Convenient Self-Watering Planter in 9 Steps

Over the years, new gardening tools and techniques, such as these self-watering planters have made gardening easier.
Over the years, new gardening tools and techniques, such as these self-watering planters have made gardening easier.

If you’re planning on growing plants that thrive on moist soil, such as tropical plants and vegetables, the best way to lessen the demand for meticulous attention is to use self-watering planters. These planters offer a great alternative to watering plants plus a host of many other benefits.

Using self-watering planters will help you save water by preventing wastage. They provide water when it is needed. This is very helpful especially with all the challenges brought about by global warming. Additionally, the roots are kept moist and nutrients are preserved in the soil.

This project is simple, easy, and inexpensive!
This project is simple, easy, and inexpensive!

With new improvements in gardening techniques, gardening is more fun now than before. This planter is just one of the many things that make a gardener’s life easier. Here’s what you will need to make one.

Crafting a Self-Watering Planter


  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Milk jug
  • PVC pipe
  • Nail
  • Potting soil


  • Power Drill


Step 1: Prepare the 5-Gallon Bucket

  • Start by cleaning your 5-gallon bucket thoroughly to remove any residues or contaminants that might harm your plants.

Step 2: Create the Water Reservoir

  • Take the milk jug and remove its cap. This jug will act as the water reservoir.
  • Drill a series of small holes around the sides and bottom of the milk jug. These holes will allow water to seep out slowly, irrigating your plant’s roots efficiently.

Step 3: Install the Water Reservoir

  • Place the milk jug at the bottom center of the 5-gallon bucket. Ensure that it sits flat and stable.

Step 4: Prepare the Watering Tube

  • Cut the PVC pipe to a length that extends from the bottom of the bucket to just above its top. This pipe will be used to refill the water reservoir.
  • Drill several small holes along one end of the PVC pipe. This end will go into the bucket, near the milk jug, to allow water to flow into the reservoir.

Step 5: Add the Wicking System

  • Using the nail, poke a hole in the center of the bucket’s lid. This hole should be big enough to snugly fit the PVC pipe but not so large that the pipe wobbles.
  • Fill the milk jug with a small amount of potting soil. This soil will act as a wick, drawing water up into the main soil compartment to keep your plant’s roots moist.

Step 6: Assemble the Planter

  • Insert the PVC pipe through the hole in the lid, ensuring the end with the holes is positioned inside the bucket, near the milk jug.
  • Place the lid on the bucket, securing the PVC pipe in place.

Step 7: Add Soil and Plant

  • Fill the bucket with potting soil, leaving a few inches of space at the top. Be careful not to compress the soil too tightly around the PVC pipe.
  • Plant your chosen plant in the soil, making sure to spread the roots gently and cover them adequately with soil.

Step 8: Water Your Plant

  • To start, fill the reservoir through the PVC pipe. Pour water into the pipe until it starts to drain out from the bottom of the bucket. This initial watering will ensure the soil around the milk jug is moist and ready to wick water to the roots.

Step 9: Ongoing Care

  • Regularly check the water level by pouring water into the PVC pipe. When you notice the water is not draining as quickly as before, it’s time to refill the reservoir.

Benefits of Self-Watering Planters for Different Plant Types

Self-watering planters offer a smart solution for gardeners looking to maintain healthy, hydrated plants with minimal effort. These innovative gardening tools are especially beneficial in today’s busy world, providing a consistent water supply directly to the roots where plants need it most. Different plant types, from lush houseplants to vibrant vegetables, can thrive in a self-watering system. 

Let’s explore the benefits of self-watering planters for various plant types.

For Houseplants

  • Consistent Moisture: Self-watering planters ensure houseplants receive a steady amount of water, which is crucial for those that need consistent soil moisture. This system eliminates the guesswork and reduces the risk of under or overwatering.
  • Reduced Stress for Plants: The steady water supply helps prevent the stress caused by fluctuations in moisture levels, leading to healthier, more resilient plants.
  • Ideal for Busy Plant Owners: For individuals who travel frequently or tend to forget watering, self-watering planters can be a lifesaver, keeping houseplants thriving even in their absence.

For Herbs

  • Optimal Growth Conditions: Herbs like basil, mint, and cilantro benefit greatly from self-watering planters, as these systems maintain the ideal moisture level in the soil, promoting lush, flavorful growth.
  • Enhanced Flavor: Consistent watering can enhance the flavor of herbs by ensuring they grow at an optimal rate, preventing them from becoming too woody or bitter.

For Vegetables

  • Improved Yield: Self-watering planters provide vegetables with a continuous supply of water, leading to improved growth rates and yields. This is especially beneficial for water-loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers.
  • Deep Root Nourishment: These planters encourage vegetables to develop deeper root systems, seeking moisture from the reservoir, which in turn enhances their ability to absorb nutrients and water, leading to healthier plants.

