For someone like me who struggles with gardening, self-watering planters are a godsend. Sure, I know proper hydration is key to maintaining a thriving plant.
But it’s not always easy to know when to water and provide the appropriate amount of water for each plant. More so when I’m busy or away from home … let’s just say I come home to a lot of repotting and trimming of dead leaves.
On the flip side, I tend to overwater them to death, leading to root rot and all sorts of plant diseases.
Self-watering pots are a fabulous solution designed to ensure that plants receive just the right amount of water they need to grow and flourish.
How self-watering planters work
Self-watering planters are containers equipped with a built-in reservoir and a wicking system that draws water up to the plant’s roots on an as-needed basis. This convenient design effectively reduces the amount of attention required from the plant owner, while also providing a more consistent supply of moisture for the plant. As a result, plants nurtured in self-watering planters tend to be healthier and more resilient, even in the hands of less-experienced gardeners.
In any DIY self-watering planter, you’ll need:
A wicking system to deliver water to the plant’s roots. The wick is usually made from absorbent material that connects the soil and the water reservoir.
A water reservoir is usually a container located at the bottom of the planter pot to supply water for the plants. Preferably, this is an easy-to-refill container.
Capillary action to draw water from the reservoir up the wick and into the soil. If the passive hydroponic setup is done correctly, this should work by itself. Nature’s magic.
DIY self-watering planters
There are self-watering pots of all shapes and sizes that you can get for your garden or for your tabletop, so why DIY?
For one, planter pots often lack aesthetic appeal, with many being rectangular boxes that are not ideal for use as indoor planters.
If you can upcycle a gorgeous vase into a plant pot with a self-contained watering system, why not? You can use any old plant pots, bottles, or bowls to DIY a self-watering planter, but if you can elevate it to another level with a carefully chosen vessel? You bet.
Adam, who runs a podcast on houseplants, chose the beautiful IKEA iridescent vase — RÄFFELBJÖRK for this decorative planter project. The mother-of-pearl vase is gorgeous enough, but with his lush trailing plants, it’s a decor moment. Let’s see how it’s done.
The first thing is to measure the diameter of the vase opening and get net cups in the right size. Adam used two 3 1/2″ net pots. If the holes at the bottom of the net pot are too small, gouge a hole to allow the wick to thread through.
Step 2: Fill with pon
Adam filled the net pots with his favorite medium — Pon. Pon is a stone-like soil-free alternative to potting soil made from high-quality mineral rocks.
Step 3: Add plants
Make cuttings of suitable plants for the planter. Make holes in the pon and gently nest the cuttings into the medium. Adam chose two complementary plants for each end.
Step 4: Add water
Fill water into the IKEA vase but leave a gap between the bottom of the net pot and the water surface. The wicking cord should dangle into the water for capillary action to happen.
And done! A passive hydroponic kit that works beautifully.
After 4 months, Adam reports the Silver Lacunosa is thriving. Algae formation is at a minimum, mostly along the wicking cord. He notes the algae does not stick to the surface of the vase which is good news for anyone wanting to hack a similar water-efficient planter.
Filler bowl. I used the orange cap from a vitamin bottle.
Irrigation strings. These are a type of cotton wick that can be used to water plants when you’re on holiday. Normally one end of the string is placed in a container of water and the other end is pushed into the soil of a nearby plant pot. On my setup, the strings are buried entirely.
Firstly, I lined my planter using a damp-proof plastic membrane or any kind of durable plastic. This step of using a liner may not be essential as the steel is galvanized and powder coated.
I folded the plastic at the ends to keep it seamless, then glued it to the inside of the planter with grab adhesive, and trimmed it slightly below the rim.
I connected the filler bowl to the reservoirs using tubing. Drilling holes slightly smaller than the fill tube creates an interference fit.
I also added some riser tubes to vent air from the reservoirs during filling.
Next, I prepared some irrigation strings by sleeving them with polythene, cut from food bags. I wrapped the polythene closely around the string and fastened it with duct tape, making a sleeve about 50 mm (2”) long.
The purpose of the sleeve is to try and discourage plant roots from growing into the reservoir where the string passes through the lid. Ideally, the sleeved string should have quite a tight fit in the lid hole.
The strings will pass from the bottom of the reservoir, upwards through the lid and into the surrounding soil, enabling water to wick upwards and keep the soil damp.
I inserted the assembled irrigation kit into the planter and fastened the items temporarily with duct tape. The soil will later keep them in place.
ADDING SOIL AND PLANTS
Next, I added the potting mix and plants, placing smaller plants like succulents above the reservoirs where the soil is shallower, and a larger maranta plant in the deeper soil between. I tried to be careful not to drop soil down the filler and vent pipes, and these could be masked temporarily to prevent clogging the irrigation system.
To complete the look, I added some gravel to the surface of the soil. This might also reduce the evaporation of water, I’m not sure. A larger stone covers the filler point.
The DIY self-watering planter is done.
Just pour water through the filler bowl until the irrigation tanks are full. This simple setup does not come with a water level indicator or excess water drainage hole. I’m happy with it so far. May try to make a few more to grow an indoor herb garden.