Easiest self-waterer ever.

I’ve always wanted to make some of my bigger pots out in the garden into self-watering pots – the kind where you fill a reservoir in the bottom of the pot and the water slowly wicks up into the soil so you can go way, way longer between having to water. In fact this spring, I was trying to design a greenhouse with wicking beds that would function along these principles.

It was always something I meant to get around to, but suddenly I needed to come up with one now – I had bought a passionflower vine this spring that was getting very unhappy about the size of its little pot. It needed to be planted asap, BUT: 1. passionfruit vines are crazy invasive, so to keep it under control it needed to be in a container. 2. They like damp soil, but containers dry out way too quickly. Obvious choice: self-watering system.

(Oh, and PS: passiflora incarnata is the one with tasty fruit. It has white flowers with purple stamens. Passiflora caerulea has purple flowers, but bland fruit.)

There are a million and three plans for self-waterers out there – but they all seem to require storebought materials, and drills, and measuring, and… well, they’re just overcomplicated. Plus, the most prevalent one calls for two five-gallon buckets, or two identical rubbermaid tubs. And I don’t know about you, but rubbermaid tubs and plastic buckets aren’t necessarily my esthetique preferee if you know what I mean.

I already had a beautiful large pottery container that I wanted to use. So I slapped together the ugliest, cheapest self-waterer you will ever see to go inside it… but it’s buried, so who cares? At least I don’t have bright orange plastic buckets all over the place.

This is it: a plastic pail I had on hand, a disposable pie plate, a chunk of 1.5″ pvc, and a longer pipe to fill the reservoir with. (If your pail had a lid, you could just use that instead of the pie plate). A box cutter for the pie plate. And some foamy gorilla glue to fill the gaps between the pipes and the pan, so earth wouldn’t filter down and clog the reservoir.

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That’s it. No messing with overflow holes, or special wicking materials, or cutting plastic to fit precisely. If the reservoir gets overfull, the water simply spills over the unsealed edge between the pan and the pail, and then drains out through the hole in the bottom of the ceramic pot.

I put it inside my pot and used a hammer handle to pack the pvc section with potting soil as tightly as I could manage. I wanted it completely solid, to act as a strong wick to pull the water up from the bottom of the plastic pail.

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I filled the container the rest of the way, planted my passionflower vine, and we are in business.

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^ my shot at a permaculture annual bed: looks like a mess, but every single plant in there is useful and has a purpose.

Things I would do differently next time (besides maybe not waiting til the plant is rootbound, d’oh): I do wish I’d punched some holes in the pie pan so that rainwater could drain down to permeate the reservoir. I didn’t because I was thinking soil would filter in and clog everything, but I could have just put a shred of landscape fabric over those holes, maybe even glued that in place. Next time.

I really love how it looks… now we’ll just have to see how it performs. And if it works as expected – well, by summer’s end I’ll have a whole stack of used plastic sherbet containers in my basement just crying out to be put to use.

 

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