GrowBox self watering planters from Garden Patch have been around for a few years but they’ve recently introduced some new colors, including this fun eggplant color. So I thought it was time to try it out and see how it would work for growing greens in the harsh, sunny climate of Tucson.
>> Check out our video: All About Self-Watering Planters
Assembling the GrowBox
The GrowBox arrives in two pieces that you have to fit together, including the 4-gallon water reservoir and the planter, as well as a Nutrient Patch cover. Everything you need to grow plants comes packaged in one box, except for the growing medium (potting mix) and plants or seeds. The box also includes a sheet of very detailed assembly and planting instructions, complete with photos.
No tools are required to put the GrowBox together but you may want to have some sturdy scissors on hand to separate some of the plastic parts.
Be Careful and Go Slowly When Assembling
I found it difficult to remove the four pins (meant to secure the cover into the growing medium) from the bottom of the planter box to which they were attached. Be careful when you do this as the edges can be very sharp and I ended up cutting my finger on one of the pins.
It’s also difficult to bend the two hinged flaps into place in the bottom of the planter. These flaps, when pushed down, create a square hole into which you pack potting mix; this allows water to “wick” from the reservoir into the planter. Go slowly and don’t push too hard on the flaps or you’ll find that they don’t seat properly and you’ll have a hard time pulling them back into place.
The planter box fits easily onto the water reservoir that sits below it. Make sure you align the edges of the planter top and bottom before snapping the top onto the pins on the reservoir.
Once assembled, the planter is just over 12 inches wide, 27 inches long and 11 inches tall. Somehow I expected it to be bigger… but you can still grow an awful lot in that small space.
Filling the GrowBox
Follow the instructions carefully to add the growing medium to the GrowBox. To ensure that the growing medium is nice and moist, the instructions ask you to fill the planter only halfway full with potting soil or growing medium, then fill it with water, and then put the rest of the growing medium on top before watering it again.
If there are dry patches or areas in the container, it won’t be able to adequately wick moisture from the reservoir up to the plant roots.
Growing in the GrowBox
The GrowBox is intended for intensive cropping, also called square-foot gardening (see our review of the Garden Stamp for another way to do this). The point is to grow as much as possible in as small a space as possible while minimizing the amount of work required.
To make that happen you need to provide ideal growing conditions to support a lot of plants. So the GrowBox comes with a special blend of fertilizers and nutrients and a cover that inhibits weed growth and retains moisture.
About the Nutrient Patch Cover
The cover is made from organic woven material and fits inside the top of the GrowBox (on top of the growing medium). Attached to the underside are two sleeves full of low-salt fertilizers and nutrients that are intended to provide just the right combination of elements to support rapid, strong and healthy plant growth. These fertilizer sleeves dissolve on contact with water so keep them dry until you’re ready to start growing.
Two Types of Nutrient Patch
There are two versions of the Nutrient Patch – one with a 9-14-15 blend of synthetic fertilizers (this is the original Nutrient Patch and the one used in this review) and one with an OMRI certified blend of fast-acting organic fertilizers that includes microorganisms that rapidly break down the materials and minerals into nutrients and trace elements that plants can then readily feed on.
Replacing the Nutrient Patch
The company recommends that the Nutrient Patch be replaced each time you replant the GrowBox (the Nutrient Patch can be purchased separately online). That’s probably the easiest way to ensure good results but I’m going to reuse the cover as many times as possible to see how long it lasts and will use my own combination of organic and/or synthetic fertilizer and nutrients. I’ll update this review in the future to let you know how that turns out.
Planting the GrowBox
The Nutrient Patch cover is printed with planting instructions and has 18 spots marked on the surface to indicate the locations where plants should be placed. Take a good look at the included instruction sheet because it tells you exactly which spots to plant in depending on what variety of vegetable, herb or flower you’re growing.
I chose to grow romaine lettuce (a terrific and tasty blend of red and green romaine called Renee’s Caesar Duo from Renee’s Garden Seeds) so followed the instructions to cut out eight holes evenly spaced around the perimeter of the cover.
