Self-Watering Planter & Water Level 'Dip-Stick'




Introduction: Self-Watering Planter & Water Level 'Dip-Stick'

About: I am a Website Designer/Developer. When not slaving over my computer, I love sewing, houseplants and doing anything creative.

Self watering planters use a wicking method to deliver water to the plant roots without any guess work. The water reservoir at the bottom of the planter allows the plant to drink at its own pace and visually show you when it is time to fill your water reservoir.

I have quite a few plants, and some of them like to be evenly moist – not to wet – not too dry. I found creating a self-watering planter for these plants really helps! I have a Majesty Palm that will really benefit from this planter, so I thought I would share.

I also created a ‘dip stick’ to check my water level. I am a woman who lives by “use what I have” if at all possible. So some of my ideas may seem odd, but they work for me and I didn’t have to spend anything since I had it all on hand. 


For Self-Watering Planter:

  • Round Livestock Feeder (I bought this years ago at Tractor Supply Co. for about $10:
  • PVC pipe
  • Heavy Duty Garbage bag
  • Large Planter
  • Heavy Duty Bowl (slightly smaller in diameter than the Feeder Bowl)
  • A Wooden Shim or a Paint Stirrer
  • A Plant
  • An Old T-Shirt (or other fabric that absorbs water well)

For Water Level ‘Dip Stick’:

  • A Wooden Garden Stick (taller than your planter interior)
  • A Piece of Colored Fabric (fabric needs to get dark when wet)
  • Hot Glue


  • A Glass of Pinot Grigio

Step 1: Setting Up the Water Reservoir

You will have to use a bowl or container of some type to hold the water to act as the water reservoir. This bowl needs to be strong and slightly smaller in diameter than the feeder bowl, as the feeder bowl will be sitting on top of it. 

For my planter, I found that a sturdy food storage bowl worked well. Mine was about 2 quart capacity, and was about 4 inches tall. You want to find one that sits well on the bottom of the pot and preferably as wide as the planter will accommodate. 

  • Place your container in the bottom of your planter.
  • Place the PVC pipe in the container, and have it lean up alongside the planter. Make sure your PVC pipe is not much taller than the planter in this position, you just want it to poke out enough so it will be above the soil line, but not so tall that you see it. My PVC pipe was about 1-1/2” diameter. (Pic #2)
  • You can see (on the pic) since its leaning, the bottom of the pipe is tilted enough to allow water to fill the bowl when you add water.

Step 2: Measure the Water Level

  • Once you have the bowl and the pipe the way you want it, fill it with water, about 1” from the top of the container.
  • Take your stick (I used a wooden garden stick) and make sure it will fit easily into the pipe. You can use any sort of stick, as long as it fits freely in the pipe and is taller than the pipe by at least an inch. If its shorter, it will fall in the pipe and you won’t be able to retrieve it to see your water level
  • Place the stick next to the pipe in the water and mark the stick at the level that the water comes up to. You can set the stick aside till later.

Step 3: Fitting the Support for the Plant

I purchased this livestock feeder bowl awhile back and it works great. It’s a sturdy but flexible rubber bowl. I cut a hole in the center of it about 2-1/2” in diameter. This hole is where your ‘wick’ will go through.

  • Place the feeder on top of the bowl, keeping the PVC pipe propped up on the side. Make sure the pipe is still inserted correctly into the water bowl.

Note: Make sure your feeder sits securely on top of the bowl you use, and won’t fall into the water bowl. Also make sure to choose a strong water bowl, so it won’t collapse with the weight it will be supporting.

  • Lay your shim, paint stirrer stick or something flat and sturdy, across the hole, making sure you have openings on both sides of the wood to access the water below it. (See Pic) The purpose of the shim is to stop the weight of the soil from dropping into the hole when you place the plant on top, but you still need the openings to poke your wicking fabric through.

Step 4: Lining the Planter

  • Take your heavy duty black garbage bag and cut a hole in the center of it. I simply folded the bag in half, and at the bottom, I cut off the corner that had the fold. When opened, I had my hole!
  • Lay your garbage bag in the planter, so the hole is directly over the feeder bowl. You should see the support piece of wood and the 2 areas on either side of the wood, that opens to the water bowl below. 

Step 5: Setting Up Your ‘water-Wick’

This is the 'wick' that will water your plant from the bottom. It constantly absorbs water from the water reservoir and is placed directly under the plant, watering it continuously - as long as the reservoir has water in it.

