Instructables

Self watering recycled plant pot for growing herbs and flowers

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Picture of Self watering recycled plant pot for growing herbs and flowers
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Inspired by bbullet's Self-watering recycled vase instructable, this is the method that I have been using to make dozens of self-watering recycled planters. Thanks, bbullet!

The way that I am making these uses 2 or 3 liter soda bottles and it supplies the soil with just the right amount of moisture for the plants to grow. It's a little different than bbullet's way, but it's still made with recycled bottles and produces fantastic results all for the cost of a pinch of seeds!
 
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
You will need to gather these materials:

  • One 2 or 3 liter soda bottle with the cap
  • A piece of newspaper, a piece of plastic from a bag or a piece of aluminum foil
  • Cotton string
  • scissors or knife to cut the bottle
  • a drill (or something similar) for making holes in the cap
  • tape (optional)
*paper or some other decorative cover to keep the light out

Step 2: The cap

Picture of The cap
To begin, I drilled holes in the cap for drainage and to accept the cotton string that will act as a wick to draw the water up into the soil.

I drilled one large hole in the center of the cap and eight smaller holes around it. The large hole is what will hold the string and the smaller holes will allow water to drain out.

Step 3: The wick

Picture of The wick
I am using cotton string to act as a wick to draw water up into the soil. As the soil dries and the roots absorb moisture, the wick will bring water back up into the soil from the reservoir below and feed the plants.

I cut three equal lengths of string (about 15 inches long) and tied them together with a simple knot about 3 inches up from the bottom.

Into the cap, I fed the three short lengths of cotton string through the big hole in the middle of the bottle cap and pulled them through so the knot rests on the hole on the inside of the cap. The short ends will dangle in the water, and the long ends will go up into the soil to feed the roots.
Tidnull6 years ago
I don't the print would be a problem but the newspaper seems like it would work like a peat pot. Water a peat pot and within 24 hours the pot itself has soaked up all of the moisture, leaving the roots to dry out. To me, the black trash bag would be the best choice, as it does not soak up moisture and does not run the risk of letting light in.
KittyF Tidnull3 years ago
the trouble with a black trash bag is if the sun comes in the window it can overheat the soil and the plant roots. it's possible it could kill the roots, and the heated soil might dry out sooner as well.
FWIW
tvandang4 years ago
perhaps i did not read this article clearly but do we put water in the soil or in the reservoir so that the the soil will suck up the the water from the reservoir via the strings?  i am not so clear about this.  so when we plant the herbs do we fill the reservoir or water the soil?  sorry if the questions are idiotic.  thanks!
iPodGuy (author)  tvandang3 years ago
You want to have water in the reservoir at all times. When you put soil in the cup, wet it also. As the water evaporates from the soil, it draws more water up the strings - kind of like priming a pump. Re-moisten the soil periodically.
LittleWolf4 years ago
Great instructable! I really like recycling, but only as long as they serve a purpose. Would it affect it on any way if the whole container was permanently decorated?
iPodGuy (author)  LittleWolf3 years ago
Nope. I once made construction paper sleeves to go over the outside of the pots. You might not be able to see your water levels, though.
pravs2k3 years ago

I first tried out with pebbles at the bottom.then graduated to two piece ones.Now I make two piece ones but with decoupage covering the whole bottle Cant pull out the top part to see how much water there is left. to overcome this problem I have left the flat part of the bottle clear and drilled a hole about two inches from the bottom for the excess water to flow out . The bottles are all placed in a basin of water for a while and once they are full ,they are taken out and left out for the excess water to drain out. I used fabric and jute and also paper napkins to decoupage the bottles. Also mat and bamboo screens.Plan to grow lettuce and herbs, but at the moment I have all sorts of plants.Just one had a problem- the roots found their way into the reservoir because I had drilled an extra hole in the lid for water to drain into the the bottom part .Couple of plants wilted a bit -the soil was dry.Dont know what happened.
geekcore4 years ago
Recycling, yay!

 I just made four of these today after having some trouble with my oregano and thyme washing away when I try to water from the top and not staying moist enough in general.  

I left the newspaper out, though.  