If you’re growing seeds you cut out a round hole so you can drop the seed(s) onto the growing medium below. If you’re growing plants then you would cut a slit from the edge of the cover to the spot indicated. That way you can slide the stem of the plant through the slit and dig the roots into the grow medium.
Plastic Pins Need Improvement
Once everything is in place, you’re supposed to use the plastic pins to fasten the cover to the growing medium below. I found that they didn’t stay in place. Any breeze got under the edges of the Nutrient Patch and blew it off the GrowBox. I ended up using a couple of stones to weight it down but landscape staples would probably have worked too. The pins just aren’t long enough to hold down the cover.
After two months in the GrowBox, the lettuce were ready to harvest. Big, strong, and tasty.
Watering the GrowBox
Watering is easy. Just keep the water reservoir full (don’t water from the top). You don’t need to keep it topped up but don’t let it dry out completely. I tried filling it with a watering can, hose, and by placing the end of a drip irrigation line into the reservoir. All methods worked well.
One thing I noticed was an unsightly build-up of salts between the planter and the reservoir. That could be partially due to the high mineral content in our water here in Tucson, but also seemed to be from the fertilizer. It was difficult to remove, even with scrubbing.
Supporting Taller Plants
It you’re growing larger plants, like tomatoes, the company offers a support cage for $24.95. I used it for growing tomatoes and found that it worked adequately. However, it took a lot of adjusting to assemble, the plastic zip ties that held it together got brittle and broke after a few months, and the shock cord inside the supports snapped when I disassembled the cage at the end of the season. I don’t recommend buying the support cage, although you’ll definitely need some kind of support when growing tomatoes and the planter isn’t deep enough to be able to stick a tomato cage or support into the potting mix.
The GrowBox makes it easy to grow vegetables and flowers in a small space. It’s relatively simple to put together (if you do it carefully), small enough to move when needed, and works as promised. The Nutrient Patch takes the guess-work out of feeding your plants as they grow. I’d have liked to see sturdier and longer pins to hold the cover down but overall give it a four-shovel rating.
Update May 2016: The GrowBox is still working well. The color doesn’t appear to have faded and the tomatoes growing in it are doing well. I didn’t use a Nutrient Patch this year but did add significant amounts of organic tomato fertilizer. And I built my own support cage using bamboo stakes in the corners and twine strung between the stakes – it seems to be working well and was a lot easier to set up than the Garden Patch support system.
Where to Buy
The GrowBox is also available on Amazon, as is the nutrient patch, but they cost slightly more.
And now over to you – Have you tried a self-watering outdoor planter for veggies? How did it work? Let us know in the comments below!
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Just rec’d our order of 6 The Garden Patch GROWBOX containers and was courious about the Vegetable PLUS+Fertilizer 9-14-15. Did you use this type all the time in your grow boxes? Was researching where to purchase some local for future use, but seems only Garden Patch has this specific formula because of salt content. Any suggestions? We’ve always gardened inground, but age is working its toll so trying out this new way. Maybe this is just a perk to only buy with Garden Patch!
I used the fertilizer that came with the GrowBox but I’m going to try it with some other fertilizers in the future. I’ll update this review when I have tried a bunch of options. As far as I know, you can only get that particular formula online from Garden Patch – I guess that’s one way they keep you coming back for more! Good luck with your GrowBoxes – they really do work well and I think you’ll enjoy using them instead of digging in the garden 🙂
We have six boxes and every thing is growing great.
The only problem we have is we have to fill the water boxes 3 times a day!
The temp has been in the 80’s and 90’s.
We used miracle grow potting mix.
I used the GrowBox. Didn’t realize that some of the organic fertile rice was to be spread one tomato plant developed later then the other. Leaves turned purple which I was told lack of phosphorus. Tried to fix. There was a small leak. They sent me a new bottom, new fertile rice & cover. I’ll use next year. I made a rack from 3/8” rebars. I thought it was a little crowded for 2 dwarf tomato plants. Oh by the way, a frog made a home in the reservoir since I didn’t have it filled.
