Re-Use That Thing: Self Watering* Plants


If you read this blog with even the loosest regularity, you’ll know two of several things about me. One, that I LOVE to re-use items– like almost to an obsessive point. You will also know that I have a complicated relationship with plants. Today’s post combines both of those things, which means I am all. about. it. My apologies, if talking about planting sounds braggadocious for those who live somewhere less conducive to planting in December, but keep this tip in mind for sometime this spring! Don’t hate me for living in Southern California.

*You may have noted the asterisk in the title and title card. I put it there, for sticklers who would nitpick about how NO plant is self-watering and requires SOME initial watering at least. Yes. This is all true… but this hack is about as easy as plants get, guys… so listen up while I introduce you to something called, “sub-irrigation“. Itsa gonna be a game changer. It means that the plant receives its water from below the soil and absorbs it upwards, as it needs it. It eliminates over-watering and is perfect for starting seedlings.

Many moons ago, in my never-ending quest to become a green-thumb, I stumbled upon a great pin on Pinterest detailing the construction of a planter that supposedly watered itself. I’m kicking ogpicedmyself now, because I want to link to it, but can’t because I’m a bad blogger and didn’t save it properly and now it is lost to the mist. BUT, there are a million tutorials like it out there, so I don’t feel as bad sharing it with you without sourcing. As someone who has/had a problem with watering plants, trying a tutorial that solved everything/busts my yarn stash/AND uses recyclable material was a no-brainer. I followed the directions and placed some clippings from my Wandering Jew plant to see how it all fared. Much like my fruit fly traps, I flew to Georgia and promptly forgot all about it with only the loosest of directions to Jojo about watering. Lo and behold, when I got back, not only did my self-watering planter work, but the clippings were rooted and thriving.

I knew immediately, it was time to do a blog post.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:

itemsedRemove any labels from your chosen plastic container. B.T.Dubs, you can really use any bottle: soda bottle, water jugs, whatever you have lying around provided the top, when cut and inverted will fit without the container.

Using all scissor safety, use kitchen/utility scissors to cut the top off your plastic bottle. If you must, you can use a ruler to measure how much to cut, but I like to eyeball it. Don’t cut so far towards the middle, for you want the bottle top not to be submerged in water.


Remove cap from the bottle and find a surface that you can hammer upon. Use the largest (thickest) nail you can find and punch two holes through the cap (top side down). Again, all safety rules recommended.


Now, cut two pieces of yarn (make one a few inches longer– mine were 18″ & 20″) long enough to fold in half. Once yarn has been folded in half, create a fist sized loop and tie a knot under it with the two strings. Leave several inches of dangly string to create your root/capillary system. Hooray for busting that yarn stash!

knotsedNext, you are going to want to thread your yarn through your two cap holes with the knot being on the “inside” of the cap. If your holes aren’t large enough to do this manually, use the old sewers needle-threading tip (above right) of stringing a durable thread through the hole, looping it over your finger and threading it back through making a loop for you to thread the pull-able yarn and pull through. Easy peasy. Some tutorials only show doing one hole/root, but the original (sadly lost) tutorial used two for reasons of even and equal coverage in the soil.

Put cap back on bottle, invert, and place snuggly inside bottle base.

Guide the yarn placement and space it evenly as you fill the top part with soil. The shorter yarn being used for the bottom and the larger for the almost surface layer.



And that’s it! Add a few cups of water to the base (enough to reach the “roots” but not enough to submerge the cap) and then water the top soil to start the system and brake the surface tension. I’ve planted some basil in mine, as that is what my heart most wants to be able to plant here. Hey look! My hummingbird feeder!


In attempting to find my original source for this tutorial, I came across three things of note about this type of project:

  • It is great for kids, duh.
  • Some people were not fans of it aesthetically– to which I suggest you put your planter INSIDE of a more attractive planter.
  • And finally, that putting it in an attractive planter may actually be better for it as direct sunlight damages certain roots. Many a version of this project had a wrapping around the plant part (like duct tape) to prevent that. I’ll do that when I get to that point, but until then, I love my little planters. Such efficiency!

When you see the water running low in the bottom part of the bottle, simply add more– but it won’t be as often as other hand-watered plants. I did notice some algae starting to grow in my container when I came home, so that is something for which to watch. I just cleaned mine out and added fresh water.

That’s it! Have you ever tried this? Do you have any secret tips for growing basil? As always, let us know!





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