How Do Self-Watering Planters Work?

Diagram of how a self watering planter works

Self-watering planters have a reservoir of water beneath the soil.

Watering is one of the most vital and detested chores in the garden, right after pulling long rooted, thorny weeds with your bare hands.  For container gardeners, watering has become much less of a hassle since the introduction of the newest generation of self-watering planters.  Older styles of self-watering planters weren’t much better than resting a pot in a saucer, but today’s self-watering planters contain separate water reservoirs designed to protect plant roots from excess moisture.

Benefits of Self-Watering Planters

The heat of the summer makes container gardens particularly needy when it comes to water.  The high heat, low humidity and small amount of water-trapping planting medium means that containers dry out significantly faster than garden beds.  In many areas, containers need to be watered two or three times a day, especially when vegetables are involved.  In response to this sort of problem, the reservoir system was developed to allow gardeners a break from constant watering.

Whether you’ve got a busy life that keeps you on the run or you’re a notorious under-waterer, self-watering planters will help you to grow a wider range of plants than ever before.  Depending on the size of the plant, the pot and the reservoir, you may be able to go a week or two between waterings, turning a daily chore into a weekly task.  Furthermore, self-watering containers tend to save a lot of water, since the water that isn’t used immediately by your plant is stored for later use.

How It Works

Self-watering planters have a very simple design and work on basic concepts.  A plastic, hollow platform rests in the bottom of the pot to create the reservoir.  The top of the platform is solid, with one or more holes to allow water to drain from the plant’s soil and collect underneath.  Some self-watering planters are additionally fitted with watering tubes that protrude from the top of the soil once the pot is filled with medium.  Others also have an overflow hose to prevent standing water above the platform.

The water that’s trapped below the plastic platform is dealt back to the soil through wicking, or “capillary action,” gently hydrating the growing medium.  You may find advertisements that claim your plant will get exactly the amount of water it needs from this system, but keep in mind that the self-watering pot isn’t magic. They do deal back an average amount of moisture for an average plant under most conditions.  This means that plants that need very dry conditions or those that require boggier soil won’t do well in self-watering pots, but your standard garden vegetables, annuals and many perennials are excellent self-watering container candidates.

You can purchase self-watering planters from just about any home and garden retailer, and we have quite a wide selection right here at Hooks & Lattice. If you already have a planter you love, transform it into a self-watering planter by adding a reservoir beneath the soil. You may even be able to exercise your DIY skills and create one from scratch. Whatever method you choose, your plants’ roots will draw up exactly as much water as they need, and you’ll spend less time watering and more time relaxing in the garden.

2 replies
  1. Bernadine
    Bernadine says:

    Hi, I have just bought a small maidenhair & want to transfer it to a self watering pot. My question is, do I fill the bottom area with water before I transplant the fern? Regards Bernadine

    Reply
    • Lindsey Pfeiffer
      Lindsey Pfeiffer says:

      Hi Bernadine!

      If you are using our reservoir systems you add the water after you transplant. Fill the reservoir through the fill tube using a hose or watering can.

      Some people top water when they first plant to give the soil a little moisture boost. The roots will wick the water as needed.

      Some gardeners choose to add a bit of gravel to the bottom of the container prior to placing the reservoir. This help prevent root rot in the event you happen to over water or get heavy rains.

      Hopefully that helps!

      Reply

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