Another point was told about the leaves too wet? I use a coco mix which held the water. The county extension also said that I should use 50% garden mix, 40 % coco, & 10% perlite. We’ll see next year.
You gave quite a good explanation of the Box.
Thank you. You may answer me with advice if you like.
Great to come upon your site and hear your reviews. This was the first year using the Grow Boxes and I have to say I” love them”. I bought 3 and planted various plants. I will do things a little differently next year. I But I did really get a bountiful crop. I am also going to experiment with the use of fertilizers and like you, I am going to reuse the mat. In one box I planted 2 tomato plants and put an eggplant in the there too, It was very crowded but very prolific. The tomatoes were good, but the eggplants were excellent. However, next time, just two plants, as suggested. The next box I put two zucchini plants on one long side and 2 melon plants on the other. I figured I was well within the limits that were given. The zucchini went wild, yielding 45+ zucchini, but they squeezed out the poor melons. I took out the zucchini plants when I saw that they were failing (happy to do so) and spruced up the melons which I thought would just die off. They didn’t and now I have three little melons and a very strong vine. That was only 4 plants and they were very crowded so I’ll have to re-think this for the next year. I happened to have put two melon plants down in my vegetable bed and they are really doing good. One is the size of a small volley ball and the others are not far behind. The third box I put in Basil plants and a pepper plant. Basil took off and is still doing fine. The pepper plant continues to give more, but not one worth bringing into the house. They all got black blight, don’t know why, so I have to be careful of that combination. As you may have guessed, I Love Gardening. Good luck with the changes you will be making. I’d love to hear aboout the kind of fertilizer you’ll be using and so forth. Success, Yours, Gini
I had a problem with end rot on my tomatoes and had to replace bell peppers twice. The plants did not do well and mature plants produced fruit that rotted before ripe and ready to pick.
I wonder if perhaps the problems were related to the potting mix you used? It sounds like a nutrient deficiency (calcium, in the case of blossom end rot).
I have dry rot on one of my tomato plants too. I bought good soil from gardening place. Disappointed! I was told to put lime in water, but didn’t help! Any suggestions?
I am still waiting to see how my Grow Boxes do this year. My parents have had great luck with them over the last 2-3 years so I finally decided not to till and purchased 6. Unfortunately, it has been one logistic oops after another. The first shipment I received 6 bottoms, 6 tops but only 2 Nutrient Patches even though the documents stated 6 were shipped. I called and they sent out another shipment, supposedly nutrient patches. This time I received 4 of the Dolomite Soil Sweetners. I called again, they said they would ship by the speediest means. Friday at 3:30 I received notification that the shipping label was printed but unfortunately, no one called Fedex to tell them. to come pick it up 3 days later.
I am still hopeful to get my plants in the ground by Tax Day which is safe day for No-frost in Mid TN. Will update once I have some news.
Oh, and one point on the pins. Try cutting some synthetic Quarter Round the length of the grow box, drilling holes and putting long nails through them. One on each side will hold down the nutrient Patch and also keep the sides from Rolling as they are prone to do once you cut them or they get wet.
I just got 3 of them for Mothers Day but they do not seem to snap together. Have you run into this problem? Is this usual? I am wondering if the three we got are defective, if this is just as they are or if we did something wrong.
Hi Maria, and happy Mothers Day! When you say the GrowBoxes don’t snap together, what parts aren’t doing that? If you’re having trouble with getting the planter box to snap onto the reservoir, it does take quite a bit of force – line up the parts (make sure the pins sticking up from the reservoir are directly under the holes in the bottom of the planter box and the edges of the reservoir line up with the box) and then push down hard. We didn’t run into any problems when testing the GrowBox but I suppose defects are always possible. Please let us know if you’re able to get this assembled.
Good website full of good info!
