How to Make a Self Watering Container




A self watering container consists of:
a pot (any old plastic pot will do, make sure it has no holes in it, the pot I used was a bucket I got at the dollar store)
a wick (any plastic bottle you can recycle, I used a Gatorade bottle)
a pipe ( any pipe big enough to pour water in easily, I used copper here, but you can use pvc pipe or any plastic hose you have laying around)
a barrier (you can use window screen like I did here or recycle your old grocery bags or any plastic bags like the one your soil comes in
some rocks (rocks are cheap, you can use river rocks or pea pebbles like I used here)
Soil (of course some soil whatever kind you like)
Optional - Kitty Litter ( You can stretch you rock supply by putting a layer of kitty litter on the bottom and your rocks on top. make sure you get kitty litter that has no chemicals in it)

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Step 1: Getting the Wick Ready.

Take your plastic bottle and place it in your bucket or pot to see where you want to cut it. I would say at least one quarter of the height of the bucket or pot.
Mark your cut line with a sharpie.
Start cut with an exacto knife and cut the rest with scissors.
Poke holes all over the bottom and sides of the wick.

Step 2: Getting Pipe and Drain Hole Ready.

Place your pipe in bucket or pot and cut down to size. Let it come from about one inch to two inches above top of pot.
Next place your wick in bucket to measure where you need to drill your drain hole in bucket, which will be right below the top of the wick. (drain hole prevents water from building up in pot which caused root rot)
Drill hole in bucket. See top left picture of drilled hole.

Step 3: Filling and Placing Wick

Cut a piece of window screen to place in wick. (you will want a big square two and one half diameter of bucket)
Find center of screen and place in wick.
Open up screen and place soil into the wick at the center of the screen.
Do not leave excess screen in wick, pack the soil tight into the wick.
The excess screen should now be all around the outside of the wick.
 Place the wick into the bucket now.

Step 4: Placing Your Rocks and Watering Pipe

Your wick should be in the middle of your bucket  and you are ready to put your rocks in.
Place your pipe on the side of bucket as shown in picture.
If you want you may put a few rocks in to help hold the pipe in place.
Put rocks all around the wick being careful to hold the screen up and out of the way, keep putting in rocks until it reaches the top of the wick.
Push down the screen on top of the rocks. The screen is your barrier to keep the soil and rocks separate.

Step 5: The Soil and Plant

Start placing your soil in the pot.
Start in the center where the wick is and work towards the sides. You will want the screen to cover the rocks but not the wick.
Keep pushing the screen down as you place soil. Pack it in nice.
When you have most of it covered now would be a good time to place your plant in over the soil to see what depth you need for the plant. keep putting in the soil all around the plant and a little bit around the pipe until the pot is full.

Step 6: Finishing Up and Watering

Now that your soil is in, it is time to water your plant. Since this is a new transplant you will want to water the top of the pot.
Next pour water down into your pipe until you see water coming out of your draining hole you put in before.
From here on in you just need to water your plant through your pipe. The roots will take all the water it needs from the wick.
I like to put my plant food into the water.

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    12 Discussions


    3 years ago

    This idea is ingenious and is perfect for those short holiday trips you might have planned for round the corner. I personally would seek help from my neighbors should ever I encounter such a situation, but at times they might just forget to water my plants on my behalf and I am not the type to be pointing fingers since it isn't their responsibility to begin with. I would start off by getting the right-sized storage container to kickoff this wick project.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Occasionally I scope out related Instructables -- not wanting to reinvent the wheel or duplicate something already out there. Does the screen actually wick moisture properly? You never have to top water? Otherwise it seems any water delivered down the pipe will quickly drain out the bottom of the container . . . that's the path of least resistance.
    Aside from the screen and the hole in the bottom of your larger container, this design exactly duplicates what I understand as sub-irrigated growing containers. Usually the gravel is about 4" deep and a water reservoir about 3" deep is maintained with an overflow hole drilled at that height through the sidewall of the container. The pipe is used to fill the reservoir; when it is full, water flows out the overflow. The only purpose of the gravel is to support a layer of landscape fabric under the potting mix.
    The smaller wick container is also filled with potting mix to form a "cupcake mound" before the circle of landscape fabric is put in. The smaller container passes moisture up into the mix as long as it's not allowed to get too dry. The mix is completely saturated initially and covered with a layer of plastic at the top. Bark fines are used to protect the plastic AND keep it from getting too hot. This upper layer of plastic minimizes evaporation and keeps the potting mix from ever getting too dry -- as long as the water reservoir is never allowed to run dry. For more info, scope out:



    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Update: I modified two utility buckets following the methods in this instructable. One has a jalapeno pepper plant, the other a red penta (to attract pollinators). Both planter buckets work brilliantly and the plants are thriving.

    For the jalapeno bucket, I used landscaper's lava rock for its light weight. The red penta flower bucket got styrofoam peanuts.

    Looking forward to building a larger planter for some tomatoes!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I would change two items....1) loose the rocks as they provide no benefit and only ad weight...2) an overflow hole needs to be placed in the pot at the height of the barrier to avoid overwatering and developing 'sour' soil

    BTW, I cannot fathom the benefits of using kitty litter....


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't copper usually used as an antifungus?


    9 years ago on Introduction

    The use of copper poses no risk to humans. PVC on the other hand does. Copper piping does pose a risk to fish when used in aquaculture, specifically aquaponics, because of fish's skin and scale sensitivity to copper oxide. Putting the copper and AL screen, which has a heavy zinc coating on it, so close together will definitely set up a bi-metal corrosion that will kill the screen after a while, and may be toxic to the plant. Other than that, this looks like a pretty sound practice. I would check whether the plant is sensitive to AL or zinc oxides and go from there. If aluminum screen is all one has, that's what one uses; otherwise go with cotton or maybe a synthetic landscaping/french drain liner material. Good idea. Scaleable, too.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Nice idea, but aren't you taking a risk using copper piping?  Since it's exposed it could corrode and is probably not safe to use for watering purposes.  That's probably why people use Schedule 40 PVC because it is safe for drinking water.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     It will indeed corrode but considering most homes are plumbed with the stuff, it seems unlikely its dangerous. PVC is cheaper besides being corrosion resistant though


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, I was considering the fact that it's used in plumbing all the time when I left my comment. My worry though, is that it may become more chemically reactive in an environment with dirt/minerals/water all touching it, where as in a house it's usually mostly only in contact with water,