The Best Self Watering Planters For Different Growing Needs

Some find it hard to remember the chore of watering their houseplants and container plants regularly. But even if you never miss watering them, you still need to make some preparation before going out.

homemade self watering planters

via Flickr SIP planter

This article shares a mix of simple and high-tech self-watering planter technology systems to help your plants receive sufficient water supply every day.

Simple Self-Watering Systems For Potted Plants

If you plan to stay away from home for over a week or longer, you can keep your outdoor container gardening plants, and hanging baskets watered very easily. Move all of your plants together into a cool, shaded area such as a large tree.

You can also place the potted plants under the shade of a huge building. However, a tree gives better watering system and protection from harsh weather. This helps maintain a consistent temperature and slow down the process of evaporation.

Setting the potted plants on drip irrigation pans also helps in retaining water. If you prefer this watering method, make sure to provide enough water to sustain for a week. This makes a perfect setup for plant owners who plan to spend the whole week out of town or even out of the country.

If some of your outdoor plants grow in tiny pots, place them on double pots before leaving. Place the smaller pot into a larger pot lined with mulch or coco coir. Soak the pot soil and the insulating layer in the pot before you go.

If you live in a very hot and dry location, consider putting a layer of mulch over the surface of your potted and container plants. This step helps hold the moisture in for an extended amount of time.

These self-watering planters allow you to take a regular nursery pot and place it right inside the SIP container. Systems are available for window box planters as well. Also these SIP’s are stylish, check out the Lechuza planter line for some great planters.

Simple Self-Watering Systems For Houseplants

If you plan to be out in less than a week, you can use a similar method for your houseplants. Round them all up into a cool and shady area of your house and place them on drip trays. Bathtubs can be an excellent place. Water them enough before leaving, and they will do fine without you for a week or less.

If you plan to be out for an extended period, set all your plants (except succulents and other plants prone to root rot) in the bathtub and give them enough sprinkling. Before leaving, let an inch of water fill the tub to let your plants drink up during your absence.

The watering requirement fully depends on the weather, type, and size of houseplants. Knowing these important details gives you the assurance your plant stays healthy and happy with the supply of water you left for them. Additionally, set up a grow light on a timer to provide them with light.

Sub irrigation Planters For Indoor Houseplants – Self Watering Planter Systems

homemade sub irrigation planters

Here’s another self-watering planter system for houseplants. This one is a homemade one by me. These are also called SIP – Sub Irrigation Planter – I grow all my indoor plants this way and here’s why.

Sub irrigation systems, self-watering planters, and indoor watering systems can help in one of the biggest areas we see people experiencing problems in plant care – watering. Usually overwatering.

This method called SUBIRRIGATION, which can help take the guesswork out of watering houseplants.

Many interior plant professionals (plantscapers) use subirrigation planters, pots or containers as their preferred method of watering.

Note this system is NOT an automatic indoor plant watering system – but it is as simple as keeping a reservoir filled. Many find watering houseplants from the bottom easier and quicker than top watering.

The result usually comes in improved plant quality and plant health with the time spent on plant care – the physical maintenance, such as grooming, cleaning leaves, etc. instead of watering the plant.

Typically when watering plants from the top down the root ball undergoes quite a bit of stress.

The wetting and drying breaks down the soil media. Using subirrigation can help stop these intermittent drought and/or flood conditions. The root ball is kept constantly moist (MOIST not WET). The roots remain healthy as the pores in the soil still hold oxygen.

Why choose a sub-irrigated planters?

  • Quicker training of new employees on plant watering or “neighbors”
  • Less time spent watering plants
  • More time spent on grooming plants
  • More time for “scouting” for pests – our favorite natural pest control here
  • Longer intervals between plant watering (usually)
  • Less plant stress
  • Easier to water plants with hard to reach access
  • Seasonal plants often hold blooms longer
  • No drainage hole or overflow hole means less opportunity for spills on carpet and furniture
  • Water level indicator helps measure the amount of water needed.

There are quite a few self watering pots on the market. Pots for planter beds and freestanding containers.

How SIP Planters Work?

Water is added to a reservoir; the plant pulls moisture upward through the entire root ball through capillary action, like a sponge.

The amount and evenness of the water movement from the subirrigation reservoir to the growing medium depends on the growing medium mix and its degree of compaction and/or breakdown.

