Introduction: Self Watering Plant Container Out of a 2 Liter Bottle

Picture of Self Watering Plant Container Out of a 2 Liter Bottle

I have a black thumb due to my forgetfulness on the watering of plants. By the time I remember and rush over with the wattle bottle, the plants have croaked and moved onto the next plane of existence.

I was reading some furniture blogs (doesn't everyone?) and noticed this post. It's a great idea and something like the earthboxes my mom grows tomatoes in, but the cost?!!? $55? That seems a bit much.

I decided to make something like that using a 2 liter bottle and a rag from an old t-shirt. Much lower cost and a nice weekend project.

My original idea was to cut off the top of a 2 litter bottle and put a standard terra cotta pot inside. The 2 liter would be the water reservoir and a scrap of a cotton t-shirt could act as the wick. Then I realised, well, if you turn the top of the 2 liter upside down you have a very nice cavity to put the potting mix in and a hole in the bottom (the original neck and opening) to run the wick through. After thinking it over we were off to the races.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials


- 2 liter bottle. Clear is good, other colors will work.

- rag from a cotton t-shirt. About 8" x 8" or so.

- Spray paint. I've read a few things that say planting containers should be darker colors to block light from damaging the roots. Fair enough. So you need to paint the top of the 2 liter once it's cut off. I used a black primer as a base coat and then a red gloss as a top coat.

- Potting Mix. Important: It's potting mix, NOT potting soil. From what I could find online, potting mix will "wick" the water to the roots of your plant and potting soil will not.


- Utility or xacto knife

- Medium or Fine Sand Paper. I'm using a fine grit sand sponge thingie - I love these things.

- You need to be able to cut a 2 liter bottle in half and while it can be a wild and wavy cut, nice and straight and flat is a good thing. I decided to do multiple planters so I set up a production tool. It's a 2x4 cut to 5.25" tall. On top of that I drilled pilot holes and screwed down a utility knife blade. By spinning the 2 liter around the blade I could get an even mark and most of the cut done. It would start to bind up for the last bit and for that I used the xacto knife.

- Sharpie, used to mark the fill line so a quick glance is all it needs.

- SOS pad for scubbin' off the last of the paper and glue from the 2 liter label.

Step 2: Cut the 2 Liter Bottle in Half and Sand the Two Pieces.

Picture of Cut the 2 Liter Bottle in Half and Sand the Two Pieces.

There are many ways to cut a 2 liter in half, whatever works for you is best.

Just know the cut should be 5.25" from the bottom.

I used a tool (cut down 2x4 with utility knife blade) to make the mark and do most of the cutting. If you are doing something else, to get an even cut you need to brace the 2 liter so it can "spin" and not move up and down in relation to the knife.

Once you have cut the 2 liter in half, you need to sand the new edges of both halves - they can be sharp and jaggy.

I used a foam sanding sponge for this. Don't forget to do the inside rim to remove any burrs as well.

Once both halves have the edges sanded, it's time to do a general sanding all around the outside of both halves.

For the top half, this ruffs up the surface so the paint can grip better.

For the bottom half, this gives the plastic a "frosted" look that looks better than just having it clear. This is a judgement call and you might not want to do it, but I like the frostyness so I'm sanding.

Once all the pieces have been sanding to your satisfaction, wash them off with soap and water to remove the plastic dust and any residue from what came in the 2 liter, and then set them out to dry.

Step 3: Spray Paint the Top

Picture of Spray Paint the Top

While you could do just a clear top and bottom, I've read having a dark color for the planting container is a good thing to stop light from damaging the plant roots. So it's time to break out the spray paint.

First step, do one coat of black primer. Don't sweat it if it's not perfectly even coverage - just get it close. I found it easist to put something down that could be rotated (a scrap of 2x6) and don't move the top itself, just rotate what it's on a little bit at a time.

Once that is dry, do 2 thin coats of your topcoat. I'm using a red gloss this time, but I've been using yellow and blue and brown and green as well to change it up a bit. Whatever you have would work.

This step is the most time consuming as we wait for the paint to dry between coats. Luckily it's been hot and sunny lately.

Step 4: Add the Wick, the Potting Mix, and Your Plant

Picture of Add the Wick, the Potting Mix, and Your Plant

Once the final coat of paint has dried, it's time to put it all together.

Note - the top piece of the 2 liter is the planting container, the bottom piece is the water reservoir .

The wick is a scrap of cotton t-shirt, about 8" x 8". Anything close or kinda that size will do. Take one end of the wick and push it though the neck of top piece, so half is sticking out the bottom and half is inside. Wet that down to start the wicking action.

Now it's time to add the potting mix. Take a scoop and put it in the bottom of the planting container. Pull the wick up so it's surrounded by the potting mix. Tap that down and put on a little water to make the potting mix moist.

