Self watering recycled plant pot for growing herbs and flowers

Picture of Self watering recycled plant pot for growing herbs and flowers
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.
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please i would like to know if it is suitable for planting Romain lettuce. is the 2 liter plastic bottle enough to grow such herb?
jul.jandoc1 month ago
ThiagoM13 months ago

Thanks! You did a good job. I just spent my afternoon doing it. It was really nice ;) I will post some pictures soon.

q8wii3 months ago
Thank you
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 Tidnull4 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.
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)  tvandang4 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)  LittleWolf4 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.
pravs2k4 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:

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
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.



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."
dwream7 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)  dwream7 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)  bqbowden7 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!

robinmaille5 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)  robinmaille5 years ago
Sure you could.
timbit19855 years ago

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! 
gizmogrl5 years ago
All I have to say is I am stoked to to try this.  Imagine all the applications: genius!
micorneus5 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.
stormys5 years ago
What kind of soil do you use for plant your Venus Fly Trap?
iPodGuy (author)  stormys5 years ago
Straight peat moss. Nothing else.
stormys iPodGuy5 years ago
Thanks for the tip, your Fly trap looks healthy. :D
aleeoop6 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)  aleeoop5 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.
greenpeace6 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 +++++++
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