Introduction: Quick and Easy Self-watering Garden Planters

Picture of Quick and Easy Self-watering Garden Planters

Quick and easy self watering garden planters. Cheap, reuseable, recycleable. All you need are: milk jug(s) (1 or 2 quart), scissors, planting foam (used for live flower arrangements), and potting soil.

Step 1: Clean a 1 Quart or 1/2 Gal Milk Jug, Cut It in Half. Be Sure You're Below the Handle.

Picture of Clean a 1 Quart or 1/2 Gal Milk Jug, Cut It in Half. Be Sure You're Below the Handle.

Step 2: Name This Instructable

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Press the top of the jug into the "floral foam" about 1/2 to 3/4". Bend the top half of the jug to one side until the floral foam breaks - this will make a small "plug" in the bottom so the soil doesn't pour out.

Step 3: Name This Instructable

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Inside the jug you'll see a ridge. This will keep the jug top above the bottom of the base, and allow water in and out. Invert the jug top with the foam inside and push into place.

Step 4:

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Add soil, seeds water to about 1/3 full and grow! Juice jugs work too, as do water bottles (Dasani, Evian, etc), as long as there's a ridge in the bottom. They're reuseable, recycleable and free. Another benefit is that since they're flexible and their conical in shape, a little squeeze and they slide right out.


pravs2k (author)2011-06-27

The overflow works beautifully.And if you use the method where you decoupage the whole[ the two parts together } you have to have the hole - [ a little below the level of the inverted bottle top so that it does not touch the water.]To refill, place the bottle in a bowl of water until water starts flowing out of the little hole.This way you don't have to pull out [can't !!!] and check - if the container feels light just place it in water. Also ,decoupaging prevents light getting in - apart from of course camouflaging the bottle and making it look like a real store bought container.

Have pics but don't know how to send it- not very computer savvy !!!! HELP

aperkins01096 (author)pravs2k2011-06-28

That sounds great! Love the idea of decoupage, the bare bottles look awful, despite their ability to work. Do an instructable on it! I'd love to see pics, too! email a couple if you can to aperkins[at], and thanks for sharing with the community!

pravs2k (author)aperkins010962012-03-01

The pictures at last!!

The zebra striped ones are two litre bottles cut down to size.

The other two are of one of the decoupaged ones I made .

The zebra fabric one is made of tetra pack juice carton.

pravs2k (author)pravs2k2012-04-22

Thank you for the comment.Glad you like them

The tetra pack one was made by sticking two packs together and decoupaging it with fabric- can do it with paper too,but it has to be waterproofed with mod podge.

Pictures of hanging two litre bottles were sent to 'soda bottle garden' instructable.This one is extremely easy.The bottles one on top of the other were decoupaged with paper napkins and waterproofed.

Thank you Aperkins and Botronics for great ideas.

aperkins01096 (author)pravs2k2012-03-01

Wow - excellent! Great work! A Tetra Pack Juice carton? You ARE resourceful! I expecially like the one with the ladies - the philodendron seems to like it too!

pravs2k (author)aperkins010962011-06-30

Thank you .Have sent a picture and instructions to Instructables via your easy upload page. Don't know if it went through. If it hasn't ,will try again.Have to learn how to transfer the pic. from my desk top to email to you!!!!

aperkins01096 (author)pravs2k2011-07-01

Doesn't seem to have worked. Hope you can find the time to put it up on instructables - it sounds like a great project! Keep me posted!!

ygmoore (author)2012-03-26

Wonderful idea! I needed to modify it slightly, I had trouble getting the plug of floral foam to stay in so I opted to use a coffee filter under the soil. Then the weight of the soil made top funnel section fall into the base so I hooked the two pieces together on two sides using a small hole and bread ties. I'm sure this is clear as mud!! I then put a strip of cotton t-shirt tied to the top of tie and dropping under the coffee filter into the water reservoir as a wick.

gkaneto (author)2012-03-04

Hello, everybody!

I just wrote an instructable about self-watering (mainly for indoor plants, but will work for some outdoor setups): really self-regulating, and no powering needs.

It is here:

Hope someone find it useful.