Add more or less as much potting mix as you need for putting in your plant. I'm transferring in a little thing of cilantro but if you are doing seeds, fill it up to the top. At this point it's just like re-potting any plant. Put in the plant, add extra potting mix to fill the sides, tap it down and water to make it moist.

When that is all done, take a look at where the neck is at the bottom of the planting container. You want to have the fill line about half way up the neck - where the water is only in contact with the wick and not the potting mix. Mark your fill line with the sharpie, pull the planting container up and fill the water reservoir to the fill line just marked. At this point, you are done!

The nice thing about this system is it gives the plant roots a constant level of moisture, it's not flood and then dry, flood and dry like normal watering. Check the fill line every few days to see where you are. The most I've had to refill in hot sun with a thirsty plant is every other day or so.

I've done this with one, two and three liter bottles and they all work. It's a nice and quick way to make a planter that will give your plants a fighting chance with a forgetful waterer.



RichardP28 (author)2015-08-10

If this site is active you may email me at

RichardP28 (author)2015-08-10

If this site is active you may email me at

RichardP28 (author)2015-08-10

Im planing on makeing a few of these,as well as two other hydroponic growers useing these pop bottles as well,one will be similer to this,a wick based system and the other an ebb and flow.on this i have a coke bottle,2 liter,and i noticed the shape of the bottle isnt exactly streight.where is the best place to cut these type bottles?id prefer the smooth 3 liter or 2 liter but i only have the coke bottle for now

lwomac5 (author)2012-04-13

I recently started some tomato plants this way. Let me say it is VERY easy to keep them watered down where I live in south Louisiana, which was a big problem before. If I have enough water in the bottom part, I can go 2-3 days before refilling. I didnt sand mine down though, but I feel they still look good. Spraypainting them also add a really cool pop of color.

Winnigins (author)2012-03-16

I really like the idea of the wick for self watering. I hope this will work when I go on vacation. I lost a few plants last year because they dried out before I got home and could water them again. I also like the idea of using old socks because I now have a little pile of singles. I still can't figure how that happens but now they will be put to good use.

lexkeepsitsimple (author)2012-01-20

I definitely want to do this, thank you!

islandives (author)2011-10-07

oh yeah! this is the best n easy way i can do it after searching the internet. U rock! Thank you

dewogundhul (author)2011-09-05

thanks for the idea, simple, usefull and exciting .........

PermacultureOnline (author)2011-08-20

Excellent idea! Some ideas for you:

Paint the outside of the container instead so you don't get paint into the system or algae. Or use duct tape.. you can get them in varied colours.

Also, I don't think the wick is necessary for such a tiny pot.

Keep the cap screwed on after drilling some tiny holes

Drill a tiny overfill hole at the level where the bottom of the soil holding part is, so that only the portion where the cap is is immersed in water, otherwise you'll rot your roots.

Drill a hole in the soil-holding half, above the water line, and drop a straw or other tube into it. You can then water through that tube.

halayc (author)2011-08-08

hi, would you like to crowd-invent a self-watering cup with us on #Quirky
About crowd inventing:

LoveandTrash (author)2011-02-21

Good design, and I like that it reuses waste materials.

You could enter it in our contest:

nana13 (author)2010-09-08

love this idea! thank you for sharing God Bless you in al that you do!

gwtgator (author)2008-05-29

would you water through the soil, or separate the halves and fill the bottom reservoir every time ?

dulany1977 (author)gwtgator2009-03-25

It would most likely be best to add water to bottom so that you do not flood seed or drown the root systems. having the wick will pull water up, but also if adding water from the top it would keep water in as well and make the roots too wet and apt to root rot. ;)

uribouwawa (author)dulany19772010-09-01

I wonder if you could add a hole above the water line but below the top section so you could just fill it with a watering can rather than having to take the top part off--there probably wouldn't be too much of an evaporation difference, would there?

Trav3390 (author)2010-07-03

Great advice. Looking to do a couple of simple hydro pot plants to grow indoors this winter. Not looking to spend alot of money. Ive been growing my outdoor plants since Feb and their near being done, It would be a good project during the winter to work on. Thanks for all the great advice.

parkosta (author)2009-12-05

 Great idea! one [unrelated] question:  where did you get the free-form green container in the right foreground of the last picture?

Thanks for sharing your talents!

AubreeMarie (author)parkosta2009-12-07

I've seen those types of planters at "The Christmas Tree Shoppe", we have 'em everywhere in New England, so I'm not sure if you have them in your area. I have seen and purchased these types of containers (a pack of three stackable with hanging chain) for the past two or three springs.

iancremona (author)2009-06-12

Great method! Here has a similar way to do it, it's done by resizing a pot with minimal tools (and does not contain any PVC). 5 stars

chefmichel (author)2008-01-20

Very nice instructable, Whamodyne. Just a suggestion from a "lazy hydro-gardner", instead of painting, wrap your your clear bottles in brown bags or triple layer newspapers. This will block the light and you'll have no algea.

wilson.joe (author)chefmichel2009-04-16

plus the paper would be more environmentally friendly compared to the paint.. especially if its using newspaper...

begusquiza (author)2009-04-03

Este proyecto es muy bueno! gracias por compartir tus experiencias.