I’ve had the original garden patch for 6+ years and its still growing strong- it show its age with stains and such but that’s OK! My Mom gave me 5 EBs for my birthday after I’d ordered my GP-isn’t that ironic? for my second planting of the Garden Patch I used one of my EB covers and it worked great. I now just use black plastic and a bungee cord. Over all I’d give the Garden Patch a **** rating. It is not as easy to set up and fill as I’d like but it does grow great vegetables and still works after 6+ years.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Bernie! I like your method of using a plastic cover (or I suppose any other weed and moisture barrier would work too) with a bungee cord to secure it – great idea! Glad to know the GrowBox is still going strong after 6+ years!
got my Grow Boxes and put them together filled them with a garden grow mix from a local Garden Store,put down my nutrient patch and put 2 tomato plants in each box.The plants grew great,but all my tomato’s had rotted from the bottom up,others had big black spots on them.I got my plant’s from a local nursery and they looked fantastic,great color,no spots or usual tomato disease.They had full sun and I kept the water filled,what happened?
Tim, those sorts of problems usually indicate a nutrient deficiency, possibly in the mix they were planted in. You usually don’t see that when using the nutrient patch in the Grow Box.
What kind of potting mix should we be using to avoid this problem
I’d use a good quality mix that’s specifically designed for use in containers. So not a “top soil” or “garden soil”. Personally, I’ve been using a new product from Miracle-Gro called Organic Choice Potting Mix with Moisture Control and Compost. Most potting mixes have no soil – they’re just a sterile mix of substances to which you need to add nutrients (fertilizer) in order to grow healthy plants. With the Miracle-Gro with compost already added, I seem to get better plants with less need for fertilizer. That’s not an endorsement of the product or a recommendation, just an observation on what’s worked for me. Espoma also makes a good organic potting mix.
I have ten of these that are set up in a temperature controlled greenhouse here in Colorado. I outside gardened for years with issues stemming from weather to pests.Blossom end rot is common here in tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and zucchini due to extreme temperatures changes and calcium deficiencies in our soil. I use Miracle Grows Earth Choice organic and natural potting mix, the nutrient patch and Dolomite from Garden patch and their support cages for all my boxes. I also use landscaping pins to keep the covers down and they work well. I have had very prolific harvests for the two years I have been using these boxes in the greenhouse. I grow just about everything from seed or seedlings saving my own seeds for the next years plantings. I am expanding my green house this year to add 10 more boxes for market growing.
Thanks for sharing your experience Joyce! It sounds like the GrowBox has worked well for you.
You raise a good point about the effects of temperature changes and soil issues. Here in Tucson we have extremely hard water, soils are alkaline and temperatures swing from one extreme to the other – even using a GrowBox or other planter doesn’t completely resolve those issues (particularly the hard water and temperature swings) so we have to be careful to add enough soil amendments/nutrients to the potting mix to avoid problems like blossom end rot. It’s not the container that causes the problem – it’s the environment.
Thanks all for the reviews and comments. I just ordered the growbox and was wondering how it would work out. Sounds like if I have the soil right it should work out well. I am planning on putting beef steak and cherry tomatoes in the box, one of each. If I have the crop it sounds like I might have, I will be ordering more boxes. Thanks Again
So glad it was helpful, Joe. Good luck with your tomatoes!
Good morning! I was glad to see your review of the Grow Boxes. I was given three of them for Christmas and after reading up on them, I ordered three more. They appear to be a perfect solution for the tree roots that invaded my raised bed vegetable garden. Additionally, the watering reservoir is a huge plus – even less water wasted than with square foot gardening! I collect rain water and the run-off from our air conditioner and will most likely not have to run the hose very much. (We have city water, which adds up!)
Anyway, so far so good with my plants – I have 10 varieties of tomatoes growing, plus a box with four varieties of peppers and one eggplant. (Grow Box doesn’t really encourage the mixing of different plant sizes, but I needed a place for the eggplant, and am trying to rotate all the nightshade family plants out of the one in-ground bed I’ve got.) I set the plants out about three weeks ago – we had three late, light frosts, so I covered everything with cardboard and the plants survived. Now, the seedlings are all taking off and I had to place some temporary supports just yesterday because of wind. I’ll be giving bamboo stakes and twine a go for a more permanent support solution. That’s a great idea. Thank you!
