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DIY self watering planter

DIY self watering planter  tutorials are all over the internet. Ever since I learned about the EarthBox® Green Container Gardening System I’ve wanted some for our roof garden. Amazon sells a 12-Inch Self-Watering pot for a very reasonable price. However, in tune with goal of using what I have and DIYing my life. I decided to make my own.

Wild Bill has several on his roof that gave me a severe case of garden envy. His containers were made using 5 gallon buckets. Since he’s an engineer, he also made some refill automatically when the water level drops.

I went out and priced 5 gallon buckets, I already had a few in my possession. I got excited in Home Depot when I saw a $29.99 mxn (about$2.50 usd) sign plastered on a stack of buckets, until I realized that was the price just for the lids! I can’t remember the price on the buckets themselves but it was enough that I decided to find an alternative. After doing a lot of looking around and surfing the net  researching alternatives, I remembered making diy self watering planters in the 70s using cotton cording and plastic pots.

plastic pot that fits inside 5 gallon bucket

recycled 12 inch plastic pot

Here is my version of the DIY self watering planter using a plastic 12 inch pot, a 5 gallon bucket,  a 3 foot length of pvc pipe, and an old cotton tee.

Find a plastic pot that fits inside a 5 gallon bucket but doesn’t go all the way down to the bottom. If the pot had been used before, you should scrub it and clean it; used soil can transmit diseases from the previous plants. I was so anxious to try this out, I skipped this step. I meant to go back and clean them after a trial run.

You will also need a knife or box cutter, measuring tape, and a felt pen, a drill motor is also handy but optional.

I cut six strips from one of Husband’s old tee shirt that was destined for the rag bag. The strips were about 3 feet long and 3 inches wide.

t-shirt ready to cut

t-shirt ready to cut

I knotted the strips in the middle, checking the placement by setting the knot inside the drainage hole and letting the tail hang down the outside of the upside down pot. The wicks needed to be long enough to reach the bottom of the bucket and about 30% longer than the inside measurement of the plastic planter.

Using the knife or box cutter enlarge one of the drainage holes just enough to fit the pipe inside. Turning the planter upside down and doing my carving from that direction was much easier than doing it from the inside. I made slits into the original hole, and pushed them out from the inside using the pipe. I then cut off the little tabs. I wanted the tube to slant, so I aimed for an oval rather than a circle. For diy self watering planter #2, I will probably leave the tabs. My pot was a bit fragile or I was a tad overenthusiastic so my hole is not very pretty.

At this time I measured how deep the pot extended into the 5 gallon bucket, by placing the pot inside the bucket and marking it outside. I measured the depth, and placed a dot on the bucket a little below that point. Using my drill motor I made a hole about the size of my pinkie. This is the over flow hole or weep hole. It keeps you from drowning your plants and is very important. If you don’t have a drill, you could probably use a screw driver or ice pick instead.

Next, I threaded the wicks through the remaining drainage holes from the inside of the pot. The direction is important, once the knot is snug against the drainage hole, I made another knot on the outside of the pot. This keeps the wick from moving up and down and plugs the hole, preventing the potting soil from draining into the pot.

Once the fill tube is in place and the wicks draped picturesquely over the sides, it’s time to start filling the pot with damp soil. I used a prepared potting soil to which I added vermiculite and compost.  After filling about a quarter of the way, I crossed the wicks, added more soil and crossed the wicks, I kept this up until it was time to add my plant. In this case, a fig sapling. One thing I love about the nurseries here, many plants come in black plastic bags, so transplanting them is easy. You cut open the sides to reveal your plant. It’s really important that none of your wicks protrude out of the soil, because the water will then evaporate into the air.

Once your pot is in place, you can fill use a hose to fill the tube, stopping when water starts coming out of the weep hole.  I left the soil uncovered because I plan on planting flowers too, but you could mulch the top or even use a plastic bag to discourage weeds and keep the rain out.

What do you think? Any questions? Do you think that this is good alternative to the EarthBox® or would you just rather buy one? How is your diy life going?

About Theresa Diaz Gray

Born in New York City, I grew up in California, and have lived in 3 countries and 6 states. I'm a first generation Cuban-American who lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. I'm committed to living an abundant and creative life and helping others do so too through DIY!

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