How to Make a Self Watering Planter

Take some of the stress out of gardening by creating a self-watering planter, which contains a reservoir that holds an extra supply of water.
Compact plants grow best in self-watering planters.
Water enters the reservoir through a pipe that runs from the top of the planter into its base. A cloth wick leads from the reservoir to the potting soil, and as the potting soil dries out it draws up more water through the wick. Select food-grade buckets to make a self-watering planter; don't use buckets that contained solvents, paint, pesticides or other harmful substances. .

Step 1

Drill a hole 3/4 inch wide in the side of a 5-gallon bucket so the top of the hole is 2 1/2 inches from the base of the bucket. This is the overflow hole for the reservoir.

Step 2

Saw the perforated drain tile into three pieces with a hacksaw. Each piece should be 2 1/2 inches long. Place the pieces flat side down in the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket. These tile pieces support the base of a second 5-gallon bucket and create the space for the reservoir.

Step 3

Drill a hole 1 3/4 inches wide through the bottom of a second 5-gallon bucket. Drill the hole in the corner, where the base meets the side. Drill a second hole 3/4 inch wide through the base of the bucket. The placement of this hole is unimportant, providing it's in the base of the bucket. Drill 15 holes 5/16 inch wide and equally spaced through the base of the bucket.

Step 4

Thread a piece of an old hand towel or dish towel through the 3/4-inch hole in the bottom of the 5-gallon bucket, until half of the towel is inside the bucket and half hangs out the bottom. Place the bucket with the towel inside the first bucket, which contains the pieces of drain tile.

Step 5

Push the PVC pipe through the 1 3/4-inch hole in the base of the inner bucket until it meets the base of the outer bucket. You may need to adjust the position of a drain tile if one is in the way.

Things You Will Need

  • Drill
  • 3/4-inch drill bit
  • 2 5-gallon buckets (one should fit inside the other)
  • 1 piece of perforated drain tile 4 inches wide and 7 1/2 inches long
  • Hacksaw
  • 5/16-inch drill bit
  • 1 1 3/4-inch drill bit
  • Piece of old hand towel or dish towel about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide
  • PVC pipe 1 1/2 inches wide and 24 inches long


  • To add plants to the self-watering planter, soak the towel wick in water. Fill the inner bucket with potting mixture and place the plant in the soil at the same level it was growing in its original container. Water the potting soil until water appears through the drainage holes in the base of the inner bucket -- look through the overflow hole to check. Pour water through the PVC pipe until it flows through the overflow.
  • Save the water that flows out of the overflow hole by inserting a piece of 1/2-inch-wide flexible plastic tube in the hole. Force a screw through the tube on the inside of the reservoir bucket to prevent it from falling out, and wrap it in duct tape so it fits snugly in the overflow hole. Put the other end of the tube in a clean plastic milk jug or other container.


  • Don't allow the self-watering planter reservoir to run dry. This dries out the wick, and when the wick dries out, water won't flow into the potting soil even after the reservoir is refilled.

About the Author

A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about gardening, science and pets since 2007. An avid, lifelong gardener, Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.