Have you fallen in love with self-watering containers yet? If you’ve been
- Struggling to keep up with watering your container plants this summer,
- Bribing neighbors to water so you can steal a few days for vacation, or
- Just started thinking about moving some plants to pots for closer enjoyment,
it’s time to explore self-watering containers.
What is a self-watering container? It’s a plant container that holds water, includes a water reservoir for storage, and uses some kind of wicking method to move water up into the container’s soil.
There are two basic types – manufactured and do-it-yourself.
Early manufactured containers were terracotta-colored plastic, modeled on the trusty clay pot. They have water storage in the bottom; a porous platform on which the plant, roots and soil sit; a filler tube; and geotextile fabric to keep soil particles from falling through the platform into the water.
More recently, manufacturers have become creative. You can now find bright red, blue, lime green and purple containers with a smooth glaze-like finish mimicking ceramic as well as brown, dark green and white containers with a surface finish similar to woven wicker.
Do-it-yourself containers can be created from any kind of plastic container you can find, often white or gray 5-gallon buckets. One bucket sits inside the other, with the bottom of the inside bucket perforated and covered with landscape fabric to serve as the platform, and different creative solutions for the wicking element, from old t-shirts to perforated plastic cups.
What are the advantages of self-watering containers?
- You can place the pot anywhere. There’s no need to worry about water draining from pot and damaging deck or patio.
- Even without a yard, you can grow flowers and vegetables – even on a balcony if there’s sunlight.
- Like mild liquid fertilizers? Just dilute as usual and use to fill the reservoir.
- Bottom-up moisture keeps the entire soil ball working to draw water up through the plant, which is different from shallow watering of top roots that can happen in containers with top watering. The soil surface stays loose and doesn’t develop a crust that causes water to run down the outside of the root ball instead of soaking in.
- Use it for both moisture-loving plants and those who like to dry out between waterings. Just keep an eye on the reservoir and use your finger to check soil moisture.
Disadvantages? Yes, even almost-perfect solutions have a few drawbacks.
- Mosquitoes like the reservoirs for breeding. Make sure your containers have filler pipes for refilling that have filler caps. If it doesn’t have a filler cap, use a wrap of aluminum foil and a rubber band to keep the pipe closed.
- You still have to water. For big plants like tomatoes, you may still have to water every day as the plant uses the water and releases moisture into the air through evapotranspiration. The self-watering container helps in providing enough moisture when the plant needs lots. And it can prevent blossom end rot or cracking in tomatoes and other vegetables that need consistent moisture to develop well.
- In periods of excessive rainfall, such as a wet spring, you may need to tip the container to the side to create storage space in the reservoir if the overflow spout isn’t large enough to handle the overload.
- At the end of the season, there’s still container clean-up – including removal of roots that may have grown through your filter fabric.
In short, self-watering containers can mean the difference between fresh produce and store-bought, or lively window boxes of real flowers versus plastic. Check them out today, and let me know how they work out for you.