Turn Any Flower Pot Into a Self-wicking Planter




Introduction: Turn Any Flower Pot Into a Self-wicking Planter

Hi All,
I’m sure we’ve all seen the Self Watering / Self Wicking pots and planters made using 5 gallon pails and other containers on YouTube and other sites. I like the convenience, but if you want to use it for decorative flowers they don’t look very pretty when compared to nice big fibreglass or concrete pots.
And their construction almost always requires you to have a pot with no hole at the bottom and to drill a hole on the side. Both of these approaches effectively rules out 90% of decorative pots and concrete planters.
This instructable shows how you can use your existing pots (yes, even with a hole in the bottom) and without drilling into the side to convert them to Self wicking/ watering pots with a water reservoir contained inside


Your existing pot/ planter
Empty 4l container (larger or smaller depending on your pot)
Landscape fabric
Old garden hose or length of pvc (24 inches in my case)
Empty water bottles ( I needed 4 in my pot)
Small 1litre cup (or 2l bottle cut to height)
Old long sleeve shirt
Loose rock / gravel /pebbles

Soldering iron
Sharp craft knife

Step 1: Select Your Planter

These two pots were on both sides of our garage door and they framed it nicely and complemented the exterior finish of the house.

Converting them to self-wicking maintained the appearance and made them much more convenient with longer intervals between waterings.

As you can see, this is a regular fibreglass planter pot with a drain hole in the bottom

Step one:

Line the bottom with about 2 inches of rock or gravel.

This is essentially to elevate your reservoir and allow drainage to take place

Step 2: Select Your Reservoir

Step 2:

Choose a container, the largest you can find that would fit in the bottom of the planter on top of the rock.

Here I used a 4L margarine tub with a tight fitting lid that fit in the bottom of the planter.

You would need two holes on this reservoir, one drain and one fill- I planned to use a piece of old garden hose I had lying around which was 5/8" (16mm) in diameter as my fill pipe.

Use the appropriate drill bit based on your fill pipe and make a hole on the top corner of the reservoir.

Drill another hole on the side of the reservoir as close to the top as possible. - it could be smaller , but I stuck with the same 5/8 (16mm). This will be the maximum level of water stored in the planter

Step 3: Step 3: Choose a Wicking Cup

Step 3:

Determine if you want to use a 2L bottle cut down to size or some other container as your wicking cup

This will hold the soil and serve as the "wick" to absorb the water from your reservoir and transfer it to your plant roots

Here, I was able to find a small disposable flower pot that you get at plant stores

Cut a hole in the lid of your reservoir to allow your wicking cup to snugly fit inside

Step 4: Step 4: "Ventilate" Your Wicking Cup

Step 4:

In order for the water to wick from the reservoir to the soil, we need to make several holes on the wicking cup.

To do this, I tried the same 5/8 (16 mm) bit which almost destroyed the cup, back up plan - use a soldering iron to punch as much holes as possible in the cup . Make sure to do this in a well ventilated area, the melted plastic cant be good for you if inhaled.

Step 5: Step 5: Sleeve It !

Step 5:

To allow the water to saturate the soil and not end up in the reservoir, the wicking cup must be placed in some sort of a membrane. This was made from an old shirt sleeve. This would allow the water to soak the soil while keeping it out of the reservoir

Step 6: Step 6: Fill Tube Installation

Step 6:

To ensure that the reservoir could be filled properly, cut the PVC , or garden hose at an angle and place it into the hole drilled on the reservoir lid.

Put the whole assembly in the planter to determine the length of fill tube. Remember to account for the final level of soil that will be in the planter and cut it about three inches above this level.

Step 7: Step 7: Landscape Fabric

Step 7:

Use some Landscape Fabric to keep the majority of the soil above the reservoir.

Cut two holes in the fabric, one around the wicking cup and the other for the fill tube

Stabilize the reservoir with some water bottles

Place the wicking cup and fill hose through the landscape fabric and into the reservoir

Step 8: Step 8: Add Dirt and Fill Reservoir

Step 8:

The Planter took about 25 litres of dirt to fill and about 31/2 litres of water before it started flowing out of the bottom

Step 9: Step 9 : Add Plants

Step 9 :

Plant your flowers and plants and fill up any extra space with dirt

Step 10: Two Weeks After Plants Added

Adding water about once a week kept the soil moist.