Best wishes,

linda4444 (author)2009-07-09

How do you add water? Dump it right on the dirt, or did you put a hole in the handle, to add water to the bottom part?

aperkins01096 (author)linda44442009-07-11

I usually add it from the top, right into the soil. Was hoping to use the handle for something, but I haven't found anything unique.

sallyab (author)aperkins010962011-11-20

Sorry. I'm obviously an idiot, but where is the plant - top or bottom? Do you put the water in the bottom and it travels up or put it in the top and it travels down? Is a 'planter' a UK 'plant pot'? I'm looking for something to use on a houseplant that's already potted - best yet is plastic bottle with a length of string poked into a tiny hole in its bottom, but yours might take longer to release its water...and so be better for me (if I could just understand your idea!)

aperkins01096 (author)sallyab2011-11-21

Hi, sorry it's not the easiest instructable to follow.
The bottom of the bottle is the reservoir,
the top of the bottle is inverted and set inside the bottom of the bottle.
The plant sits inside the funnel shaped top with the top of the plant facing up, and enough soil to allow it to grow. Once it's put together, there's really only one place to put the plant. If I get some time, I may redo this with a better bottle.

Hope this helps,


busywoman65 (author)2009-03-28

Does the bottom work as a water reservoir and how do you put it in? You do dampen the dirt some when you plant the seeds don't you? I am totally new. I know the questions sound weird but I'm trying to understand.

Hi, and thanks for writing! Yes, the bottom works as a resevoir - you water the plant - and keep watering 'til you see that there's about two inches of water in the bottom (outside) container, then you can let it be 'til it's at about 1/4" or so. I'd wet the soil once it went in, then let it stand for a day or so. You can always pull out the upper part and drain off the excess water if you add too much.

hi187 (author)aperkins010962010-04-25

have you ever poked holes at about the line you think excess water is an issue? i was just reading another instructable that had an "overflow hole" that might come in handy in these jugs.

Thanks for the idea! I have been using jugs as a way to save wasted cold water when turning on the shower, but I have so many of them that I didn't know what to do. This will be a great way to use them.

hithisishal (author)2009-09-30

Any reason why you specified smaller jugs? Would gallon jugs not work?

Gallon jugs would work, but my use is for starting plants to replant into larger ones. Also, the jug handle angle eats up a lot of space where there could be soil. If you decide to use gallon jugs, I'd use two of them, and cut the funnel shaped one at about 2" from the bottom, then use another one for the base, cutting it just below the jug handle. It'll give the plant more room to grow. Let me know how it works out for you!

I set one up yesterday. I'm not sure if something is inherently not straight, because of the shape of the jugs, or if I just didn't cut straight, but my inside is a ocuple of inches lower on one side. I'll probably trip the outside down, because now most of my (fairly limited) daylight is getting diffused by the jug. And I'm growing algea already - I deff. need to cover the sides with something. But I think so far it is self-watering successfully. Either that or it just didn't dry up yet.

guy90 (author)2009-07-21

I'm using milk jugs at the mo, not sure if its just me- but the compost is always moist, with this system, so for me to pour water onto the compost, it makes it too swampy! I pour the water into the bottom part of the planter myself, my tomatoes are growing high : )

aperkins01096 (author)guy902009-07-23

Sounds like you've got a good idea. Do you remove the upper part to add water? Also - what type of tomatoes are you growing in them: cherry, full size, paste (roma) or another type? I found that the smaller types ("bush" roma, cherry) worked better in the smaller containers, where the larger size needed more room for roots.

guy90 (author)aperkins010962009-07-23

Nope, see the part on the milk bottle where the handle protrudes out? well, when I flipped and loaded this part into place, it left a neat little gap, to save me dismantling the contraption when I need to water it. I'm using cherry at the moment, my little sister mentioned the idea of stacking bottles, but I doubt they'd have a lot of light, clear bottles might make good propagators if they were around : /

wilson.joe (author)2009-04-20

you could drill little holes around the sides of the cap area where the cap use to be to help the sponge exporb water...

lharris (author)2008-06-25

Hi, Can you clarify, please, "until it breaks"? Until what breaks? Since I don't have foam, I will be cutting whatever needs to break. Are you removing the neck of the jug? It appears intact in the picture showing the top being inserted in the bottom. Thanks for any help. Lana

aperkins01096 (author)lharris2009-03-28

Hi Lana, you turn the top of the jug until the green foam breaks, leaving a small plug in the bottom. This allows water in, but the soil won't get out.