This would be great for seeds like coriander, too.
sail4free4 years ago
You can view my sub-irrigated instructable here:
http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Build-Your-Own-Growing-Containers/

Using the Google search feature with "sub-irrigated", my instructable was #3 . . . I think yours was #1! My thinking has evolved towards using a five gallon bucket for larger plants, but you could do the same thing on your smaller scale by removing the tapered neck of the clear bottle. Drill a small overflow hole at the desired maximum water height and fill with pea gravel to 1/2" above the overflow hole. This guarantees a crucial air gap between the potting mix and the water reservoir, so over-watering is impossible. Then a piece of Dupont's 15-year landscape fabric is used to keep roots from drowning in the reservoir. Then the bottle is filled with planting mix and is ready to plant. It's important to fully saturate the mix as you go -- any excess drains out the overflow. The bottle should be painted or shaded with a decorative cyclinder. I have ideas for auto-watering too so the water level remains constant. I hope to detail all this in my 2nd Instructable SOON but haven't put it together yet.
KhiemTran4 years ago
Genius!
junkk294 years ago
 Thank you so much for posting this instructable, now I have a new home for my Oregano and Rosemary plants :)
timbit19854 years ago
Contrary to popular belief, plant roots do just fine in sunlight :) The reason that 99% of pots are opaque is because it helps nurseries control algal growth in their soil. I have over 20 plants in transparent pots, with various exposures to sunlight. All of them are thriving.

Cheers,

Tim

This is really cool! It addresses the problem that recycling plastic isn't very profitable. This way your local recycling center doesn't loose money sorting it, and it still stays out the landfills. Bravo, sir! You've also solved a problem for me. I've been using the bottom parts to catch excess water but a plastic cup for the pot. This way one bottle will make a complete pot.
Chewie424 years ago
Did you try a coffee filter?
archerj4 years ago
This is a good idea, well thought out and presented--also some good suggestion and comments from others. Good luck with your big project!

There are some serious environmental questions about the use of peat moss: look at the whole picture on Wikipedia. It's a question of choice, but you it's always a good idea to look at both sides of the picture.

Personally, if there's a rational argument regarding environmental issues, I try to find an alternative. Maybe a compost bin and making your own homemade "peat."
dwream6 years ago
Very clever. Thanks. A suggestion: because algae can be a problem in the reservoir, it is helpful to wrap the entire container in newspaper or foil to exclude light. It also reduces light, and improves appearance, if you can fit the planter into a tall porcelain vase.
iPodGuy (author)  dwream6 years ago
That's part of the plan with the new hydroponic and aquaponic ones that I've been working on. Good suggestion.
(removed by author or community request)
iPodGuy (author)  bqbowden6 years ago
Yeah, I'll post it when the work is completed. I've got a working hydroponic system that has germinated tomato seeds. Once the tomato plants have grown enough to prove my concept, I'm going to publish an instructable and begin work with the aquaponic system. Thanks for your interest!
New to gardening and don't know much about growing anything so maybe this has some problems I don't see. But in areas prone to moss/algae growth on roof tops copper and/or zinc bars are effectively used to kill it. They attach near the peak of the roof and when rain washes over them it carries enough with it to kill the algae. If the hydro/aqua system were to circulate through copper pipes (perhaps via an aquarium pump) that might be adequate to stop or slow down algae growth. Or perhaps it could be circulated over a small piece of one of these bars. Don't know how well or if it will work at all. Just an idea I had while reading the comments here.
I'm not sure of the toxicity of copper on the plants(or the levels that might leach off of the pipes) but I know that increased copper levels will harm invertebrates (like shrimp)... Also, I think you want to avoid mixing metal types in plumbing ot avoid excessive corrosion.
iPodGuy (author) 4 years ago
The instructable so nice it was featured twice!

Cool!
robinmaille4 years ago
 Excellent.  Clear, concise, complete.  Ideal instruction on the how and why.  There are some young children I will introduce to in-home planting with this idea.  Thank you.   Can you add water to the reservoir via that air hole you make if your watering 'can' had a fine enough nozzle?  Say, water pistol size?  
iPodGuy (author)  robinmaille4 years ago
Sure you could.
timbit19854 years ago
Hey,

Did you know that it is actually a common misconception regarding roots and darkness? The reason 99% of plant pots are opaque is due to commercial growers preferences. Plant pots are opaque to limit the amount of algal growth that is possible. In a home environment, algae is not likely to bloom in your soil. I have over 20 super healthy plants, all of which are planted in transparent pots. Having a transparent Sub Irrigated Pot is actually very handy, as you can see where the water level is, which allows you to KNOW when to rewater, as opposed to simply guessing.

