It seems like every description I’ve read or video I’ve watched to make a self-watering planter at home is super complicated and makes you feel like you need an engineering degree to get it done. But I’m here to tell you that making your own self-watering planter is really not that hard.
In this post I’ll show you exactly how to do this step by step so you can have beautiful, thriving container gardens all summer long — even if you’re not the greatest at remembering to water your plants.
I’m really excited to share this with you since self-watering planters have saved me from killing my plants more times than I’d like to admit. So, let’s get to it!
Materials for Self-Watering Planter
These are the materials you’ll need
- Planter/Container that you want to make self-watering — scroll down for several great options I’ve chosen
- 1-1/2″ PVC Pipe (Buy on Amazon) – height depends on planter height
- 1 Divider/False Bottom per planter (2 options)
- 1 Garbage Bag
- 2 solo cups with holes poked throughout
- Potting soil
Tools you need for this project
- Drill – to cut a tiny overflow hole into your planter (Buy a Dewalt drill here)
- Hacksaw (Buy) or pipe cutter (Buy)
- Tin Snips (buy on Amazon) – if you use hardware cloth, you need these to cut a hole into the metal hardware cloth
- 3-1/2″ hole saw bit (buy it on Amazon) – If you use the rubber feed bowl, you will need a hole saw and drill to cut a hole into the rubber for your cup. You can also cut the hole with a jigsaw or whatever else you have that will get through it.
Watch this video to get all of the details and how-to instruction to make any planter self-watering.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more gardening videos!
Just to make this REALLY simple, I also drew a diagram for you so you can understand exactly how it works.
How to create your own self-watering planter
This is what we’ll be doing to create a self watering planter, in simple terms.
- Find a deep container that doesn’t have ANY drainage holes in it.
- Make a wicking chamber to move the water upwards.
- Create a “false bottom” in the planter to separate the water from the soil.
Quick Tip: This is a really easy way to create a self-watering planter. But, the big reservoir may get too heavy for hanging baskets. Check out this tutorial if you want a really easy way to water your hanging baskets, too.
1- Find the right planting container
In order to do this easily you’ll need a container for your plants. There are only 2 criteria for the container; that it’s deep enough to have a reservoir in the bottom and soil on top and that it doesn’t have any drainage holes in it. Since we are storing the water in the bottom of the container, drainage holes are a no go.
Additionally, if you’re going out to purchase a new container for this project, you may want to consider buying a planter that is tapered. This means that it’s wider on the top than it is in on the bottom. With a tapered container, you’ll be able to create your false bottom for the self watering planter using a simple rubber feed bowl rather than making a stand and a screen.
Both ways are pretty simple to do, though. So don’t stress about this and use a container you already have on hand if possible.
Here are some options I’ve found online for tapered planters that should work for this project. If you click the links below it will take you the link to purchase online.
- Red Shed 16″ Plastic Faux Metal Planter (Buy at Tractor Supply) – This is the one I’m using.
- Crescent Garden 20″ Madison Planter in Citron Green (Buy on Google Shopping)
- Crescent Garden 20″ Madison Planter in Midnight Blue (Buy on Google Shopping)
Also comes in brown, bark, golden bronze, gray, olive, terracotta and white.
- Suncast 16″ Farmhouse Planter in Brown (Buy on Google Shopping)
- Suncast 18″ Farmhouse Planter in White (Buy on Google Shopping)
- Suncast 16″ Farmhouse Planter in Gray (Buy on Google Shopping)
- Artstone 14″ Ella Square Planter in Terracota (Buy on Amazon)
- Artstone 18″ Ella Square Planter in Black (Buy on Amazon)
- Veradek – 16″ Wide Square Planter, Set of 2 (Buy on Amazon)
- Happy Planter 16.7″ Tapered in Pigeon Gray (Buy on Amazon)
- Suncast 16″ Resin Planter in Red/Plum (Buy on Google Shopping)
- Suncast 16″ Resin Planter in Blue/Brown (Buy on Google Shopping)
Also comes in Brown/Gray and Green/Blue.
