Here are five options for self-watering planters ranging from the upscale to their homemade counterparts you can make yourself. Whether you call them sub-irrigation planters or self-watering planters-the way they function is the same. Water is held in a reservoir and capillary action delivers water into the growing medium keeping your planters consistently moist.
1. Self-Watering Planters by Lechuza
If the reason you haven’t jumped on the self-watering planter craze is because the containers aren’t very attractive the containers by Lechuza just might make you a fan. Yes, the planters aren’t inexpensive, but their aesthetic approach to self-watering containers makes them worth the investment if looks matter to you. The planters are stylish, modern, and come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.
The EarthBox is arguably the most popular self-watering planter brand on the market. These containers have been around since 1994 and were developed by commercial farmers. I’ve seen EartBoxes used at school gardens, on rooftop farms, balcony gardens, and at the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Take a look at Deanna's EarthBox photo journal for an idea of what season of gardening in an EarthBox looks like.
The GrowBox by The Garden Patch is very similar to the EarthBox. The biggest difference between the two is that the GrowBox’s water reservoir is filled through an opening in the front of the container. I’ve used a GrowBox in my container garden for the past couple of years and recommend.
4. DIY Self-Watering Bucket
This video shows you how you can make your own self-watering container out of two buckets and a piece of PVC pipe. The larger buckets are ideal for larger crops like tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, peppers and even melons. Smaller buckets would fine for herbs and shallow-rooted vegetables. Make sure you're using food safe plastic buckets. You can source food safe buckets from neighborhood restaurants and restaurant supply stores.
5. DIY Self-Watering Planter
This DIY self-watering planter style most closely resembles the EarthBox and GrowBox listed above. The planter is made out of two plastic totes and a section of PVC pipe. It's size and resemblance to a raised bed make it a lot more versatile in terms of what you can grow in it compared to the self-watering bucket planter. One of my favorite uses for this version of the planter is growing corn.
Why Use Self-Watering Planters?
The biggest advantage of container gardening with self-watering planters is the conservation of water. I find I use less water because I’m irrigating just enough to keep the reservoir’s water level consistent. With a traditional container a lot of water is lost through the drainage hole before the soil has been saturated.
The use of capillary action to moisten the soil also cuts back on diseases because you’re adding water directly into the reservoir and not splashing it on the leaves or soil and creating a hospitable environment for powdery mildew.
Provided you keep the reservoir consistently filled, crops like tomatoes may not split and crack nearly as often compared to being planted in a traditional container. Cracked and split tomatoes are just aesthetically unpleasant, but there’s nothing more annoying than when it happens and you can trace it back to the one day during the growing season when you didn’t water enough or watered too much.
Eliminating the guesswork of when to water makes food production easier for new and young vegetable gardeners. Whether they're homemade or commercial self-watering containers, they're easily deployed to create food systems and container gardens in areas in need.
Do you use a self-watering planter? What's your favorite plant to grow in it?