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.
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RichardP2819 days ago
If this site is active you may email me at creeper0629@gmail.com
RichardP2819 days ago
If this site is active you may email me at creeper0629@gmail.com
RichardP2819 days ago
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
lwomac53 years ago
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.
Winnigins3 years ago
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.
I definitely want to do this, thank you!
islandives3 years ago
oh yeah! this is the best n easy way i can do it after searching the internet. U rock! Thank you
dewogundhul3 years ago

thanks for the idea, simple, usefull and exciting .........
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.
halayc4 years ago
hi, would you like to crowd-invent a self-watering cup with us on #Quirky
About crowd inventing: http://www.quirky.com/learn
Good design, and I like that it reuses waste materials.

You could enter it in our contest: http://loveandtrash.com/2011/01/contest-project-power-down/
nana134 years ago
love this idea! thank you for sharing God Bless you in al that you do!
gwtgator7 years ago
would you water through the soil, or separate the halves and fill the bottom reservoir every time ?
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. ;)
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?
Trav33905 years ago
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.
cdparks5 years ago
 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!
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.
iancremona6 years ago
Great method! Here emotioned.com 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
chefmichel7 years ago
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.
plus the paper would be more environmentally friendly compared to the paint.. especially if its using newspaper...
begusquiza6 years ago
Este proyecto es muy bueno! gracias por compartir tus experiencias.
SandLizard6 years ago
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.
vrkelley6 years ago
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
vrkelley6 years ago
Great Idea. How do you prevent the roots from eventually growing into the water. Or is that OK? Thanks in advance.
resonanteye7 years ago
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
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.
DebraTurner7 years ago
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 !!!
good job. I like it.
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.)
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.
jenables7 years ago
This is so cool! I'm going to try it as a project with kids in a rec program!
chuckr448 years ago
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?
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)  HydroPetunia8 years ago
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.
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)  Moonmistmaven8 years ago
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.
Since your going to have the PVC out already, you could put a small 90 degree peice on the back of your reservoir and use it to fill it..
zobier8 years ago
Nice, the only thing I'd add is to cut/drill an overflow hole at your fill line in case it rains. :)
whamodyne (author)  zobier8 years ago
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.
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