2- Make a wicking chamber
I know that wicking chamber is a really fancy term. But all this means is something that will move the water from the bottom of the planter upwards into the soil. This is basically what will water your plants. We’ll be watering them from below!
In this case we’ll be using 2 solo cups with holes punched into them for a wicking chamber. Double up your solo cups for some extra strength, then poke holes all over the cups. I probably have 50 holes in mine… all over the sides and even in the bottom.
Next, fill the cup with soil. You really need to pack this soil in there. My suggestion is to dampen the soil first, then start adding it to your cup little by little while topping off with some water. Keep on pushing and pushing the soil down so it’s packed in really, really well.
Lastly, you’ll want to mount the soil up a bit at the top of your cup (kind of like a snow cone looks).
3- Create a “False Bottom” inside of the planter
Now, we need to make a separation from where we put the water and where we put the soil. I call this a “false bottom.” Underneath the “false bottom” will be a reservoir that holds the water. And above the “false bottom” will be the soil that you’ll put your plants into. In between the two will be your wicking chamber.
So, the biggest thing we need to do is make a structure or stand to hold a separate bottom.
False bottom for tapered planters
If you have a tapered container, all you will need to do this is a round rubber feed dish that is wider than the bottom of your container but not as wide as the top of your container. In my setup, my planter is 16″ wide at the top and 12″ wide at the bottom.
I found this 2 gallon rubber pan/feed dish by Fortex at Tractor Supply. It was perfect for my setup. The diameter of the dish is 14″, so it sits right in the middle of my tapered planter. Remember that the diameter is much more important than the amount of gallons or quarts the dish holds. So, be sure to check the diameter, or width of the dish and pick one that will fit inside your tapered planter. There are many different sizes to choose from. You can buy different sized feed dishes online or in a farm store near you.
Next, you’ll need to drill a hole through the center of the feed bowl. The hole needs to be big enough to fit your wicking chamber cup into, but not too big that it will fall through. So, kind of a snug fit, although it doesn’t need to be air tight. I used a 3-1/2″ hole saw for this. I really like the one from Dewalt (buy it on Amazon).
Push your feed dish into your tapered planter. Drop your soil-filled solo cup into the center. The solo cup should be touching the bottom of the planter, if possible.
False bottom for all other planters
If you have any other shaped container, the easiest way to make the false bottom is to use hardware cloth. This is just a mesh-like material that’s made from wire. You can bend it but it’s still a little bit stiff so if can hold its shape.
First, measure the height of your solo cup. Then, measure that far up from the bottom of your planter. Mark down this height measurement as well as the length and width of the planter at this height (if your planter is the same size throughout just measure the length and width. You’ll need these measurements for a few things.
You will need to create a “stand” of some kind to hold your hardware cloth up to create a false bottom. You can use PVC pipe and some connectors to make a little base. You can also Just use the same PVC pipe you’ve purchased for the water pipe and just make 4 “legs” for the hardware cloth to stand on. Any material that is water resistant and will hold up your hardware cloth is fine.
Cut your hardware cloth to the dimensions of the planter using your tin snips.
Next you’ll need to cut a hole into the hardware cloth for your wicking chamber. Just trace out the top of the solo cup and make some snips. Make sure it’s not too big that the cup falls through. You can also tape off the edges of the cuts you made. Be careful — they can be sharp!
Last, you’ll need to cut a hole in the hardware cloth to feed your PVC pipe through. The one I used is 1-1/2″ so that’s the size of the hole I made.
Place your hardware cloth onto the stand you’ve made and then place the wicking chamber into the hole. Ensure everything fits!
4- Prepare your “Watering” Pipe
Now lets take a look at the PVC pipe. This is going to go from the very top of the container all the way to the bottom. It needs to be big enough so that you can pour water down the pipe to fill your reservoir. I used a 1-1/2″ pipe.