Great instructable! 
Tim
gizmogrl4 years ago
All I have to say is I am stoked to to try this.  Imagine all the applications: genius!
micorneus4 years ago
Great post, but may I suggest:

1. Use 2 ply acrylic yarn for the wick, it wont break down as fast as natural fibers. Cost - $2-3 for about 40-50 yards.

2. Place a copper penny in the reservoir to deter algae growth.
stormys4 years ago
What kind of soil do you use for plant your Venus Fly Trap?
iPodGuy (author)  stormys4 years ago
Straight peat moss. Nothing else.
stormys iPodGuy4 years ago
Thanks for the tip, your Fly trap looks healthy. :D
aleeoop5 years ago
Does anyone know if BPA can leech into soil and then plants from plastic containers? I know this sounds paranoid, but it worries me sometimes.
iPodGuy (author)  aleeoop4 years ago
Probably. It's persistent stuff.
Kira535 years ago
This is a fantastic instructable. It was very clear. I made a different type of self watering planter with plastic milk cartons and I think this will work better. I especially like the idea of the newspaper "cup". That will make transplanting less traumatic for the plant. Thanks.
tphilp745 years ago
OMG!!! I'm so doing this tonight. I have some mesclun, cilantro and other herbs I was about to start in Jiffy pots, but hell... this is way awesome.
greenpeace5 years ago
Great****This saves time and gas. I will keep my recycled bin at home and make my own treasures. Thanks. This made my day +++++++
iPodGuy (author)  greenpeace5 years ago
Cool. I'm glad you like it.
Tidnull5 years ago
i have been using this model since august for marshmallow, spearmint, and chamomile and i just transplanted them outside. the plants all grew in a window to a few inches and they are doing fine in the garden now.
Whoa! This is awesome! Really, what a great thing for someone like me who forgets to water plants but loves to cook with fresh herbs! It would make a great gift too! Or a project for a workshop!
thank for every body
andycyca5 years ago
I'm trying this with mint. First sprouts at 8 days. Cool! But I have a question. I had to get out for a whole weekend. When I got back, the soil was half dry and the cotton wick had some sort of transparent slime on it, is that the algae? I took it off the wick, washed the bottom part twice and re-watered. Mint seems fine now, but Id like to knwo wether someone else had this problem and what to do with it.
Ha Ha on me I should have read all of the posts before I posted my last one someone already suggested something similar to my idea. Oh, well : )~
This is a great idea, and i love the little instructable guy! I do have a suggestion, a way to keep down the algae problem and you can decorate them too! Anyway you could wrap a piece of paper around the base it would block the light and be neat to look at. I would make it removable so you can check the water level or leave some space (don't wrap it all the way around) so you could see the level at all times. Good luck!
Draconix125 years ago
I made one of these about a month ago, only I used a strip of white cotton t-shirt coiled through the soil instead. The problem occurred when I let the reservoir run dry for two days, and after adding water again the soil developed mold. When I tried to change the soil I found that the shirt had deteriorated to the point that it could still transport the water to the soil, but I would need to get a new strip as it didn't survive the removal of the old soil. Any ideas for preventing this guys? Thanks.
Great idea-i wouldn't have thought to coil the wick on serveral levels of soil. I was thinking-with a gass cutter,a drill,couldn't you make a more asthetically pleasing version with a colored glass bottle? Might require some minor modifications-but I think it could work.
wilson.joe6 years ago
great idea.. yes the paper is good to keep the roots from direct light, I've exerimented with a similiar project with bottles as a green house without any paper and the roots got exposed causing a growth issue. might I add its best to stay away from paper with color ink, dont want it exorbing into the soil and the plants. as i understand alot of black ink is some how soy based these days, dont know how true that is..so it is less of a problem.. I'm going to have to give this a try for a small herb garden during the colder months to keep me into gardening when the snow hits.. :) a great reusing of resources.. A++
I was looking for ideas to keep my mint plants watered if I go away for a few days, and this is perfect. Plus, its very cost effective to make.
If your mint plants are in pots you can try putting the whole pot in a plastic bag (preferably transparent) and tie up the mouth of the bag. Or you can use a zipper-lock bag. Put it out of direct sunlight but have sufficient light and heat. A micro-climate for the plants will be created in the bag and the plant will thrive. The concept is like for terrariums. You can try and see the results before actually going on holidays. Make sure the soil is not too wet though.
Thanks for the suggestion! I already made the featured project, but I have another little mint plant that will be perfect for your idea.
dungeon0016 years ago
I'm making a modified version of this using a type of plastic jug that can't be recycled (yet) where I live. Same basic idea it just ends up being shorter and square shaped. And makes use of a material that would otherwise go to the landfill. Not sure how well it will work as I've only just constructed it. Haven't added the potting mix or seeds yet. One thing I did differently was I put a scrap piece of cloth over the drain holes before screwing the cap back on. Then trimmed the excess. The string is then threaded up through the center hole using a needle. The cap still fits snugly and water still drains properly. That way if any dirt gets past the newspaper barrier it still doesn't get into the water below. A couple of cotton balls wadded into the neck of a pop bottle like in the instructable would probably work well as a secondary barrier and do the same job.
Dragontrap6 years ago
Actually black paint also works for this step, just another method if you need it
about ten years ago I had a plant that I "potted" in the bottom of one of the old two liter soda bottles that had the separate flat bottom piece. One day I set it on top of a dish of water I had sitting there and forgot about it. When I went to water my plant a few days later, I noticed that it didn't need to be watered at all because it had sucked up the water from the dish, so I just left it there permanently. The problem, which you have solved with the wick system, is that the roots of the plant eventually grew down into the dish and got a little out of control.
iPodGuy (author)  ampersand20066 years ago
Honestly, what I'm hoping is that I can get some of the roots to grow down through the bottle neck. I'd like to try removing the cap and letting them grow directly down into the water. Eventually, the natural roots will replace the cotton "roots", or so I hope.
From what I have read in other places, the roots have to get at oxygen for the plant to thrive. Many hydroponic/aquaponic systems use a fishtank bubbler to keep the roots aerated. Some have the roots hanging in air with a mist of water/nutrient sprayed on them. My aerogarden has sort of a hybrid of those, it has the water pumped up to the top of the roots and then it trickles down the roots into the reservoir below. I think the trickling aerates the water in the reservoir, as the root networks grow huge in the water.
Make an Instructable please!
There are two kinds of roots. the ones that suck up the water and the feeding roots. Oxygen is important but some roots in the water is okay.
iPodGuy (author)  macrumpton6 years ago
In the soil pots, large amounts of humidity will build up in the lower reservoir. It builds up droplets of water onto the sides, so I'm betting that the high humidity and condensation will feed the inch or so of roots that would be exposed to the air in the container. As for the hydro & aqua systems, yeah, there's mechanical aeration involved..
foobear6 years ago
I like this whole idea a lot. I have a balcony that is in total shade all day long though. I am growing plants there anyway, and they are all leaning way out over the edge trying to get at that sunshine. What I need is some sort of instructable about how to have outdoor grow lights. I asked about it at the hardware store and they thought I was insane. But that's what I need.
iPodGuy (author)  foobear6 years ago
Ha Ha Ha! An outdoor grow light! Perhaps you could make some sort of reflector? That would be a neat instructable!
foobear iPodGuy6 years ago
It sure would. I've often fantasized about a sun tracking mirror. The only ones I could find are ones that go into expensive skylight things that have to be installed and everything.

