Gardening is an enriching hobby that produces an emotional and practical yield, but a hectic schedule can make it difficult to nurture plants the way we'd like. Between kids, school, and work, we barely have time to give ourselves a drink, let alone our gardens. That's why self-watering planters are so helpful. Whether you've got a long business trip or can't remember to water your produce regularly, self-watering planters will keep your garden hydrated. You could buy one, but why not make your own, upcycled from household materials?
All DIY self-watering planters have essentially the same components: a vessel to transmit the water to the soil, an interior vessel for holding the soil and plant, and a means for wicking the water into the soil. The primary variations consist of how you'd like to hold your plants and by what means you'll be giving them a drink. The simplest (and cheapest) way to construct your own self-watering planter is with a plastic cup and string. The plastic cup will hold the water and the string will convey water to the soil. You'll be hard-pressed to find something simpler.
Wicking planters are common due to their simplicity, as the only thing absorbing the water is a bottom layer of soil itself. Lined with landscaping fabric or an old cloth, a tray of soil is lowered into a cut–out opening to make contact with the water reservoir, and the soil does the work by carrying water up to the plant as it moistens. Just watch your water level to make sure it's contacting the soil, and nature does the rest.
This arrangement varies slightly from the average self-watering planter in that there's no external water vessel surrounding the potting soil. Instead, a pipe is buried into the soil and held in place by drainage tubing, and the water inside the pipe will gradually seep out into the surrounding soil. A bit inside out from the normal configuration, but it gives your plants a drink just as well.
When your air conditioner is running, the warm air it removes cools and turns to water that drains away from the unit. Why not be sustainable and put that water to use? Capture it with some PVC pipe attached to your AC's drain line, and drill holes for the water to drip onto your plants underneath. Just keep your garden close enough to minimize the required pipe length, and you'll be helping to water your garden every time the AC is running on those hot summer days.
Slightly more upscale than the cup and string method, your glass bottles can be reused to give your garden a drink, too. You'll need a bottle cutter for this method, but sever the neck and insert it into the soil, and you'll have kept those bottles from going to a landfill while growing your produce at the same time — and it makes for another lovely decoration.
Most people think of smaller applications for their self-watering planters, like herb gardens or flower pots, but there's no reason you can't go bigger. Chances are you have some 5-gallon buckets lying around the house, and these can be perfect for growing multiple plants all in one pot. Line them up on your deck or balcony, and you'll find yourself with a much larger garden than you'd expect, even if you have little green space to spare.
If you're like many gardeners, tomatoes or cucumbers have been a part of your garden for a long time. These veggies require some support as they grow, so cages are often used to keep them straight. Self–watering planters can accommodate these too by simply incorporating your cage into the vessel to keep your plants upright.
We've all seen inverted planters in stores and marveled a bit at a plant growing upside down, and it turns out self-watering planters can work for these too. Just invert the watering tool as you have the rest of the planter and insert it into the now-top of the vessel holding the soil. After that, the same principles apply as if they were upright.
These self-watering planters are probably the most elegant of the DIY variety, as they add a rustic feel that compliments your produce. If you have some spare 2x4s or railroad ties (which could also make for the perfect raised-bed garden), fashion these together into a homemade box, and you have a wonderful gift idea. If that's too intensive, a leftover crate works just as well.
Styrofoam takes thousands of years to decompose, so if it's going to be around anyway, you might as well upcycle it. The large, durable crates make for a solid exterior for your self-watering planter, and if you ask the right store or restaurant, they may well give you their empty ones for free.