added to the planter, then use the fill tube to fill the water reservoir. You can tell the water reservoir is full when water starts draining from the bottom of the planter. Add a tray to the bottom of the planter if it's staying indoors to catch the excess water.
If you like this idea, but aren't interested in doing it yourself, you can buy a pre-made version at gardeners.com. I bought a few of these for the roof the first year I started gardening, before I discovered the fun of diy projects.
16" Planter: $7.62
Plastic Bowl with Lid: $2.18
Running Total: $123.75
This just, well, freaking fantastic. Thanks for posting! I have just discovered the whole self-watering container thing a few months ago and actually just spent a pretty penny on one from Clean Air Gardening based on some good reviews I read on Mr. Brown Thumb's blog and elsewhere.ReplyDelete
Hmmm...I could have spent less money buying a large plastic pot and lidded bowl, like you did here. Well at least I can try to apply your idea to the two half wine barrels I just scored from my landlord! I was looking for something to take up space in the bottom of them anyway! Can't wait to give this a try!
Thanks from a fellow Brooklyn gardener!
Hi Aimee, I'm glad you found this post helpful!ReplyDelete
I have done this but instead of the cloth on the top, I cut a hole in the lid and inserted a empty sour cream container with holes drilled in the side. I stuffed it with dirt and filled the pot. Works very well.Delete
This is great and creative! I was going to go shopping for some pots soon so I will keep this in mind. (sorry typo deleted previous post).ReplyDelete
Hi Charm City, welcome back! How are your seedlings doing?ReplyDelete
They are cute, but teeny tiny. I think I need more light and a heat mat. I will get a real seed starting setup next year. This year, I plan to wait and see what happens with them. I probably will go to the farmer's market to get some grown plants so I will have some vegetables:)ReplyDelete
I think my seedlings are stressed since I check up on them every morning;P Can't take the pressure.
Thank you very much for posting this! I think I will try using super-wicking micro-cloth (man-made chamois). What do you think?
Hi K, sounds go to me, go for it!ReplyDelete
THIS IS SIMPLY MADDDD! You are brilliant, i like that watertight container as the reservoir, simple but yeah, why didn't i think of that??? anyway, you solved my problem, i was planning to find a solution for a friend who wants a garden and i want to introduce him to self waterting container, i am doing it for sometime now with recycled PET water bottles but i want to do something more presentable and subtle as my friend is an executive and he have a nice house, so it has to fit. you are heavensent!!!!! thanks!ReplyDelete
Thank you! I hope your friend enjoys gardening as much as we do.Delete
Would some PVC pipe or clear plastic tubing be able to substitute for the water bottle? How many days do you think you can go with this self-watering system? If you typically had to water a 12" inch pot every day...what would this system cut it back too? I am looking for coverage while away on weekends or long weekends...ReplyDelete
Hi Kirby, yes, both would work.Delete
The time between waterings would entirely depend on what you are growing in the planter. Some plants are thirstier than others. In general though, you can go several days without watering early in the growing season, when the plant is small to medium size. As the plant gets bigger and the days get hotter the time between waterings will decrease.
In the height of summer tomato plants, for example, require daily watering. Peppers, eggplants, and cukes need to be watered every other day.
In July and August I try not to travel because the garden requires daily monitoring. If I have to go I have a friend watch the plants for me.