Though this stuff looks kind of promising maybe: http://www.heliotrack.com/Products.html. It's pretty expensive too.
iPodGuy (author)  foobear6 years ago
Can't you do something simpler like have a mirror on your roof and reflect it down onto some sort of concave (not convex) reflecty-thingy? The light would disperse onto your plants. Sort of like a periscope. I dunno, Good luck.
But a concave reflector would focus the light into a small fiery beam. If the distance is small I'd suggest a convex or flat reflector as it would either spread or "bounce" the light. If its a pretty far distance a concave would work as the "beam" would diffuse after a given distance. The distance of diffusion is calculated by the angle of the concave platform.
foobear iPodGuy6 years ago
That's a nice idea. I'm in a second floor apartment though (of 3). Thanks
Any way to reflect any ambient light with light colored cloth or maybe CD's as reflectors? Shade loving plants might be happy, mint can deal with it, I'm sure there are a ton of others...
listoman6 years ago
How does it self water once the water in the bottom is absorbed?
iPodGuy (author)  listoman6 years ago
You refill it!
Isnt it a bit complicated to remove the top part??? And how long does the water last....?
iPodGuy (author)  listoman6 years ago
Nope, it's quite easy. The top slides in and slides out again. The bottle top and base are the same diameter, so all it is really doing is just resting on the curve of the bottle neck. The water getting used depends on heat & evaporation, whether or not you're using the greenhouse lid and the needs of the plant itself. If the plant grows really big, it will consume more water. Plus, after a while the string will rot away and the healthy roots will dangle into the water - replacing the string. They'll absorb the water after that. So, there is no real time frame - just watch it and refill as needed. But, it does seem to increase the amount of time in between waterings.
vu2rps6 years ago
Great job buddy! , I tried this and the plants grow well.
PvUtrix6 years ago
I'm not sure if newspaper is the best choice. Ink could contain some toxic elements, such as lead and other elements which are soluble in water and thus could be obsorbed by the roots of the plant...
Most ink in todays newspapers is soy based and does not break down into toxic components. Composting newspaper (not glossy ads or inserts) is as far as I know OK. This link verifies that

http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=97405
aqasba PvUtrix6 years ago
That can definitely still be a concern, but for the most part newspaper is printed w/ soy-based inks because it's easier to recycle (and environmentally friendlier). There's a discussion w/ many links here, and generally it's good to avoid ANY _glossy_ color newsprint...
Just a little note on Miracle Gro--not such a great option. It might be cheap, but that (and other fertilizers) make the plants dependent upon the fertilizer, actually weakening them in the long run
They also mis-label toxic products, 5 of which were recalled by the EPA. see this articlethis article
AND recently sued TerraCycle, an organic fertilizer, small company that packaged products by reusing soda bottles for using the colors green and yellow.