If you look carefully you can see the top of the fill tube in the back corner of the planter.

It took just about half litre before water started to flow out through the drain hole

Two weeks after the plants were added, they seem to be full and blooming nicely !

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    Question 3 years ago on Step 10

    We’ve been looking at doing something like this for one of our planters and I enjoyed the structable. I do have a question though. You are using the T-shirt as a “membrane”, as you put it, to keep the soil out of the water container and that makes sense but isn’t the shirt to some extent the wick? I mean it is what’s saturated and feeding the soil in your small plant container correct? If this is the case, would it be feasible to forego the smaller plant container with all the holes in it and just use a longer/bigger piece of material that goes from the soil in your plant down and into your water container?
    I don’t know if that would carry enough water to the soil or not but seems like it would simplify the design quite a bit.
    I guess a lot of it would depend on the wicking capability of whatever fabric you use.
    I guess this isn’t a question entirely for the author but an inquiry to find out if doing this same project with just a wick or piece of fabric is doable and if anyone has done this could they share what was learned. Obviously if the author has tried this approach or tried and failed, I would be very appreciative of any advice you could share.
    Great Instructable and Thank You!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Hi , I'm glad you enjoyed it, I had fun building it as well!
    I understand your idea. The shirt sleeve is a part of the wick in this case as the water has to soak this before being absorbed into the soil, so yes you're right. I originally thought of using a sock filled with soil, part way into the water reservoir extending into the area of dirt that the roots would access. I was concerned that the sock would tear at the reservoir lid after time and allow dirt into the water. I also thought that the wet / soak / dry cycle would cause the dirt in the sock to settle and probably not extend into the soil as much as I would like.
    There are some Youtube instructables that use strips of cloth extending into the soil as the wick, but as you thought, I didn't think it would convey enough water to the roots as well.
    Using the cup put my mind at ease, since the cotton sleeve would allow enough water to soak the dirt and keep a constant wicking action as well as compensate for soil settling
    Hope this explains my train of thought on this project, and thanks for reaching out. Much appreciated!

    Thanks again !


    Reply 3 years ago

    I completely understand your thoughts. Unfortunately, the whole “wicking process” may be beyond my pay-grade, as to understanding the process, so I may have to schedule some time to build the thing and then see if it is possible to use maybe a thick piece of cotton or maybe some synthetic type of material that won’t break down so quickly in soil.

    Thanks to your Instructable I have the “how” figured out. I simply need to try and gather materials and since my planter is similar in shape to a window box, I may try and experiment with different wicks or maybe use several.
    The planter I’m wanting this for is, although attractive, going to be a pain to grow almost anything but a cactus in I’m afraid because it literally has no reservoir in it. It’s basically a steel frame that I assume I am supposed to fill with coconut bark or similar, then soil.

    I did line the planter with a fine chicken wire first to facilitate containing the soil, then the coconut bark, which the birds seem to love stealing to make their nests, then the soil inside of that.
    I guess technically the coconut bark could act as a wick if I had more but it’s hard to keep with the birds borrowing it.

    The planter mounts to the side of our house and of course if it’s not watered almost daily, anything in it will dry up and die.
    I guess with the soil exposed to the air, having it mounted on brick, and me forgetting to water, there’s not much chance of anything living in it except maybe a nice plastic bouquet I’m not throwing in the towel just yet though. I’ve been inspired by your Instructable (not to mention the Mrs’s spent a bit of time painting it and it’s already screwed into the house.


