Introduction: Self-watering Plant System

About: Hey I'm Elena, a homesteader, gardener and blogger from New Mexico with a love of DIY and all things creative. Let's make things together!

I decided today that I would create a pot within a pot self-watering system for the kitchen that will provide fresh herbs for use year round. This would help my partner and me save money and have fresh, healthier food readily available whenever we wanted.

We are busy people and not always home so self-watering was a must and because we live in a rural location it was important to use parts from around the farm to make our plant system functional. The parts I chose are easy enough to find at DIY stores or if you are as lucky as me, you may just have them lying around in our workshop or house.

The entire system I built cost zero, zilch nothing. If you were to buy the parts, it would only cost you about $20, including the potting soil, gravel and plants.

Step 1: Materials and Design


  • 25 litre PVC bucket
  • 10 litre pot planter
  • 2 litre pot planter
  • 3/4" Irrigation Pipe
  • Gravel
  • Potting soil


Note: All these parts are just examples you can use. You can chop and change sizes and even use a more stylish holding pot instead of the 25 litre PVC bucket. You might want to do this for aesthetic purposes or because you don't have a bucket. The silicone may or may not be used, and you could also use strong waterproof tape or duct tape.

Before going onto the next step it's important to note that I built this system with simplicity in mind. Less cutting and use of silicone is not only easier but also allows parts to be removed at a later stage for cleaning and re-potting.

Step 2: Build the Insert

Place the 1-litre pot upside down on the 10-litre pot and using the utility knife mark the circumference. The lip of the smaller pot should slide in easily and rest on the lip of the insert of the larger pot. This is where the roots will pull the water from, so a lot of holes are required for easy access to the roots.

Step 3: Insert the Irrigation Pipe

Do the same for the irrigation pipe. Use the pipe and the utility knife to mark the circumference on the side of the 10-litre pot and cut it through with the knife carefully. Cut the pipe so that it extends an inch or two through the bowl, and an inch or two higher than your pot edge.

Step 4: Put All Pieces Together

Dry fit all the pieces together so that they fit tightly. If it's not very tight you may consider sealing it with silicone or duct tape.

Step 5: Put Gravel in the Bottom Pot

The PVC bucket was convenient as it had a steel handle which made it easy to transport around, however, this is not necessary and you may want to use a colorful clay pot for aesthetics. Put a nice thick layer of gravel in the bottom pot, it should be about 1 inch thick. This allows for better aeration and is excellent for strong roots.

Step 6: Add Potting Soil

Add your potting soil mix. You may choose to decide to buy a pre-mix compost and potting soil, but please don't just use dirt from outside. Fill the pot with potting soil, making sure to push the potting soil into the bottom pot at the base. This will act as a wick and allow your plants to pull water into the soil as they require. Garden herbs need lots of nutrients for their growth, so quality soil is necessary. Luckily I had compost waiting so I just used that to fill the pot.

Step 7: Add Your Herbs

Leave about 5 inches empty and add your herbs. I added a rooted rosemary bush near the irrigation pipe you will use to water. I love parsley so I added two plants and hoping the rosemary will tower above them. You may choose to add flowers that are colourful or for their aromatic properties. I would even suggest this is a great idea to start a small fruit tree such as a lemon or lime.

Tip: Make sure the soil is lightly compressed into the pot and carefully use your knuckles to press it down around the base of your plants. I watered the plants from above as the soil was not very moist, and the roots of the plants do not go as deep as the water sits. The roots will stretch towards the water and the system will allow water to naturally osmose upwards towards the roots.

Step 8: Water the Irrigation Pipe

The last step is to water your irrigation pipe so that there is water sitting in the PVC bucket ready to be drawn up by the soil and roots.

There you have it, a self-watering insert potting system. This took me about 15 minutes to set up and cost absolutely nothing. Its a cheap and easy way to have healthy fresh herbs year round depending on your location. You may decide to have a smaller system or larger system, it's your choice. Happy gardening.