For Tropical Plants

  • Mimics Natural Habitat: Tropical plants, which thrive in humid environments, can benefit significantly from the humid microclimate created by self-watering planters, closely mimicking their natural habitat.
  • Prevents Root Rot: By providing water from the bottom up, self-watering planters help prevent root rot, a common issue in tropical plants caused by excessive moisture on the surface soil.

For Succulents and Drought-Tolerant Plants

  • Prevents Overwatering: Although it might seem counterintuitive, self-watering planters can be beneficial for succulents and other drought-tolerant plants by preventing overwatering. The system allows these plants to take up just the amount of water they need, reducing the risk of waterlogged soil.

Self-watering planters are a versatile solution catering to the diverse needs of various plant types. By automating the watering process and ensuring that plants receive just the right amount of moisture, self-watering planters not only make gardening more accessible but also significantly enhance the health and growth of plants.

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Do you want to work on this DIY 5 gallon self-watering planter? Watch this video to learn how.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Self-watering planters are a fantastic innovation for gardeners, ensuring plants receive the right amount of water directly at their roots with minimal effort. However, like any gardening tool, they can sometimes face issues that affect their efficiency and the health of the plants they support. Understanding how to troubleshoot common problems can help you get the most out of your self-watering planter and keep your garden thriving. 

Here are some solutions to frequent challenges encountered with self-watering planters.

Overwatering and Root Rot

  • Symptoms: Yellowing leaves, wilting, and soft, brown roots.
  • Solution: Overwatering is often the result of a reservoir that’s too full or compacted soil that doesn’t allow proper aeration. To fix this, allow the soil to dry out before refilling the reservoir. Consider mixing perlite or vermiculite into the potting mix to improve drainage and aeration. Regularly check the water level in the reservoir to prevent it from becoming overly full.


  • Symptoms: Dry, crispy leaves, and stunted growth.
  • Solution: Underwatering in a self-watering planter can occur if the wicking system isn’t working correctly, often because the soil has become too dry or compacted. Ensure the wick is in contact with both the water reservoir and the soil above. Fluff the topsoil to improve moisture wicking and consider adding more wicking material if necessary. Refill the reservoir and monitor to ensure water is being absorbed.

Algae Growth

  • Symptoms: Green, slimy substance on the soil surface or in the water reservoir.
  • Solution: Algae thrive in moist, light-exposed areas. To combat algae growth, reduce light exposure to the reservoir and the soil surface. You can cover the soil with mulch or use a solid, opaque self-watering planter. Clean the reservoir regularly to remove any existing algae.

Salt and Mineral Build-Up

  • Symptoms: White, crusty deposits on the soil surface or planter.
  • Solution: This build-up is often due to using hard water in the self-watering planter. To address it, flush the soil with distilled or rainwater periodically to dissolve and wash away the salts. Consider using filtered water for refilling the reservoir to prevent future accumulation.

Inefficient Watering

  • Symptoms: Water in the reservoir not being used, or soil not adequately moistened.
  • Solution: Inefficiency can result from a poorly designed wicking system or evaporation issues. Ensure the wicking material extends from the bottom of the reservoir to the top layer of the soil. If evaporation is a concern, especially in hotter climates, consider insulating the planter or placing it in a less exposed location.

Mosquito Breeding

  • Symptoms: Mosquitoes hovering around the planter, larvae in the water reservoir.
  • Solution: Standing water can attract mosquitoes. To prevent this, ensure your self-watering planter has a lid or cover for the reservoir. Adding a thin layer of oil to the surface of the water in the reservoir can also prevent mosquito larvae from developing.

Blocked Water Intake

  • Symptoms: The reservoir doesn’t seem to deplete, or water intake is slower than usual.
  • Solution: A blocked water intake can prevent water from moving from the reservoir to the soil. Check the water intake area for any blockages, such as compacted soil or debris. Clean the area around the PVC pipe or the wicking basket to ensure water can flow freely.

Fungal Growth

  • Symptoms: Mold or mildew on the soil surface or the base of the plant.
  • Solution: Fungal growth can occur in conditions of high humidity and poor air circulation. To address this, ensure the top layer of soil is dry between watering cycles. If possible, increase air circulation around the planter by relocating it or using a fan. Consider applying a natural fungicide to the soil surface to prevent further growth.

Uneven Water Distribution

  • Symptoms: Part of the soil seems drier or wetter than the rest.
  • Solution: Uneven water distribution may result from an uneven planter base or improper soil preparation. Make sure the planter is on a flat surface. Stir the soil gently to break up any clumps that may be causing water to channel unevenly. Ensure that the wicking material is evenly distributed throughout the bottom of the planter.

