Survival Gardening–Make a Cheap Homemade Self-Watering Planter

I saw a video online describing how to make an inexpensive homemade self-watering planter. It used a 5 gallon bucket for the reservoir and a smaller container for the planter, plus a few other items.

No doubt it works well, but it requires more work than I’m willing to do. So I thought I’d toss my own crude idea out and see if you think it’s workable for you.

My self-watering planter uses wicks to draw water into the soil for the plant roots. I’ll suggest two ways it can be constructed.

Though I’ll refer to buckets, you could just as easily do this with smaller containers like butter tubs. You can probably get food grade buckets cheap, or even free, from a nearby restaurant or grocery store.

Since buckets will nest, use two buckets. One is the reservoir. The other is for the plant. In the bottom of the planter bucket, cut four slits a couple inches long.

Cut up an old towel or T-shirt into narrow strips. This is your wicking fabric which will draw moisture up from the reservoir, your bottom bucket.

Fit the strips through the four slits in the bottom of the planter bucket so the fabric forms a cross or X inside the bottom of the bucket. The fabric should hang down through the slits. How much hangs down will depend on what you think is necessary when you put the planter bucket inside the reservoir.

Sit the planter bucket inside your reservoir so the fabric strips dip into the water. Don’t overfill the reservoir. There should be some air between the water level and the bottom of the planter.

Next, fill your plant bucket with soil and whatever seeds you decide to plant.

A down side of this little system is that it requires you to lift out the plant bucket to check water levels from time to time. This means you won’t want to grow anything too large, such as an unwieldy tomato plant. But you could surely grow lettuce or other greens in it.

Here’s a variation on the idea.

Rather than nest one bucket inside another, put a lid on the reservoir bucket and cut slits that line up with the slits on the bottom of the planter. Sit the planter bucket on the lid so the wicking fabric goes down through the slits in the lid and into the reservoir.

You may want to cut an extra hole near one edge of the lid. This should allow you the opportunity to slide the planter bucket aside just enough so you can check the water level and add more water as needed. This way you shouldn’t have to lift or move the planter bucket completely away from the reservoir.

If you make one of these self-watering planters from butter tubs to grow herbs in your window, and you’re the decorative type, wrap colored contact paper around the containers.

An advantage of any self-watering planter is that you don’t have to worry about watering very often. Plants will get the water they need when they need it.

Of course, you’ll need to check now and then to make sure they’re still getting moisture, and fill the reservoir when needed. You can also put plant food in the water from time to time if you like.

Whether you make your own or buy a self-watering planter, happy survival gardening.

Author: John Wesley Smith

John Wesley Smith writes and podcasts from his home in Central Missouri. His goal is to help preppers as he continues along his own preparedness journey.

4 thoughts on “Survival Gardening–Make a Cheap Homemade Self-Watering Planter”

  1. I enjoyed your version of self watering bucket containers, as it is easier to make than what I am doing. Don’t care how they are made, or what they look like – they sure help grow healthy plants. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

    1. Thanks. To me, one of the coolest things about gardening, or growing plants in general, is that the possibilities are endless. Granted, not everything works out, but there’s so much that does. It’s fun to experiment. If you keep the needs of the plants in mind, they can be quite forgiving.

  2. Hm, what if you use a clear container for the bottom? Then you’d know how much water was in it without having to life out the plant. And if you use any kind of plant food that colors the water, it would be even easier. Just a thought.

    1. That’s a good thought. The down side is you’re likely to have algae growth, which would be minimized by a colored container. I don’t have anything against algae, but if you’ve got nutrient/fertilizer in your water, algae competes for that and your plants won’t get as much as you intended.

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