Mother Earth Living

DIY Self-Watering Containers

You can make your own self-watering container from a couple of 5-gallon buckets.
By Ed Smith
May/June 2010
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You can grow just about anything you’d grow in the ground in self-watering containers.

Self-watering containers have a water reservoir that’s connected to the soil in the rest of the container, ensuring that water is continually available to growing plants. As long as there’s water in the reservoir, soil throughout the container stays evenly damp. Big tomato and squash plants or closely spaced lettuce and mesclun mixes need water every three or four days, but younger, smaller plants can get by with water once a week. The containers make it possible for the container gardener to have a life beyond the garden. Self-watering containers eliminate the possibility of plants becoming stressed from lack of water. If there’s water in the reservoir, there’s enough water in the soil. Simply refill the reservoir before it’s empty—unless rain is in the forecast. Excess water flowing out the overflow hole will take valuable nutrients with it.

DIY Self-Watering Containers

2 5-gallon buckets that have not previously contained chemicals
1 plastic funnel

Drill with a 1⁄4-inch bit
Saber saw

1. Fit one bucket inside the other bucket. The space between the bucket bottoms is the reservoir.

2. Mark an oblong hole in the side of the outer bucket about 1 inch high and 2 inches long, so the top of the hole is even with the bottom of the inner bucket. Cut it out with the saber saw. This hole serves triple-duty as the fill hole, the overflow hole and the place to stick a finger to gauge how full the reservoir is.

3. Cut a hole in the bottom of the inner bucket large enough so the funnel’s spout will project into the reservoir all the way to the bottom.

4. If necessary, cut the bottom off the funnel so it is about 1⁄2 inch longer than the space between the bucket bottoms.

5. Drill a dozen or so holes at random in the bottom of the inner bucket.

6. Fit the inner bucket into the outer bucket; insert the funnel. Fill the top bucket with moist container soil, making sure that the funnel is filled, but not packed, with soil. Fill the reservoir, and you’re ready to plant!

7. You can find kits at Gardener’s Supply to insert into any fairly large (15 to 20 quarts or more) round container to create a self-watering container with a 4-quart reservoir. Be sure to make an overflow hole in the container if it doesn’t already have one.

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