SandLizard (author)2009-02-05

How about drilling some small holes in the lid and screwing it on. Then you could do without the wick, the potting mix would do the wicking.

vrkelley (author)2009-01-25

One more question. If I were to use Miracle Grow would the towel get clogged up or do I have to fertilize from the top??? Thanks in advance for a great suggestion

vrkelley (author)2009-01-19

Great Idea. How do you prevent the roots from eventually growing into the water. Or is that OK? Thanks in advance.

resonanteye (author)2008-07-27

I made one out of a fiji water bottle (the square plastic liter bottle) cut in half. I didn't paint it though, I'm hoping that the dirt will keep the roots dark enough. It's working great, I follwed this instructable to make it, I built it two weeks ago now and the plant is doing much better, thanks for writing this

resonanteye (author)resonanteye2008-07-27

I've been refilling the reservoir by lifting the plant half out and filling into the bottom, then pouring a tiny bit of water onto the soil.

DebraTurner (author)2008-05-08

Whamodyne, and Everyone Else -- Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU !!! You have all given me hope :) I absolutely adore vegetable gardening, but we have a HORRIBLE woodchuck (ground hog) infestation ... they live under the house, under the barn, etc. I cringe as I watch them brazenly waddle all over the yard just like they own the place :( However, we have a huge back deck that requires four steps up from the ground (which I hope is somewhat of a deterrent to the beasties). This wonderful deck also receives the sun all day long :) I added an 8' x 2-1/2' table, upon which to grow my new container garden (all my gardening supplies store nice and neat under it, as well). And I KNOW for a FACT that a fat woodchuck ain't gonna climb THAT. I spent an entire weekend making my 60+ pots, precisely to your specs, Whamodyne (except that I'm not as much of a perfectionist as you are -- so although I did the painting, no sanding was involved). I had already ordered and received 14 tomato plants; and purchased locally my 12 spinach and 30 assorted lettuce plants. Day before yesterday, I potted EVERYTHING up. (I ran out there the next morning, and sure enough -- the soil in each pot was moist !!! ) This arrangement also solves the wind issue -- 40-50 mph winds are common much of the time in this part of Connecticut. I put 6 pots in each of two milk crates, and set them on either end of the table. Then I placed the rest of the pots in between the crates (which is also very helpful inasmuch as the plants can shade each others' roots from the heat). VOILA !!! No wind problems -- the plants are all holding each other firmly in place. And even with 56 potted plants on the table, there's still tons of room left over :) I know that I may very well have to move the tomato plants around as they become quite a bit taller, but I believe that having them containerized will handle that nicely. Even if I have to create larger pots to accommodate them, there are enough great ideas offered (thanks, Moonmisthaven) from folks here that I think I will be able to manage them quite nicely. Thanks to everybody here for your great input ... believe me, each one of you has contributed to what I am already expecting to be a huge success ... I never would have attempted this project if it had not been for every single person's comments here. Thank you all !!!

The Saminator (author)2008-02-20

good job. I like it.

incorrigible packrat (author)2008-02-06

FYI... the bottled water hucksters now peddle water cooler water in non-deposit 20 liter PET bottles. One of those would be aces for scaling this idea up a bit... I like the bottle-cutting jig idea. I always cuts 'em all crooked like. I also noticed the waxed cardboard broccoli box spray booth. (at least it looks like waxed, in the photo). It's really good to reuse waxed 'board, 'cuz it ain't recyclable. (Part of my work involves sorting recyclables. It irks me when people bring in regular, unwaxed cardboard thats been spray-painted on, or used under the car for an oil change, etc., 'cuz then I have to chuck it.)

Cat on my Lap (author)2007-12-17

I'd recommend painting the bottom piece white for temperature issues; roots tend to enjoy cooler environments. But I do understand the need for a polychromatic and aesthetically pleasing experience.

jenables (author)2007-11-07

This is so cool! I'm going to try it as a project with kids in a rec program!

chuckr44 (author)2007-08-20

You could also use odd socks to plug the hole. You know, where one sock runs away and turns into a coat hangar, and now you can't match the remaining sock with any other one?

zobier (author)2007-07-15

Nice, the only thing I'd add is to cut/drill an overflow hole at your fill line in case it rains. :)

whamodyne (author)zobier2007-07-16

Yes! After we had a quick and hard rain a few days ago I had to go and punch an overflow hole at the fill line in all of them. I'm glad you mentioned it.

johncar (author)2007-07-15

Quote "'Spray paint. I've read a few things that say planting containers should be darker colors to block light from damaging the roots" Dark colours would also increase the heat in the pot. Maybe two coats, white on top of black.