  • I took an old t-shirt and cut it into a large square – nothing perfect. (Pic 1)
  • I soaked it and grabbed a corner and poked about 8 – 9” of the fabric through the hole in the garbage bag, along one side of the wooden shim. I made sure it was immersed into the water below and reached the bottom of the bowl with a couple of inches extra. I decided to take another t-shirt and do the same thing, poking it on the other side of the wooden shim, so I would have a really strong wicking system. (Pic 2)
  • I pooled the rest of the fabric around the inside of the garbage bag lined feeder bowl. (Pic 3)

Helpful Hint…

Through trial and error, I found it a good idea to test your fabric to be sure it will wick the water good. I took a t-shirt fabric and a scrap cotton muslin fabric, and immersed them half way into a bowl of water. The t-shirt fabric drank up the water into the dry section quickly, whereas the muslin fabric surprisingly just sat there. Its always a good idea to test the fabric first. (Pic 4)

Step 6: Add Your Plant

  • Insert the plant into the lined planter, on top of the fabric wick. It will fit into the feeder bowl at the base, and then just add soil around the sides until the plant is firmly in place and packed in nicely. 
  • Go around the edge of your planter and trim off the garbage bag cleanly, but keep it above the soil line. This bag liner will be keeping any soil from going into the water reservoir.
  • When you get to the PVC pipe section, trim the bag a little longer, so you can ‘disguise’ the pipe between waterings. (Pic 3&4)

Now your planter is completed!

Step 7: Creating Your Water Level ‘Dip Stick’

  • First you will want to find a smaller piece of fabric (about 6” square) and test it to be sure it gets noticeably darker when wet. (Pic 1) 
  • Take the stick you marked with the water level and lay it on your fabric. This is the length you want to have wrapped with fabric on the end of your stick.(Pic 2)
  • I cut my fabric about 6" x 4" and folded in the ends, making sure one end was the same length as the marking on my stick. (Pic 3)
  • I hot glued the end of the fabric to the stick – end to end - and just rolled it around tightly, hot gluing it closed.

Now you have a perfectly sized ‘dip stick’ to test the water level of your plant. Just drop it in the PVC pipe till it hits bottom, leave it for a few seconds so the water absorbs and pull it out. If the fabric is wet the entire length of the fabric, you know your container is full and there is no need to add water. If is low, only a section of your fabric will be wet so you can add more water. (Pics 4 & 5)

I have a ‘dip stick’ for each of my self-watering planters. They each have a different length of fabric on the end. Since the planters I used are all a bit different, and each stick has different length of fabric on the end, I wrote on the end of the stick which plant it is used for.(Pic 6) I test the levels about once a week. When low, I just pour water in the PVC pipe and test with the stick until it is up to the full level.

And that’s it! Now you can sit back and enjoy a glass of wine (optional), knowing your plant is being taken care of even if you forget to water it.


Backyard Contest

This is an entry in the
Backyard Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Fandom Contest

      Fandom Contest
    • Eggs Challenge

      Eggs Challenge
    • Fabric Challenge

      Fabric Challenge



    1 day ago on Step 7

    This is brilliant! I will be testing the performance on two ancient plants, an Easter cactus and a Christmas Cactus. I hope this won’t be too much water beneath them. Either way the solution seems elegant and should provide a drink when the plant needs it. Some may benefit as opposed to the question of over/under watering. Thank you.


    Reply 7 hours ago

    Exactly! So many times my plant book says the reason my plant is suffering is because EITHER it is Under-watered or Over-watered! What?!?! I figured this is the perfect solution in those cases! In my experience with the self-watering planters, it never seems to keep the soil too wet - just evenly moist. Sometimes I might even top off the plant with an occasional regular watering, but overall I have had really good luck with these self watering containers. Good luck!


    Question 1 day ago on Step 7

    This looks like a cheap alternative to the pricey self-watering planters, plus I already have pots. But what happens when it rains?


    Reply 1 day ago

    Where I use this planter, its protected by a slight roof-line overhang. I agree though, a plant could get water logged if it rained too heavily. I would normally use these planters on a covered porch or deck, but I primarily use them indoors.


    Reply 1 day ago

    Thanks for the info. I'll have to look at the designs of some self-watering planters. I wonder if instead of a plastic bag, burlap or something porous enough for water to flow through and out a drain hole (under the water reservoir.)


    Reply 7 hours ago

    Interesting! I suppose it would work, although I am thinking burlap would allow too much soil to seep through and get the water in the reservoir too muddy, so it wouldn't work as efficiently, but other fabric out there might work well, possibly landscape fabric?. Actually, the planter I used has drainage holes in it, that is why I used a container in the bottom to hold the water. In this case, I would assume that if the planter got water logged, the excess water would run out through the hole that feeds to the reservoir bowl (most likely making the reservoir water muddy), overfilling it and then run out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the planter. Regardless, I say go for it! You may just come up with a new Self Watering Planter idea that works great!


    1 day ago

    Elegant solution...!


    Reply 1 day ago

    Thank you!