The Self-Watering Container in 7 Easy Steps

April 8, 2014

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: Growing Knowledge Stories from the Garden

Having just attended Rooting DC a few weeks ago, I was feeling energized this weekend to bring to life my own home garden. Lacking any yard space, my roommates and I decided to put containers up on our rooftop.

One of the many superb Rooting DC presentations I attended was The Self-Watering Container, by Master Gardener Kristen Menichelli. Slides to her presentation can be found here. I took a slight variation on her model (used wire mesh instead of a colander, for example), but the basic concept is there! And let me tell you friends, these are a whole lot of fun to make, as long as you have the tools (or in my case, an obliging boyfriend with the tools).

The concept is to provide a steady source of water for your plants by creating in your plant container:

  • Water Reservoir below the soil that can be wicked up by the plant as needed.
  • tube for pouring water from the surface into the reservoir.
  • drainage hole that keeps the soil from getting water logged.

You will need a:

Self-watering container materials


  • Tub or other planting container
  • Shears
  • PVC pipe
  • Burlap
  • Wire mesh

Step 1: Measure your wire mesh. It should be slightly bigger than the bottom of your container.

Step 2: Cut the wire with shears and fold over the sides to make a rectangle that fits comfortably inside your container. We used a wooden board to help us with folding the mesh evenly.

Step 3: Cut a square of burlap sack that completely covers the wire mesh.

Why? The burlap sack with the wire mesh creates a barrier that will separate the soil (on top) from the water reservoir (below).

Step 4: Cut a hole in the wire mesh and burlap to put the PVC pipe through. This is what you will pour the water through to reach the reservoir under the wire mesh.

Step 5: Drill a few drainage holes right above where the wire mesh/burlap and soil will meet.

Step 6: Fill the container with soil, and plant away! (We used a basic organic potting soil).

Step 7: Pour water down the PVC tube. You should know when it’s filled because water will start trickling out where you drilled the drainage holes. (This may take awhile so if you think you’ve watered enough you can always walk away and come back in a couple minutes to check.)

Alas, don’t think that the Self-Watering Container allows you to go away for a week in the middle of the summer without a plant-sitter! In the hottest months it still needs to be watered every other day if it hasn’t rained.

That done, now my roommates and I just need to find a way to get all that water up to our rooftop garden…I guess I’ll be looking for blogs on pulley systems.


The finished product!


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