All About Self-Watering Planters & Containers
If you’re forgetful, or you’re just not home very often, self-watering containers are a must-have. They’re also helpful if you’re growing in an area that’s not convenient to a water spigot, such as a balcony. In this video, Monica Hemingway from the Gardening Products Review walks you through self-watering containers, how they are helpful, different types (including DIY options), and how to plant and grow things in them.
What is a self-watering container or planter?
Contrary to what the name implies, they don’t actually water themselves. But they do allow you to water less frequently by filling up a reservoir with water. The top section of a self-watering planter is usually for your potting mix and the plants, while the bottom contains the water reservoir. Then there is a part that allows you to easily fill up the reservoir, such as a hose or tube. Some have an indicator that shows how much water is in the reservoir. These are convenient, as you’ll have a better idea of when the reservoir needs to be refilled. There should be a divider between the water and the potting mix (you don’t want your roots/soil just sitting in water). An overflow mechanism is also helpful so that your plants aren’t being overwatered.
How are they helpful?
I like them because they provide consistent moisture for your plants. At our headquarters in Tucson, some plants would need to be watered almost twice a day to keep from drying out. With a self-watering container, moisture is regularly given to the plant roots through a wicking system. The consistency also helps vegetables grow, and you might find that you have a better yield if you use self-watering for your vegetable plants.
Note: some plants, such as cactus and succulents work better if left to dry out between waterings, so they would not benefit from a self-watering container.
They’re great if you’re not home all day, if you travel a lot, or if you don’t have a convenient spigot for watering (like on a balcony).
Self-watering containers are a more efficient use of water, because the water is under the plants and isn’t evaporating as much. If you think about it, when you spray your plants, a lot of that water goes on your sidewalk or on the leaves of the plant, so the water isn’t used as efficiently. Some plants, like tomatoes, are more prone to fungal diseases if too much water gets on the leaves, so using a self-watering container bypasses this issue by watering the roots instead of the leaves, resulting in healthier plants.
Which types of containers are available/recommended?
The types vary by brand and what you’re looking for, just like most planting containers. If you’re looking for something more decorative, the one in the video is by Lechuza, and I highly recommend it. If you’re looking for something more utilitarian than decorative, some of the planters we’ve used (and show in the video) include the GrowBox, Gardener’s Supply Organic Tomato Success Kit, the Terazza Trough (also from Gardener’s Supply), and others.
You can make your own self-watering container if you’re more DIY-inclined. A simple internet search will reveal several different options. One thing I like to do is to buy self-watering pot reservoirs from Gardener’s Supply. They come in different sizes for different pots, so they’re convenient for any container you might buy. They’re so convenient and they will make your gardening life a lot easier!
How do they work?
At this point, if you haven’t watched the video (above), this would be a good time to check it out, so that you can see a demonstration of how a self-watering planter works and how to plant it.
But, generally, you’ll want to follow these steps:
- Insert the separator and the watering system into the container (ones with indicators are the best).
- Add any type of moist potting mix. Some companies have mixes specific for self-watering containers. If you use dry potting mix, the water won’t be wicked up into the plants, and they won’t receive the moisture that they need. Pack it down into the depressions at the bottom (that’s where the moisture gets wicked up into the soil/roots).
- If it has a wick, be sure it’s in water
- Plant as usual
- Water from the top so the roots are settled
- Use the spout to fill up the reservoir
- Refill the reservoir as necessary when the water level is low
Remove the soil each year, as the roots tend to grow down below the separators
Make sure the soil stays moist so that it wicks up the water
And that’s it! Let us know if you try out a self-watering container for the first time, we’d love to hear how it works for you!
Planters mentioned/shown in the video
- Lechuza Self-Watering Planter
- EarthBox Garden Kit
- Self-Watering Pot Reservoir from Gardener’s Supply Company
- Terrazza Trough (Gardener’s Supply)
- Organic Tomato Success Kit