Has anyone tried growing beans or Brussels sprouts in the grow boxes? I am considering doing this in the future but am a little skeptical over whether or not they’d be successful, since I haven’t seen any reviews about these veggies.
Hi, I’m growing Blue Lake bush beans in one box. They look very green and healthy but no flowers yet after about 3 weeks. we’re in super humid Tidewater VA. We’ll see. I can post when flowers and fruit appear.
I am just starting with the grow boxes and your comments are very helpful. I tried other planter boxes and lost an entire crop of tomatoes because of the rot problems described here. I gave up trying to plant anything in boxes. I’ve been reading comments on The Grow Box and feel like I want to try it again. I love the idea of gardening on my back deck. I am in Wisconsin and we get those severe temperature changes in the spring and summer. Your suggestions will help me with this too. I can’t wait to get started!
We’re glad we could be of some help. Thank you for your interest in the Gardening Products Review. Happy Gardening.
I live in Bullhead City, AZ and I know things here grow at different times of the year. I just order 3 boxes and I wondering if anyone can help me. I need to know when will it be the best time to start planting in this area?
Moved from farm in Ohio to condo in Queens NY. Just have to have some good tomatoes, so I’m going to try a Grow Box from Garden Patch. How long does it take to receive the “box” after ordered? What tomato do you recommend? I use to grow Rutgers, Marglobe and Big Boy. Any additional info would be appreciated. Thanks. Kathy.
Totally agree, Kathy – gotta grown your own tomatoes if you want some really good ones! I don’t know how long the GrowBox will take to arrive but it should be fairly quick. Growing in a container is a little different than in the ground so I usually recommend smaller and/or determinate plants. I’ve had good results with Super Bush container tomato from Renee’s Garden Seeds (https://www.reneesgarden.com/products/tomato-container-super-bush) and Bush Champion. But if you have the space to support them, pretty much any tomato will do well. Just be sure to use the Nutrient Patch (or something similar) because nutrients will quickly leach out of the soil and you need enough calcium to prevent blossom end rot.
Got the box from a neighbor but without instructions. Hubby watered from top, now there is standing water that does not evaporate or absorb. Any suggestions.
The biggest issue with watering is when the potting mix is dry. In that situation, it cannot absorb water from the reservoir underneath. The other problem is if potting mix isn’t firmly packed into the wells at the bottom of the planting box (which is where the water wicks up from). So first make sure the planter wells were filled properly. If they were, then slowly water from the top until all of the soil is moist. Eventually, it will start to wick up from the reservoir. Also, depending on your temperatures and humidity, it can take days for all of the water to absorb so give it some time (but don’t let it dry out!). Good luck 🙂
Question: I have 2 boxes for tomatoes. They were doing pretty good (aside from the blossom end rot on many, which I will address next year with all of the advice gleaned from previous comments). My biggest disappointment is it’s late August and my plants have all wilted and dried out and I can see they’ve not wicked up water for the last week, maybe two. Sad thing is, there are still tomatoes and I could have had at least 2-3 more weeks of tomatoes. Any idea what might have happened? I was very good about not letting the reservoirs go dry.
Hi Sheri, I’m sorry to hear about your tomatoes. It’s always so disappointing when the plants die before you can harvest everything. In this case, it sounds like it might have been late blight or another disease that caused the plants to wilt. If the soil didn’t dry out (and it sounds like you’ve been diligent in keeping the GrowBox watered) then that’s the most likely explanation. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about that 🙁
I was SO excited to get 3 grow boxes and eagerly started my garden. I am very disappointed. Rubbery cucumbers on vines that look horrible. Watermelons either rot on the vine while small or have grown warped shape and very dark, odd looking. Tomatoes usually look like they are struggling, but full of still green cherry tomatoes. Hoping those ripen and taste good. Green onions have grown very well! Canteloupe grew a big, ugly vine, but never created any fruit.
