Introduction: Self Watering Mini Garden

Picture of Self Watering Mini Garden

Building on the idea of the self watering plant pots (there are several instructables) I've built a bigger version, using IKEA boxes.

Step 1: Get All the Tools / Materials

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Get some boxes. I used "Samla" boxes from IKEA because they are cheap, available in different sizes and you don't have to buy the lid (which we don't need).

You will also need some string, scissors, and your trusty Swiss Army knife. (Since you are on the instructables website I think it is save to assume you have one)

Step 2: Prepare the Boxes

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Drill some holes in the bottom in one (!) of the two boxes and thread the string through. I tied some knots to make sure they don't fall out of the bottom while I assemble everything.

Step 3: Fill the Box With Earth

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Now about 1/3 of the box with earth an pull the strings up a bit. (so they are not just at the bottom of the box)

Now fill the rest of the box with earth.

Step 4: Plant Your Stuff

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Now it's time to plant whatever you want to plant in your box. I started with some peppermint and some basil which I had grown in some self watering pots made out of PET-bottles.

Put the box with earth in the other box (which we haven't touched until now).
Don't forget to water everything and fill the lower box with water. But don't overdo it! The upper box should not touch the water. (Using the Samla boxes I can put approx. 1 liter of water into the lower box.)

Step 5: Wait...

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Now wait and enjoy your little garden. This is a picture of mine after about a month. Everything has grown beautifully!

Please note that the basil was a lot bigger the day before I took this picture. But I had used a lot of in my pasta sauce. :-)

Some tips from experience:
- Drill some holes in the lower box just underneath the point where the top box ends. This way you don't have to worry about overfilling the lower box (accidentally of if there are heavy showers)
- The one liter reservoir lasts for about 2 days of intense sunshine. (but that's here in Switzerland This may vary in other climates)


LangdonHarris (author)2015-04-20

I like the string idea!

ilikecake3 (author)2013-11-28


bikeboy (author)2011-03-14

Hey man, thanks for the idea with the wicking ropes!
One small concern though: I've read that it's bad for plant roots if they're in contact with UV radiation. Too bad IKEA doesn't make these boxes in non-transparent version. Very easy adaptation of the earth box. I was looking for this!

RoBear613 (author)bikeboy2013-06-16

ALL plastic will fail from UV exposure so why not build a lightweight box around the main planter - no bottom, just sides. This would prevent UV exposure to both the roots and the planter.

bikeboy (author)RoBear6132013-06-17

@ RoBear613:
I happend to have made a wooden "skirt" around my DIY earthbox, just as you described.
My boxes aren't transparant, but the wood looks fine!

Noadi (author)bikeboy2011-04-26

An easy solution to this would be to line the boxes with something opaque like weed block or even the plastic from heavy duty black garbage bags. Alternatively a more attractive measure would be to spray paint the outside of the boxes with a paint that bonds to plastic like krylon fusion.

bikeboy (author)Noadi2011-04-27

Seems like a good solutions. I found opaque containers in the size I was looking for and for a good price but that's will not always be the case.

For my soda bottle self watering containers, I just used cardboard to block the light. It's a cheap and eco friendly alternative, and theirs tons laying around in my appartment building. If cut with care, it looks tidy (opinions might vary on that...), and you can use it as a label too. Just don't poor water over it or it'll warp (but then again, the water should go into the tube).

gkaneto (author)2012-03-04

Hello, everybody!

I just wrote an instructable about self-watering indoor plants: really self-regulating, and no powering needs.

It is here:

Hope someone find it useful.

Best wishes,

peregrine81 (author)2008-08-07

Hey man if you wanted to improve this you could take a .5 inch radius pvc pipe and cut a .5 inch radius hole in the bottom put the pipe in the hole, use some glue or kaulk to seal it up and just pour water down the hole. Or even make a automatic watering system with a floating switch to water when the water gets low. I LOVE YOUR IDEA!

damiano80 (author)peregrine812011-01-11

I give you 10 MacGyvers!
Good idea man!

tlreyes (author)2010-03-01

 Thanks for the instructions. These are much more streamlined than some of the others I have read online. I am going to try this right away.

the_sandypants (author)2009-08-07

very nice and helpful

maurice1993 (author)2009-07-28

this kind of stuff also reduce the fungus manifestation? cause as water comes from down, don't touch the leaves and don't let them wet, isn't? very nice 'ible

smh (author)2009-06-26

Nice one =). I'm gonna have to make a couple.