andyhuntdesigns (author)lharris2008-07-13

I think it means until the green floral foam breaks off into the neck of the jug

Yes, you're right, that's not clear. I'll see if I can fix that. Until the foam breaks off inside.

jany (author)2008-10-01

Ahhh. I get it now.! I think I will try that with a small ivy plant. Thank you so much for your input again. Jan

aperkins01096 (author)jany2009-03-28

Thanks! Send a picture!

jany (author)2008-08-10

I would like to see more pictures. Im confused about the top part of the jug and the bottom half. Why is that ridge in the bottom of the jug so important?

aperkins01096 (author)jany2008-08-11

Hi Jany, The ridge holds the "spout" high enough that the water can enter. If it wasn't there, the rim of the spout could actually press too hard against the bottom of the jug, and not allow water in. I'll see if I can redo this instructable with more pics, or maybe a video to show the steps easier.

gowithflo (author)2007-02-20

I just started a gardening group . . . want to join? Add this instructable please!

boocat (author)2006-10-20

This seems neat! I'm eager to try it next summer. Thanks.

earthgirlemi (author)2006-06-05

What a cute way of using up plastic bottles...I'm going to try this a.s.a.p.

Brother_Bear (author)2006-05-08

Great instructable short and sweet. :) A tip to take into consideration though is to tape or paint the outsides opauqe to prevent algae growth and promote healthy root development.This is because algae like light and suffocates the roots by covering them and stealing nutrient etc. And the roots become stunted on some plants because they strive to avoid the light and by doing this they bunch up in the middle of the planter. But like i said great tutorial iam gonna make some for my Daturas(Angel trumpets,thorn apple and Bella Donna)

RifeHeretic (author)Brother_Bear2006-05-25

Bella Donna isnt a Datura, though it is a Baneful herb and both are from the same family and contain some similar trptophans

gbell12 (author)2006-05-23

OHHHH.... wow, I had to stare at that a long time to get it. You're making a plug out of the foam for the funnel part of the milk carton. Can you maybe put a picture of that part in? Also, are you meant to keep the jug handle full of water?

Junkyard John (author)2006-05-13

there is an easier way to make self watering plaunters. Fill a cup up with water and stick the end of a piece of string in it. Connect the other end of the string to a regular planter. Use more strings for bigger planters. Great instructable, though :)

aperkins01096 (author)2006-05-12

Thanks for all the comments! Looking forward to hydroponic instructable.

Think nothing of it :)

aperkins01096 (author)2006-05-12

Thanks for all the comments! Looking forward to hydroponic instructable.

foamyguy (author)2006-05-11

Sorry for the double post up there. Ive made a few of these now. Couple milk cartons and a t liter soda bottle that I am also trying out. Should I be keeping the water level high enought to touch the foam at the bottom?

foamyguy (author)2006-05-11

I am assuming that you hyave to keep the water level high enoug hto touch the foam right? And what if you aerated the water in the bottom? Would you still have the same mold problem?

Brother_Bear (author)foamyguy2006-05-11

If you aerate the water you dont need any soil if you add liquid nutrients to the water. Iam going to put up a tutorial on a rooting unit and a big hydroponic unit soon i just have to get the supplies together. And since also building a still iam a bit swamped :)

Brother_Bear (author)2006-05-10

The foam goes into the throat of the top part of the jug like in the picture. Atleast thets how i see it.

radiorental (author)Brother_Bear2006-05-10

yup, foam draws up water from bottom through neck to the soil. Pretty neat although even if you solve the algae problem you will have mold to deal with as the soil cant breath against the plastic. Its always best to have a flow of water from top to bottom rather than constantly soaked.

Brother_Bear (author)radiorental2006-05-11

If the the plant is healthy that wont be a problem most plants produce a natural fungicide.

I forot and adding some perlite or gravel in the dirt att the bottom will help with aeration. iam also going to put up a tutorial of a easy hydroponic setup.

foamyguy (author)2006-05-11

I am assuming that you hyave to keep the water level high enoug hto touch the foam right?

foamyguy (author)2006-05-09

Im not quite understanding this. Does the foam go inside the base, underneath the top part of the jug? Or does it go inside the top part of the jug underneath the soil? The 2nd seems to make more sense. And is step 2 just to make the foam fit in the inverted top of the jug?

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