    3 years ago

    I’ve been making something like this, for years....only much simpler. After about 10 years of one hydrangea doing well in one, though, it might need a bit of modification. METHODs:
    1. The simplest: Use whatever bucket, pot, bin, etc. that has NO drain holes in it. Use your hand, horizontally, to measure up from the bottom of the buckets, about 4” or so [not less; deeper, maybe, for hotter, drier climates]. Using a 1/2” bit, drill a hole at that level, on each side of the bucket, to make overflow holes. That forms a water reservoir in bottom.
    Fill up-to the holes with gravel or yard rocks [our yard is all pit-run gravel]. Then cover that with a weed-cloth piece, to prevent dirt sifting down into the gravel....
    And here’s the modification: Make sure there’s a bit of a wad of weed cloth, inside each drain hole, to prevent dirt, algae, etc. from blocking the holes. Dirt won’t likely block holes for several years, but when it does, your healthy plants suddenly drown...lost a hydrangea that way. No fill tube needed.
    I’ve had 6 grape vines grown from cuttings, set up around 15 years ago, in those white or blue [approx. 20 to 30 gallon?] little barrels that someone said molasses for horses come in.....I sliced about a 6” wide strip/slot out of the top, across between the bung holes, to allow planting, and, to have handles to move them, along with the drain holes to form reservoirs in bottom. But those blessed vines have been really kinda happy in them...even producing some grapes. Still not ready to plant them in-ground, but hopefully soon...good thing those are still working. Every once in awhile, I dump the compost bin from kitchen scraps in each one. Have done likewise with trees, shrubs, berries, flowers, veggies...all good.
    2. 2-bins: These bins fit inside each other, just like they are stacked in store. The upper one gets little holes drilled in the bottom, for roots to reach water. Plants in these, still need watered from top, until roots grow down enough....but if you do it right, by making drain holes in the sides of the bottom bucket, a bit higher than the upper buckets base, it can make the base of the upper bucket wet, higher enough to reach roots sooner.
    This can be made a little adjustable, by using rocks or bricks in the bottom one, to raise or lower the upper bucket. No fill tube needed.
    Some friends did this, to grow food plants. They do weekend trips, or up to about a week away...their plants do fine all summer...they just make sure the reservoirs are filled, before they go. Portable raised-beds!
    Both of these have worked extremely well for us, for at least 20 years of having to preserve plants collected, as we moved around to different places... Most of ours have now been planted in forever-homes, but still have some trees to find just the right spots for.


    3 years ago

    I've been making ones similar to this lately, but slightly different, using our empty honey buckets & their kids, which are a great size. And we buy lots of honey anyways, in huge buckets, so no extra money spent there. Also made use of takeout containers for the net cups, drilled & cut using a Dremel. I watched a lot of YouTube videos & based my designs taken from pieces of those which I thought were cheapest & least complicated, and customized to my own preferences.

    As far as tools, I primarily used a Dremel, an oscillating multitool & a sawzall. It made getting these puppies together a breeze, and no melting plastic fumes. Wear a mask, regardless, because you don't want to be breathing in fine plastic dust!

    For those on a tighter budget, I'd suggest picking up some second hand tools from your local pawnshop. I found some great tools for a fraction of the price that way, and there are always great options coming in weekly. Love my used DeWalt sawzall. Just had to buy some decent blades.

    I also made some self watering units from cheap dollar store planters which are much longer. Just punch holes in one, then place inside of exactly the same type of planter with a bit of a spacer for the reservoir. I used small pieces of styrofoam, glued to the inside of the base planter, because I had some left over, but you could also use scraps of wood or other bits of leftovers. I included some photos. The bucket model required a bit of duct tape because I cut the hole slightly too large.

    I don't use landscape fabric to line the wicking cup because I want the roots to be able to get into the water when they feel they need more water. Plants are pretty intelligent that way ☺️


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks ! Good advice right there !


    3 years ago

    This is just what I've been looking for. Since I end up with odds and ends of things that I enjoy turning into something else, making planters out of some of them will be perfect. Unfortunately, many of those items are not conducive to becoming planters . . . well, at least they weren't. Now I'm going to try it using your idea. Thanks!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Hey thanks ! I’m exactly like that.. lots of odds and ends to repurpose into useful items. Everything used in this instructable was laying around in my garage, backyard or toolbox . Keep making stuff and Share some of your ideas!


    3 years ago

    Great info, thank you!


    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks!, Much appreciated.
    I had lots of fun doing it and the results are great :)