Root Encroachment into the Reservoir

  • Symptoms: Reduced water levels in the reservoir and possible root damage when inspected.
  • Solution: Over time, some plants’ roots may grow into the water reservoir, which can lead to waterlogging and root health issues. To prevent this, use a physical barrier like a screen or a layer of gravel between the soil and the water reservoir. Regularly inspect and trim roots that grow too close to or into the reservoir area.

Nutrient Depletion

  • Symptoms: Plants look unhealthy or show signs of nutrient deficiency, such as discolored leaves.
  • Solution: In self-watering planters, nutrients can be flushed out of the soil over time due to the constant water movement. To combat nutrient depletion, apply a water-soluble fertilizer directly to the soil or add it to the water reservoir. Be sure to follow the recommended dosage to avoid over-fertilization.

Water Stagnation and Odor

  • Symptoms: The water in the reservoir smells bad or becomes cloudy.
  • Solution: Stagnant water can develop bacteria and fungi, leading to unpleasant odors. Clean the reservoir thoroughly with a mild bleach solution or vinegar, then rinse well before refilling with fresh water. Ensure there’s adequate drainage to prevent water from becoming stagnant again.

Mechanical Damage

  • Symptoms: Cracks or damage to the planter itself, affecting water retention or plant growth.
  • Solution: Inspect your self-watering planter regularly for any signs of wear and tear. Repair minor damage with suitable waterproof sealants. For significant damage, consider replacing the planter to ensure your plants have a stable and effective growing environment.

By addressing these additional issues, gardeners can further enhance the performance of their self-watering planters, ensuring that plants not only survive but thrive in their care. Regular observation and maintenance are key to successful self-watering planter gardening.

Guide to Choosing the Right Soil and Fertilizers

Selecting the appropriate soil and fertilizers is crucial for the success of any gardening endeavor, especially when it comes to self-watering planters. These planters provide a consistent water supply to plants, which affects how soil and nutrients are managed. Understanding the nuances of choosing the right soil and fertilizers can greatly enhance the health and growth of your plants. 

Here’s a comprehensive guide to making informed decisions for your self-watering planter setup.

Understanding Soil Requirements for Self-Watering Planters

Opt for a lightweight, porous potting mix that facilitates air and water movement. Soil in self-watering planters should not be too dense, as it needs to allow water to wick up efficiently to the plant roots. A mix containing peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite is often ideal.

Most plants thrive in slightly acidic to neutral pH levels (between 6.0 and 7.0). Test the pH of your potting mix and adjust it if necessary, using lime to increase pH or sulfur to decrease it, ensuring it aligns with the specific needs of your plants.

Choosing the Right Fertilizers

Water-soluble fertilizers are best for self-watering planters, as they can be easily mixed into the water reservoir, providing a steady supply of nutrients to the roots. Opt for a balanced fertilizer with equal parts nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) for general use, or choose a formula specific to the needs of your plants.

Because self-watering planters can dilute fertilizer concentration through continuous water circulation, you may need to fertilize more frequently but in smaller amounts. Follow the instructions on the fertilizer packaging but consider applying half the recommended rate more frequently.

Special Considerations for Self-Watering Planters

In self-watering systems, there’s a risk of nutrients being leached out of the soil and into the water reservoir. To minimize this, use a slow-release fertilizer that breaks down over time, providing a steady supply of nutrients without the risk of rapid leaching.

Regular use of fertilizers in self-watering planters can lead to an accumulation of salts in the soil, which can harm plant roots. Flush the soil periodically with fresh water to remove excess salts, and monitor plant health for signs of salt stress, such as leaf burn or stunted growth.

For those preferring organic gardening, consider organic fertilizers like fish emulsion, seaweed extract, or compost tea. These can be added to the water reservoir or applied directly to the soil. Keep in mind, organic fertilizers may require more frequent application as they are generally slower acting than synthetic ones.

Tailoring to Plant Needs

Research the specific soil and nutrient requirements of your plants. Some plants, like succulents, prefer a more sandy soil mix, while acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and blueberries, benefit from a soil mix with a lower pH.

Plants’ nutritional needs change as they grow. Seedlings require a soil mix with a higher phosphorus content to support root development, while flowering and fruiting plants benefit from higher potassium levels. Adjust your fertilizer choices based on the growth stage of your plants.


Building self-watering planters is a simple and efficient way to ensure your plants receive consistent moisture, directly at their roots, without the daily hassle of manual watering. These innovative gardening solutions save time, conserve water, and promote healthier plant growth through improved moisture management. With the added convenience and sustainability, self-watering planters stand out as an excellent choice for gardeners of all levels seeking to enhance their gardening experience.

For more convenient planters, check out our 8 unique vertical garden planters!



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