First, measure the height of your planter. You will want to cut your pipe so that it’s at least as tall so your planter. It can be a little bit taller if you’d like, too. I used a hacksaw to cut my pipe.
Next, you’ll need to cut out a wedge or piece out of the bottom of the pipe. This is for the bottom of the pipe, so that when the water is poured into the pipe it has a way to escape. So, just cut a wedge or a notch in there. This doesn’t have to look pretty. You won’t see it at all.
If you’re using the feed bowl “false bottom” just slide the pipe down the planter in a corner. Since the feed bowl is round and flexible it should easily accommodate your pipe. If you’re using the hardware cloth, just place the pipe into the hole you cut for it.
Make sure that the side of the pipe with the wedge in it is in the bottom of the container. Try pouring some water down the pipe and make sure it can escape through your wedge to fill the bottom of the planter.
5- Drill an Overflow Hole
The next step is to drill an overflow hole into the planter. This isn’t required but it is a helpful step. If your planter is really fragile or you are nervous about this, you can skip it.
The reason for this hole is so that as you’re filling your water reservoir up, you’ll need a way to know that the reservoir is full. So, by drilling a small hole at the very top of the water reservoir (just below the false bottom), you’ll be able to see the water pour out of the planter when it reaches this height.
My hole is very, very small. First, I put a piece of masking tape on the outside of my planter right where I wanted to drill the hole. This will stop any cracking or chipping on your planter (in most cases). Then just drill your hole. Easy!
6- Insert Garbage Bag into the Planter
This seems kind of strange, right? Well, we need to separate the water from the soil. And, unfortunately, hardware cloth will not do the trick. So, I’ve found the garbage bags work quite well. At the bottom of the garbage back, I cut a small X with scissors that’s about 3″ wide. Then, insert the bag into the planter.
Fish the wicking chamber through the hole that you just made. It will still sit in the same location it’s in. It will still be touching the bottom of the container. The key here is to make sure that the dirt mounded up on top of the solo cup actually touches the dirt that will be in your planter.
You’ll want to pull the bag all the way up and kind of wrap it around the planter. If you don’t want to use a garbage bag you can use landscape fabric or some other divider that will hold the soil in.
7- Fill Bag with Potting Soil
Now that we have this all set up, you’ll simply fill the inside of the garbage bag with potting soil.
You may want to trim off the excess of the garbage bag at this point so it’s hidden by your flowers and plants.
8- Fill the Water Reservoir
Now you can pour water into the PVC pipe to fill the water reservoir. Be sure to look for the water pouring out of the small drill hole you made. That’s how you’ll know the reservoir is full.
Leave the planter alone for an hour or two. When you come back, stick your hand into the soil and see if it feels moist. The further you reach down into the soil, the more wet it should be.
If your soil is not wet, you may need to troubleshoot. Go back through the steps to make sure that you did everything. Likely the problem is with the wicking chamber so you’ll want to check that first.
9- Plant Flowers
The last step is to plant your flowers in soil like normal.
Quick Tip: Head over to this article if want some tips for creating longer bloom times. Be sure to check the soil often in the beginning to make sure that everything is working and your flowers aren’t getting dried out.
How long this will water your plants will depend on the size of your self-watering planter as well as the conditions where you live. I would check it every few days to get an idea of how long you can go before you need to add more water.
Now you know how to create a DIY self-watering planter using absolutely any container you’d like. This really simple method just separates the water reservoir from the soil using a “false bottom” in the container. Then create a way to wick the water up into the soil and a way to refill your water reservoir. If your chamber is larger, you may not have to water your containers for weeks.
This really does save you a lot of time. Not to mention, this self-watering planter will also save your plants if you’re anything like me and forget to keep them watered!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this project? Are you going to try it yourself? Do you have a better way to do it! Let me know!
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