Monitoring Your Watering – Subirrigation Systems Can Fail

You must monitor the moisture level of the growing medium. Make sure you check at least 2 inches below the soil line.

It isn’t uncommon for the top 1 inch of medium to feel dry and below that it is moist. It can be easy to assume the plant needs more water, when it doesn’t.

There are many self watering / subirrigation systems on the market, each one has their pluses and minuses.

If you convert over to subirrigation your plants will take some time to acclimate to this system, but it is worth it. It can give you more time to enjoy your house plants and less time carrying water.

Make A Self Watering System With Plastic Bags And Thread

By using some simple items, you can do your self-watering system. Collect the below list of items:

  • Sturdy plastic bags
  • A very fine needle
  • Thread
  • Water
  1. Choose the right size of plastic bag for your plant. Larger plants will need more water and larger bags.
  1. Thread the needle with a double strand of thread and tie a knot at the end. It should be a largish, visible knot.
  1. Working from the inside out, poke the needle through the plastic bag and pull the thread through until the knot stops it.
  1. Cut the needle off and leave the thread dangling.
  1. Fill the bag with water and seal it without leaving any air above the water.
  1. Set the bag in a shallow bowl or saucer next to the plant you want to water. Make sure the bag sits at the same level as the surface of the soil in the pot. If enough space remains in the container, just set the bag on the ground.
  1. Place the thread on the surface of the soil and press it into the soil slightly.
  1. Water the plant thoroughly.
  1. As the soil dries out from your initial watering, more water will transfer from the bag to the soil through the thread.

This method keeps your plants watered for up to three weeks. Furthermore, some factors such as temperature, humidity levels, and size of the plant may affect the watering requirements. These will help you consider if you need a bigger size of bag or a different kind of self-watering system for your plants.

Make A Wick Self-Watering System

The wick watering system functions similarly as the thread planters. With this method, you use strips of cotton cloth, wide cotton ribbon, or shoelaces to wick water from a bucket or other large container to your plants. You will need the following tools:

  • A large water container
  • Strips of cotton material.
  • Non-metallic weights
  • Scissors

First, cut your material into strips and reserve one for each plant to be watered. An old cotton jersey T-shirt makes a perfect material for this project.

Next, tie a weight onto the end of each strip. Large glass or ceramic beads do good at this. Although rocks serve as an option, tying does not seem to work easily with it.

Put the weighted end of the cloth strip in your bucket and gather your plants around the bucket. Bury the free end of each of the strips into the soil of the plant pots to a depth of three inches.

Water your plants thoroughly and fill the receptacle with water. The material will absorb and transport the water to the plants as the soilless mix dries out. When the ground is soaked, the cloth will stop supplying water until the soil begins to dry again.

This method keeps plants nicely watered for an extended period. It will not leave the ground soggy or over-watered, so that anyone can use this planter on an ongoing basis. You will find out exactly how long a bucket of water will last as you go along with using this self-watering system.

Make A 5 Gallon Self Wicking Tomato Watering Container

However, If you’re looking for an easier way to water your tomatoes in your garden, check out self wicking tomato watering container below. This “self watering system” comes from instructables.com.

They share…

“The watering system will manage your tomatoes for 2-3 days without being refilled. The cost of supplies, minus soil and tomatoes, is under $10. It can be built in under 30 minutes… You can grow peppers in this system as well as bush variety vine crops.”

You’ll find the do it yourself instructions on making this efficient self wicking tomato planter, including everything from materials needed and instructions to complete the project! Great for those with limited space, on patios or on a balcony.

Check out the 2 videos below:

Video 1 of 2: Building a 5 Gallon Self Wicking Tomato Watering Container

Video 2 of 2: Filling & Planting the Self Wicking Tomato Watering Container

Personally I think you could call these “tomato success kit planters” – project details at instructables.com

Homemade Self-Watering System For Large Container Plants

Simple self-watering systems for houseplants and potted plants does not work for plants placed in larger containers. Therefore, make a handy watering device with the capacity to support bigger watering needs. Surprisingly, you can construct this device using a few everyday household items as listed below:

  • a 2-liter wine bottle
  • a small square of gauze
  • a sturdy rubber band
  • box cutter

Do the following steps to create a homemade self-watering planter:

  1. First, wash the bottle thoroughly and remove the label.
  1. Remove the bottom of the bottle using your box cutter.
  1. Unscrew the top of the bottle and dispose of the lid.
  1. Place the square of gauze over the open bottle neck.
  1. Secure the gauze with the rubber band.
  1. Push the bottleneck deeply into the soil. Lastly, prop the bottle against the side of the pot for support.