Using polypipe also means you could put a stopper in the top, to keep the mosquitoes from using the water reservoir. Just remove it to water. I also use a funnel (or a cut-down plastic bottle) so it's easier to add water using the hose.Delete
Does this work for adiantum pedatum ferns by chanceReplyDelete
Because I got one and it is realy hard for me to remember to water it so I looked up ideas and yours is my all time favorite but I don't know if it would work so could you tell me if it would work
Sorry, I've never grown a fern in my life so I don't know if it would like this type of container. Hope you find an answer to your question. If you do, please update us here so other people can learn. Thanks for stopping by!Delete
I think it will work and found other gardeners who think it will work ok for my type of fern because it likes very moist soil but thank you do much for the ideaDelete
Hello! There is great information here, thanks for sharing! I stumbled upon this blog because I am trying to find a way to make my built-in flower boxes self watering. I found this system(http://shop.flowerwindowboxes.com/38-Wickinator-Water-Reservoir-FWB-Wickinator38.htm) but I have like 10 window boxes, so it would get expensive. Do you think I could use this method for flowers, or do you think partially submerging a few water bottles with holes in the bottom to drip irrigate would suffice? I'm also looking for a solution for hanging baskets. Any advice you could give would be great. Thanks!ReplyDelete
Hi, I think water bottles for drip irrigation would suffice. The appearance is not as attractive as the reservoir, but it also won't cost $20 per container. For hanging baskets I've heard people use diapers or maxi pads to retain moisture, not for edibles though, just flowers.Delete
Hi there, thanks for the great tip! Where did you buy the plastic tupperware? I've been on the hunt for something that's round and short like yours to no avail.ReplyDelete
I found it in a dollar store, hope you can find something similar!Delete
I am so thankful to have come across your post. Previously, I'd grown flowers on my deck. This year, I've graduated to fruit and veggies and worried as to how I could convert my traditional pots to self-watering ( without spending a fortune).ReplyDelete
Headed to the Dollar store now! Happy gardening. :-)
Glad I could help. I find plastic salad bowls are good for round pots, those Gladware containers for square pots and plastic shoeboxes for rectangular pots. Happy growing!Delete
Why do you need the overflow hole? hate to keep pouring water/fertilizer into the reservoir and then have it flowing out and down through the bottom of the container. I had thought to stop pouring water into the reservoir when the access pipe/bottle was full.What am I missing?ReplyDelete
I'm wondering that too. Especially of the big pot has overflow for rainy periods. Excess water to the reservoir would back up in the tube... overflow into plant like rain... drain from big pot like normal? confused.Delete
The overflow hole is to keep an air gap between the soil and water reservoir. The soil should be able to breath.Delete
You won't want plants to drown in the rainy periods. They'll get root rot.ReplyDelete
thanks for the very bright idea, came across your site by accident (best accident ever) the other thing I have read in the past is place a heap of small holes in a plastic bottle and plant in the container with the plants and fill through the top of the bottle with water when needed. hope this helpsReplyDelete
Hi Lilly, yup that's another option that I wrote about in another post. Happy gardening!Delete
Excellent post, your idea of using the plastic container as a water reservoir is wonderfulReplyDelete
Hey there! Came across this from another website. Wondering of the importance of finding the correct size Tupperware? I mean, if the container is smaller and the soil is around it, would that matter so much? Looking to convert all of my pots (eventually) to self-watering ones for ease when I go on holidays etc. This is a hell of a lot cheaper than purchasing self-watering ones.ReplyDelete
It doesn't have to be a perfect fit. If I thought a gap was too big I would cover it with duct tape, but I'm not sure this step is truly required. As long as the soil is not sitting in the water it should be fine.Delete
I LOVE this idea. Should regular potting soil be used? I read at another site that potting soil is too dense and heavy when wet to be used in containers. I can't wait to try this and I don't want to start off using the wrong thing!!ReplyDelete
Garden soil is too dense for containers, potting mix is what you need instead.Delete
Oh this is just mad wonderful. I've got some reservoir containers that won't be a perfect fit for my pots and I'm thinking I'll add some good-sized stones in the gaps to provide drainage. I *think* it would work...ReplyDelete
Oh thank you, this is just mad brilliant! I have in mind to use reservoir containers that are a different shape than my pots, and to use small rocks in the gaps, maybe covered with some weed cloth, for overflow drainage. I *think* it would work... Do you have any notion that it wouldn't?ReplyDelete
I think it could work. Keeping the soil above the water reservoir, not surrounding it, is what's important, which is what you're doing with your plan. Happy growing!Delete
Thanks for the step by steps, so very helpful. Was wondering, do plants need to dry out sometimes? I've heard a criticism of self watering containers is that plants don't like constantly moist roots.ReplyDelete
Hi, I've never had issues with that. I could see that being an issue though if you don't maintain an air gap between the water reservoir and the soil.Delete
stand cloth vertically for wicking?ReplyDelete
As long as cloth is touching soil you're okDelete