Sorry for the soap box, but they're really a rather dirty company.

As far as peat, what the other commenter stated was true, though the reference wasn't that great. Peatlands are very essential to our ecology and the peat industry severely depletes that resource ( see the University of Maine website for info on Peat BogsPeat Bogs

However, the tutorial is great!
Dalpat6 years ago
This is a great idea.Surprising ,how the simple principle of wick lubrication in machines has been used to build a wick watering system.Iam going to make to day itself.
Excellent,
I'm going to try your instructable this morning. Thanks! First, I like that I can start seeds without needing a large amount of space for the typical planting tray, and second, I like that you provided just the right amount of detail, and I didn't need to read a novel to do this :)
lazlow696 years ago
Kudos on a simple and solid idea. I'd probably skip on the duct tape treatment on things I'm going to eat, though. I wonder how well some good straw or leaf debris would act as a light barrier? Might be worth exploring if folks will be nibbling the output. Thanks for the great ideas with this, keep up the sharing, I'm sure a lot of people appreciate it!
RayMit6 years ago
Thank you for sharing this with us, I am going to make one this morning.
I'm going to try this with my children over spring break to start our plantings for this year. Thanks for the great idea!
LizQuincy6 years ago
grrreat idea. i have my seedlings in egg cartons on trays, but i can only leave the water in the trays for about an hour and chanign it is so messy!
whamodyne6 years ago
I posted a good way to get an even, level cut on the bottle on my instructable for this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Self-Watering-Plant-Container-out-of-a-2-liter-bot/
In step 2
platdujour6 years ago
Do NOT use peat moss, it is harvested from endangered habitats....

http://lifeandhealth.guardian.co.uk/experts/montydon/story/0,,1619159,00.html
Oh, dry up . . . it is not . . . That's a rather shrill editorial to which you refer us.
MoonBeams6 years ago
Brilliant! Thanks for sharing :)
My class of second grade students made these a couple of years ago. We added a top made from another bottle, and strung them together with twine. We hung them from the railing outside my classroom. Condensation built up inside, and we didn't have to water them at all, aside from the initial water we put inside.
shadow129526 years ago
the top part"cup" would fall down into the water part wouldn't it?
iPodGuy (author)  shadow129526 years ago
Nah... When you make the cut, the diameter of the two halves are the same. It will go in somewhat, but shouldn't fall in all the way. I work at a school and 3 of the kindergarten classes are making them for Mother's Day. So, I cut over 60 of these and combined with the 50 at my house, none of the planters I made have had any problem falling in. They'll stop on their own when you push down, but you don't really need to cram them down that hard.
Propagatrix6 years ago
Another mini-greenhouse lid: your average round deli container (the sort that holds potato salad). Just flip upside down and place over top of bottle pot. Works beautifully.
darus676 years ago
How stable is this? It seems it would be top heavy and prone to tip over rather easy.
iPodGuy (author)  darus676 years ago
If you use 1 bottle and have water in the bottom, the center of gravity is low and the water weighs it down. It's pretty stable, I'd say.
beansdaddy6 years ago
Amazing IDea! I cant wait to gather up my materials tomorrow morning and give this a try!! I love this instructable! Great
bwca446 years ago
This is a cool project for starting tomatoes early. Instructions are simple easy to understand. Thanks for a great idea
Nice idea! Agreeing with Brennn10, a great use of recycles! +1 rating.

Nice Instructables Robot patch! I have the same one.
dorseyred6 years ago
Thanks for mentioning draining the top part with the soil in it before pushing it down into the section housing the water supply. I would have never thought of it. I knew I didn't want dirt in the water, but didn 't think of the other. Great directions!!
I think it is a cool idea...thought so 10 years ago when we borrowed thisthis book from the library for a science fair project. Miracle grow really does work best!
Brennn106 years ago
Wow, great idea! Awesome use of recycles! +1 and favorited!
LinuxH4x0r6 years ago
Great idea. This looks like it would work great! +1