maymomma (author)2009-05-17

I have been wanting to get some of the earth boxes but I want to give this a try first,sounds less costly.I want some small tomato plants and this sounds like the right size to try.Thanks for a great idea.

stifoo (author)2009-04-02

I think the idea is cute too...maybe it will work the same without the strings? I water quite a few of my plants from the bottom and the dirt soaks up what it needs on its own. I'd love to see an experiment of one with verses one without strings :)

RomanH (author)stifoo2009-04-30

That's the approach the "Earth Box" uses. A commercial product with many advantages (like refilling from the top). It is a concept that is proven to work.

HAL 9000 (author)2009-04-01

Today i did something like this with a bunch of 4 gallon food buckets i had lying around. i planted tomatoes, zucchini, salad greens and sugar snap peas. hopefully they will all grow well, ill post pictures of my setup if they do. great project, fun and easy in an afternoon

HAL 9000 (author)HAL 90002009-04-05

hmmm, it seems that a 4 gallon square bucket is too deep for this to work. the top of the soil dried out too quickly and the plants started dying. now i am rethinking while i water with a watering can.

RomanH (author)HAL 90002009-04-30

hmmm, I assume that's only a problem for the first couple of weeks. After that, the roots should reach down to the moisture. Good luck.

cameronlaferney (author)2009-04-18

thanks so much im gonna try this ,but do you still have to fill up the bottom container with water every few days. : D

RomanH (author)cameronlaferney2009-04-30

As mentioned in a comment further down, you can increase the size of the reservoir by finding some method of raising the top container. I've played around with several containers and setups and they all have different "refill needs". :-) And you can always improve the design by adding a refill tube through the tob container. Nevertheless, the gardening season has just started this year and as long as there isn't much foliage at the plants there is not much water evaporating. So for the moment refill about once a week.

WallaceTheSane (author)2009-04-18

Wicking from the bottom - what a great idea! Think it would work with big, hearty plants? Does capillary action work with soluble fertilizers?

RomanH (author)WallaceTheSane2009-04-30

I assume it also works with soluble fertilizers. But that's not really an issue. after a couple of weeks the roots find the holes an grow straight down to the water reservoir. :-)

cukier (author)2009-04-25

That’s may be interesting for you:

shayes976 (author)2008-09-23

not all string has ability to wick liquids. if it's untreated natural fibers or blends yes. But many are easily melted, meaning plastic which cannot absorb with the same rate , for the quality of your plants water schedule. you should be more specific. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR THE WATER IN THE BOTTOM TO REACH THE MIDDLE OF THE DIRT LEVEL? IS IT CONSISTANT? or does it depend on the temperature of the room ie climate? if i make this and in a smaller scale like to a set of big 64oz. 711 cups stacked. would it still work? or do I need to bring the strings to the surface of the dirt? so far my problems with growing plants i want to use when i cook, is in chicago is it all has to be indoors.

Zeboaz (author)shayes9762009-04-18

You can also use strips of an old 100% cotton t-shirt. Just use a pencil to poke it through the holes, and tie a loose knot at one end of the cloth. .. Seeing as you use cups, perhaps you should check out container gardening, using 2 liter bottles, same concept, more specialized to your needs though. Check this out :)

You shouldn't have to worry too much about how fast or how consistent the water will draw in, soil, being soil along with the cloth or string will absorb all over. Just keep an eye on the water level. Soil should be moist, enough to briefly stick to your fingers, and easily fall off.

busywoman65 (author)2009-03-28

That is neat. Can you also grow lettuce, radishes, onions. Things that don't have a real deep root.

susantoliu (author)2009-03-11

Great Idea.. are the plats can absorb water from the bottom by self? I will try this method. I will report to u next time. Thx.

aceitunita (author)2009-03-10

Do you have this self-watering system for your mini apple trees that were grown here?

RomanH (author)aceitunita2009-03-10

Since the mint took over the entire box within a couple of weeks I had to build a separate (slightly smaller) system for the apple trees. They are still alive I guess. We shall see how the do once spring finally arrives where I live... :-)
I've got big gardening plans for this season. I've already got a couple of chili plants growing in self-watering-systems like this one. (indoors for now)

SpitFire2393 (author)2008-09-18

I am so going to make this tonight. Great Instructable!