Water reservoir has always been kept full. Bees were around to polinate. Full day sun with late afternoon well lit, but indirect sunlight.
My growbox garden was a disappointment.
I’ll try different veggies and see what happens.
(Im in central texas and started after frosts were done)
That’s so disappointing Tricia 🙁 It sounds like you’re doing the right things with timing, consistent water and sun. Did you use the nutrient patches? If so, the only thing I can think of is that the potting mix is causing problems. Three I’ve used and had good results with are MiracleGro organic potting mix with Moisture Control, the organic potting mix from Coast of Maine (although that’s not easy to find out here so buy it online) and the organic potting mix from Gardener’s Supply Company (ordered online). Both CoM and GSC have mixes specifically for self-watering containers, but I haven’t tried those – I just used the “regular” version. I’ve used a couple of other potting mixes and did not have much luck – they either dried out quickly or seemed to cause nutrient imbalances that led to some of the problems you’re experiencing.
You might want to call the company directly to see what else you can do. They may be better able to diagnose the problem and suggest a solution.
I hope you have better luck with the next crop!
I had a similar disappointing experience last summer with 3 growboxes and a wide variety of vegetable plants. They were on a south facing Gulf front deck that has afternoon shade. I used the fertilizer provided with soil covers. I kept the water reservoir filled. The soil was moist. Had lots of blossoms and huge plants but few actual priced fruit with some blossom end rot. I also noticed a white film on top of the soil when I removed the cover. I used dolomite in one box. Same results. I have no idea what to change this year. Any help? Thanks for a good explanation of the boxes and yours success.
This is my first year using the grow box. I have 4 boxes. I did everything by the book and the tomato plants are a nice healthy rich green color compared to the plants I planted in the raised garden. BUT… They all have blossom end rot. Next year I will have to try the Organic Soil Sweetener … None of the tomato plants I planted into the raised garden with compost , Manure, Fish fertilizer have Blossom end rot. So im a bit disappointed but not giving up for next season.
My husband and I have tried to put the pots together and the bottoms will not click together. Bought 10 and very disappointed. Called the company and the only answer I got was it take 2 people. Well these two people can’t get them together. I have spent a lot of money for nothing.
Would you like to sell the post you bought last year, if you did’nt use them, Ill gladly buy them from you.
If you still want to buy boxes, i can send you six new ones. I also have six organic patches. I cant plant anything this year as i am suck and need money for other stuff now. Leave a message here if you won’t receive email
I too could not get the boxes to snap together and the little dirt tabs broke first time I turned them down to catch. To top this off these things are a breeding ground for mosquitoes larvae. I finally had to dump mine Out and go back to regular planters to get rid of the larvae. My tomatoes were getting bottom rot and my cucumbers and green beans Burnt up even though they had water in the bottom! Big waste of money
I think they are made very poorly and I am very disappointed with them.
Hi there! Third year of using a Grow Box – year 1, two cherry tomato plants – amazing. Year 2- two cherry tomato plants and 2 brussels sprouts plants in one box – not amazing. Year 3, starting in a few days – I have two boxes now and need to plant 2 tomato plants, 2 lettuce plants, peas and cucumbers. Why does the nutrient patch say it can accommodate tons of plants, but all the advice here is not to put that many because of aeration?
(I’m not a green thumb by any means but also have a small NYC balcony and don’t have room for another box!)
What are the plastic nails/spikes for in the grow box?
They’re to hold down the cover that goes on top of the soil.
Purchased the grow boxes this year . I put the cucumbers with the peppers and so far they are growing well . Had quite a good amount of cucumbers . Unfortunately none of my tomatoes are doing well I added the miracle grow potting mix to these boxes and my tomatoes have bottom end rot . I added calcium twice and still no luck . Such a disappointment.