The day before you plan to leave, fill the bottle up with water. Quite a bit of water will seep into your plant overnight. Just before you leave, top it off.

Use this same concept for plants in smaller pots. Select a bottle with an appropriate size for the plant and its container.

Use A Soaker Hose As A Self-Watering System

Do you care for a lot of container plants and own a huge garden space? If you want to keep all of them watered, you can actually do it at the same time. First, group your container plants together in your garden without drip irrigation pans.

After arranging your plants, place a soaker hose over the containers. With this arrangement, leave the soaker hose on at a minute drip irrigation setting. Alternatively, set up a timer to turn it on and off at specific times.

This arrangement keeps both your container plants and your garden plants watered during your absence. Of course, if you choose this kind of setup, ask someone to check on it from time to time. If the hose bursts or something goes wrong, it calls for a quick fix.

In addition, post instructions near the faucet to notify other people who may come along and assume you left it open unknowingly.

Commercial Automatic Watering Solutions

Many commercial products and devices deliver water to your potted plants automatically. Some of them include the self-watering probe, gel crystals, and time-controlled gel hydrating products.

Self-Watering Probe

A self-watering probe works on the same concept as the homemade inverted bottle device. These cone-shaped gadgets bore out of ceramic material. The system pokes the cone into the soil to carry water to the roots of the plant.

Such devices give an opportunity for everyone to recycle a plastic or glass bottle into a water receptacle.

One brand, Self Watering Terracotta Plant Nanny Spikes appears as one of the most popular commercial self-watering systems. This type of watering cone delivers about one-and-a-half ounces of water daily. The long watering spike brings the water directly to the roots.

Because the spike delivers a slow and steady trickle, it keeps your plant watered with no help from you for up to twenty days.

The self-watering probe concept also gives way to the production of the commercial water wicking system. If you like to use the wicking method but avoids ripping up strips of cotton cloth to get it done, the Perky Posey Premium Self Watering Ceramic Probe planter may seem aesthetically pleasing for you.

Time Released Gel Hydrating Products

Watering gels, items constructed with biodegradable and natural materials, retain water and release it gradually into the soil. This maintains gentle watering of your plants.

Vacation Plant Waterer By Natural Delicacies combines the spike watering concept with a natural, pet-and-kid-safe gel solution. This bottled gel product comes with a three-inch spike.

You can screw it at the top of the bottle and insert into the soil. Depending on the size you purchase, the product will work for two to four weeks.

Gel Crystals

Several brands of gel crystals deliver hydration to your plants after being mixed with your potting soil. This commercial self-watering system works great with houseplants. However, they absorb excessive amounts of water and expand up to six times larger than their original size making them not an ideal option for outdoor use.

Use Self-Watering System Apps

If all of these solutions seem a bit primitive to you, find some mobile apps to do the work for you. In fact, at least two of them already exist:

  1. Sun Seeker for iPhone
  1. Sun Surveyor for Android

Designed for self-watering, both apps help with placing your plants in an area providing ample amount of sunlight. Moreover, they also run features that keep your plants watered. With both of these apps, set up notifications or reminders to help you remember to water your plants.

Hydration Sensors

Low-water-alert-systems use sensors inserted into your plant’s soil. It alerts with visual or auditory cues or even Tweets you when your plants need water.

Thirsty Light Ladybug digital plant moisture sensor appears as one of the most highly recommended out of the many available options. This sensor flashes a light when the soil surrounding your plant starts to dry out. The intensity and urgency of the light increase as the soil dry.

If you prefer an auditory cue, you may like the Indoor Gardener Singing Moisture Gauge, which looks and sings like a bluebird. It will alert you when you need to water your plants, but only during the daytime. Light sensors prevent it from singing at dusk!

Botanicalls Kit, another version of this alert system, will Tweet you during water time. Just make sure that the automatic planter and your device remain connected to an internet data source.

While these solutions do not water the plants automatically, they will remind you of the time to sprinkle your plants with some love.