MrAdventure (author)2008-09-01

Nice. I was recently thinking about composting and small gardens. I posted a writeup about a three level gardenthree level garden that I think could really maximize space and save time in a small living environment. The watering and lighting mechanisms are built into the bottom of each tray. The trays rotate for ease of gardening.

lynx929 (author)2008-08-23

Thanks RomanH. Great Idea. I have done this planter box but have modified it for an outdoor location in the garden. Have put in a spacer as noted in an earlier comment. But use brick as it does not rot. Have drilled a couple of 6mm drain holes (located below the bottom of the top box) to prevent "flooding" of the box. Have another 25mm dia hole at a higher level for filling with my garden hose. Have put a black plastic sheet over the top. Large enough to tie it around the side as well to protect the boxes from the sun. Cut hole in plastic at location of refill hole. Cut through plastic for your planting.

sick-al (author)2008-08-21

cool instructable, but i wouldn't say plants looked their best in a plastic tub. do you think i could use the same with plant pots?

RomanH (author)sick-al2008-08-21

sure, I don't see why it wouldn't work. The physics don't change. (oh, and yes, you're right. The bins look a bit trashy) :-)

Grey_Wolfe (author)2008-08-13

All praise Tiki. Tiki bless my veggies. lol

mweston (author)2008-08-04

You can add some spacers and increace the capacity a lot. This would be godd for 7 to 10 day vacations!

ulab (author)mweston2008-08-08

What about using the lid that you can buy as addon to those boxes? Just cut a hole big enough so that one box can sit on top of the other (or perhaps just a little stacked by using a slightly larger hole)? You could even use a smaller (not so high) box for the bottom one this way. IIRC there are boxes of similar size, but with different heights,

mweston (author)ulab2008-08-13

thats not bad either

mweston (author)mweston2008-08-04

(The spacers being between the bins for more water capacity if I wasn't clear)

RomanH (author)mweston2008-08-04

I actually thought about that. You could easily place some wooden blocks in the lower bin. I didn't do it for two reasons: Firstly, I didn't go on holiday this summer, so there was no need and secondly spacers would "open" the box and the water could evaporate more easily. One would have to try to find out how well it would actually work. And to all: Thanks for the nice comments! :-)

Denaa (author)RomanH2008-08-08

As a quick hack, you could:
1. buy a third box
2. cut out its base
3. staple it between the two other boxes.
This should roughly double the capacity without compromising the sealing.

RomanH (author)Denaa2008-08-08

That might actually work really well! Great idea! Thanks!

Charlie24601 (author)RomanH2008-08-07

What if you used two different sized boxes? The planter box could be JUST a bit bigger than the reseviour box. So instead of nesting snugly, the top will be holding itself up need for spacers.

mweston (author)RomanH2008-08-07

I thought about evaporation, my solution was to get a sheet of some lexan and cut it up w/ a dremel then insert a one way valve so you can glue it in place while still being able to fill it. this could still lead to things like a dirty tank though

WardXmodem (author)2008-08-11

Every day I'd come home and my hyacinth would have sucked up the water in the container lid I had its pot sitting in - about 2.5" deep. Solved the problem - found a large enough container at the dollar store!! This morning for the first time I was going to water it, but it didn't need it! Now, I know plants are supposed to "drain", but I guess that might depend upon the size of the pot? Large pot, could have water in the bottom as the top say 2/3 would "drain"? Or should I be lifting my pot up and use wicking? The plant seems to take about a gallon a day!

twotyerfryer (author)2008-08-09

We had a customer who would leave their home for months at a time and needed their plants watered. We used a seven day digital timer connected to a solenoid (through a 24VAC transformer) that was plumbed into the house water supply. They were able to program the timer to come on for a few minutes each day. We also used a globe valve to restrict how much water passed through when the solenoid opened so as to not flood the plants. The tubing that left the solenoid was then split with multiple tee's and then run to each plant, seven plants in all. It works great.

bruc33ef (author)2008-08-02

Excellent!!! I would guess that the string should be cotton to facilitate the capillary action, or doesn't it matter?

RomanH (author)bruc33ef2008-08-02

Thanks! :-) I honestly don't know. The one I used is cotton, but I don't know whether that matters.

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