I have an automatic watering system for my pot plants and I have to be careful to set it for several hours after sun set to prevent the plants being 'cooked' by the water that was in the pipe all day.

HydroPetunia (author)2007-07-08

Good instructable and well documented. I have a few simple questions. 1-To add water, you remove the top and and water to the bottom reservoir, then replace the top, right? 2-Are they top heavy? Do they get knocked over easily when it is windy? A good idea I will probably try in one form or another...

whamodyne (author)HydroPetunia2007-07-08

Hydro, 1) Yep. Just lift off the top (it might take a hand to hold the bottom down) and add water to the reservoir. Then put the top back in. 2) They are not as top heavy as I originally thought. I had a tall basil plant that kept blowing over in a smaller container and it is holding steady so far. I guess it helps that I've been keeping the reservoirs mostly full as of late. Even with no problems yet, I share this concern and I'm going to make a wood stand to put them in and hold them in place while leaving the water level visible. That's somewhere on the to-build list which gets longer by the day.

Moonmistmaven (author)whamodyne2007-07-13

I noticed in the first picture that you, also, use the big white plastic kitty litter containers to water your plants! It got me to thinking ... What if you made one of these out of the white kitty litter containers? It would be bigger so you could plant bigger plants; heavier and have a wider base to prevent it from tipping over; it would also be opaque, so you wouldn't have to bother painting it. To make an even BIGGER water resevoir, you could cut the top off of one right below the top indentation. Use this big container for the reservoir. Then, use another one and cut it right above the bottom of the jug for a bigger pot. Of course, you would need a much larger "wick" - maybe a towel or a whole T-shirt. You could paint it with acrylic paints to make it look nicer. Or, you could even use PVC plumbing grout as a glue background and stick on colored stones, broken tiles, broken mirror pieces, broken glass pieces, coins, broken CD ROM pieces, etc. To help even out the top (they're a little hard to cut - I've cut them to use them as bins on my shelves) you could use colored duct tape on the top (Michael's and Big Lots have many different colors to choose from). You could even just cut a bunch of pieces of duct tape and make a mosaic pattern with it ... Oh, the possibilities ... I could go on forever! To break things safely, you cand wrap the breakable in a towel and smash it with a hammer. An even safer idea might be to put it in a pillow case or cloth laundry bag before smashing. This way you will be sure that no pieces fall out by accident, but it may rip the the pillow case or bag. Maybe one of those heavy-duty plastic lawn bags might work well also - you could even rinse the glass pieces out more easily after you smash it.

whamodyne (author)Moonmistmaven2007-07-14

Thanks! For a more complex container like the kitty litter ones, I would do a homemade earthbox. I found some good plans here

He also had some plans for a more complex container

These use the potting mix as the wick itself by putting a 4" pvc pipe with holes in it down into the water reservoir and filling that with the potting mix. It's an interesting design.
I'm going to be doing these for tomatoes next spring.

mjpage (author)2007-07-14

This is the coolest! Thanks! One suggestion... I know from experience that water left in a clear container will eventually grow green algae. One way to avoid this might be to paint the bottom half of your container as well, save for one vertical strip that is clear. You can create the strip by putting a piece of masking tape on it when you paint it, then taking it off when the paint is nearly dry. It'll provide a little window that will allow you to see the water level, without exposing all the water to bright sunlight.

whamodyne (author)mjpage2007-07-14

Thanks! You are correct, all my containers outside have some green algae going on. I don't know if this will impact the plants themselves and was planning on washing them out and putting in fresh water. I'll look into painting the bottom as well.

foamyguy (author)2007-07-13

in my experience with using wick fed watering system you'll want the wick to be something synthetic...Nylon works pretty well, otherwise it will rot after a while.

whamodyne (author)foamyguy2007-07-13

Thanks for the tip! I'll have to keep track of the wicks and see when they rot out. Hopefully it will last till winter.

bourgeot (author)2007-07-11

Very Clever. I would like to try this because I drink a lot of soda in two-liter bottles, I'd like to have an herb garden, I have lots of old tee-shirts, and I don't do very well with on-schedule watering. This looks like something I might not fail at! Thanks.

Bubbler (author)2007-07-09

A good safe way to cut plastic bottles or "ally" cans is to fill them with water and freeze them. The next day the will cut like a log of soft wood. A great instructable, and I will prepare some for my upcoming spring here Downunder.

About This Instructable




Bio: Named "Emblematic of the Instructables Universe" by the New York Times, I'm a maker and designer who enjoys looking at things sideways and playing ... More »
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