Automatic Plant Watering Even When You’re on Vacation

automatic-plant-watering-103114

Here’s a question we received from a newsletter subscriber.

Question: I’m looking for advice on automatic plant watering. I enjoy my houseplants and they look great thanks to many of your tips.

However, I taking a vacation and hate the thought of my plants suffering while I’m gone for 2 weeks. How can I mix a vacation, watering and plants together? Diane, NJ

Answer: Diane, watering your plants while out of town or on vacation can be a problem.

On the market you can find self watering pots, large and small in size but it can get expensive outfitting all your houseplants for a short time. I happen to like a self watering planter or growing plants in a subirrigation system especially for those with a busy lifestyle.

Automatic Plant Watering

Amazon offers an “automatic watering system for plants”. It’s the Claber Oasis Self Watering System and is capable of handling the automatic watering of up to 20 plants with 4 independent watering cycles. No electrical connection is required or faucet hook ups needed.

The plant watering system is intended for indoor use only. The system comes equipped with:

  • 6.6 gallon water capacity “reservoir tank” to hold water
  • 33-foot “distribution hose”
  • 20 stakes and drippers to regulate how much water each plant receives.

The watering tank needs a firm level surface and should sit 2.5 feet above the floor and place the plants close you plan on watering. Since we’re talking about water – potential leaks can always be a problem, DO NOT sit the watering tank on any electrical appliances.

With 33-foot of tubing you have plenty of tubing to spread the plants out, give them good lighting and still water them. Spacing the plants a foot or two apart should be fine.

Customize Your Automatic Plant Watering System

Each “water stake and dripper” has a stem which is pressed into the soil to hold the dripper in place, each dripper can be adjusted so larger plants can receive more water than smaller plants.

One dripper is sufficient for small and/or medium sized pots. You may want to double up on larger pots to put more water around the root ball.

In fact, on oversized houseplants I would recommend using two taps. This is a great way to make your own self watering pot for large or small planters.

Before you set everything up and assume you’ll be watering your plants while out of town – test it out. Pour water into the tank but do not overfill.

Also do not put in any liquid fertilizers in the water, this will encourage algae growth.

The unit uses a 9 volt battery operated timer and solenoid valve. The Oasis unit can be used outdoors, and should be placed in a cool, dry area out of direct sunlight.

4 Independent Water Distribution Programs

  • 10 Day – 4 oz per day for each dripper; 2x day 12 minutes per
  • 20 Day – 2 oz per day for each dripper, 2x day 6 minutes per
  • 30 Day – 1.35 oz per day for each dripper, 2x day 4 minutes per
  • 40 Day – 1 oz per day for each dripper, 2x day 3 minutes per

Once set up the whole system delivers automatic operation for watering your plants… until the water runs out. Although daily watering I think could be a little much, stay on the low side – don’t overwater.

It’s also not a bad idea to place under each plant a sauce to catch any excess water which could run out the bottom of the pots drain holes

Now instead of worrying about your plants drying up when on vacation or writing down long detailed instructions for the boy next door on “how-to water your plants”.

All you need to do is have him make sure the water reservoir is filled.

This technology isn’t something new in concept. Nurseries have used “drip irrigation” for years with great success.

Now you can take advantage of this subirrigation technology while traveling.

The Claber Oasis Self Watering System at Amazon offers an “automatic plant watering system” is affordable, portable and gives you complete control over how much water each plant receives.

Get Smart Self-Watering System

For real automation, you can turn to the Arduino watering system. If you prefer solutions for the tech savvy, this automatic system allows you to establish parameters for each of your plants and then waters them accordingly.

Mostly, this type of automated watering system consists of electronic sensors placed in your plants’ soil. When the soil becomes dry, the sensors send a signal to a watering system you have established. This causes your plants to receive a predetermined amount of water from the water reservoir.

To learn more, see this informative video:

Arduino Garden Controller – Automatic Watering and Data Logging

Self-Watering Systems Free Up Your Time

Whether you plan to go on a vacation or you just want to find simpler solutions for your plant care tasks, setting up a self-watering system serves as a smart choice.

After the automatic watering setup took care of this task, anyone can enjoy a long trip or focus daily on other businesses without worrying much about their beloved plants. Whether you find DIY things more practical or tech savvy solutions more reliable, the above tips guarantee an easier watering task for a wide range of plant requirements.

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