I love planters-they are a great way to take a bit of garden and put it anywhere! What I hate is keeping them watered. . . it is such a pain. But the soil in planters dries out so quickly that daily watering is usually a necessity if you want to keep your plants alive.
Enter the self watering planter! I just love being able to fill it up with water and then wait 3 or 4 days before worrying about it again. I’ve slowly accumulated enough self watering window box style planters to line my front porch-spreading the cost out over several years.
After 2 years of the late tomato blight (which lives in the soil) destroying my crop, I decided it was time to plant some of my tomato plants in planters. There are some fantastic big self watering planters out there that would fit two tomato plants each nicely. . . but I gagged when I saw the price. It would be cheaper to just buy gourmet tomatoes at the farmers market!
That’s when I decided-I can do this-I can make my own self watering planter! And since it was also time for my May DIY Challenge for the Walmart Moms I figured this would be the perfect project. I hit the internet and looked at the plethora of different plans and ideas out there. I took what seemed to be the best practices from a bunch of them and came up with my own plants on how to make a self watering planter at home. .. for a fraction of the cost of a store bought one!
Tutorial: Homemade Self Watering Planter
note: there are variations for the building materials-I’ll mention them as I go through the tutorial
1. Place the PVC pipe into your tote and mark a cutting line with your sharpie. You will want the pipe to reach all the way down to the bottom of your tote~how high above the rim you want it is up to you. You will be adding the elbow fitting down at the bottom, so remember that will add a bit more height. Heck-you could stick the fitting on now to make measuring easier-I just didn’t think of that when I did it.
note: The PVC pipe will be the watering tube for the self watering planter. You have to have some way to get water down into the reservoir! I thought about using a piece of garden hose, but the opening to that would be hard to pour water into with a watering can. The PVC pipe is wider, and the fact that it is rigid helps too! Plus it’s fairly inexpensive-I paid $2 for a 5 foot length.
2. Cut the pipe. Or, if you are lucky like me, get your husband to cut the pipe for you. Thanks honey! Make sure the pipe is well braced so it doesn’t wiggle around and use all proper precautions (like holding your hand back from where you are cutting!) Also make sure to wear eye protection-you don’t want a little flying piece of PVC in your eye!
4. Secure the pipe into the corner of the tote. I used duct tape.
note: I have no idea if there are issues with chemicals leaching out of the duct tape into your soil and therefore your plants. If that sort of thing concerns you then make sure you read up on it before making your decision.
note: The lid of the tote becomes the insert that separates the water reservoir from the planting compartment. I am now going to show you how I actually made the first insert of my two self watering planters-then I’ll give you notes on how I made my life easier-much easier-with the second iteration. Please-learn from my mistakes!
6. Use the bottom of the tote to trace around to get an idea of the size for the finished insert. The sides of my tote are sloped, not straight, so I knew that the bottom was actually smaller than the insert would need to be. Make sure you take that into account!
8. After it’s cut, check the fit of your insert.
Note: The insert will be held up by the baskets, which are also the soil “feet” or “wick” for the planter. Place the baskets into your tote and then slide the insert in to see how it is going to fit.
note: Since I was making two planters, I realized this would be a good time to trace the first insert onto the lid of the second tote with my Sharpie. I gave myself a little bit extra all the way around to fix the gap problem.
note: This is where my poor beloved kitchen shears bit the dust. Sigh. Fair thee well dear friends. Luckily hubs came to the rescue. Using a drill-with a sheet of wood underneath-I put holes in each corner of my outline:
12. Using zip ties (I got mine at the dollar store for a buck) secure the baskets to the insert.
note: I thought about using some sort of glue or cement, but I wasn’t sure if the adhesives that would stand up to the moisture would be safe for a planter that was growing food crops. I decided to err on the side of safety and use the zip ties. Duct tape I was ok with, silicon caulk or E6000 glue worried me. Hey, everyone has their own tipping point.
note: The point of the “feet” is to provide a way for the water in the reservoir to get up into the soil. They will be filled with soil and, since they go all the way to the bottom of the reservoir they will remain in contact with the moisture at all times. It doesn’t do any good to have your water down there if you have a gap of air between the top of the water and the bottom of the soil-they have to be in contact. I chose these rigid baskets (2 for $1 at my local dollar store) because I wanted something that would have a good chance of holding up all the weight of the soil that would go above it. You could use several of blocks of wood, some empty and well cleaned tin cans or whatever else you can think of to hold up the insert instead, and then make your wicks out of something with less strength-like a couple of large yogurt containers with holes punched in them. Be creative!
15. Fill the planter with soil. Make sure you pack it into the feet well before you fill up the rest of the tote.
I think this would be a great idea for me out here in Arizona, especially for tomatoes! Thanks!
This is a wonderfully helful tut! Thank you for sharing your mistakes, also. I would have cut the insert too small if I hadn’t seen yours first. I would not have thought of the drainage holes, either. Thanks for sharing!
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
Leslie-you are welcome! Glad to share the mistakes. .. it keeps others from making them!
Jim Graves says
This is a great tutorial. Often, you can’t tell what someone is trying to say. You are clear and concise. Thanks
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
Thanks Jim-I personally like a very detailed tutorial when I’m trying a new project. . . so I always strive to write a tutorial the way I’d want it if I was following it 🙂
What a great idea! I could actually have my vegi-garden this way!
Thanks for linking up to Making It With Allie. I can’t wait to see what you have for next week!
Kate M says
How did this hold up? I have a hard time keeping things alive and thought that this would help this year, hopefully.
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
It did fine all year–I’ll be interested to see how it held up through the winter. It looks fine so far. . .
Great idea! I am going to make some. We had a drought last year and I wore myself out watering raised beds everyday from the rainbarrels. What about inserting a tube into the overflow holes (like on a rainbarrel) and point the tube or section of a hose towards another plant or flower bed?
Brianna S says
I am making these this year and so far so good! I drilled two holes next to the PVC pipe and secured it with a zip tie instead of duct tape so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it deteriorating or anything leeching from it. I used plastic containers from lunch meat with holes punched in them as sadly I could not find any baskets like those. Thanks for such a great idea!
Jenn @ Frugal Upstate says
Glad you are enjoying it!
It’s an OK idea but the self watering planters I’ve seen at Gardener’s Supply look really nice, are guaranteed and come with a cage, soil, fertilizer and hundreds of great ratings for not much more than the cost of your materials. Great for a DIYer but not so much for busy people.
Just priced these on Gardener’s Supply website – these she is giving instructions for are larger, and the ones at GS do not appear to come with soil, fertilizer, etc, and are twice the cost of what this blogger is suggesting would cost.
Reegan Ray says
Why even look up a diy tutorial if you aren’t interested in doing it yourself, lol
Who knew that an unimpressive-looking water cooler bottle could double up as a classy self-watering planter? Check out this interesting tutorial .