When planters are set outside in the sun and wind, you may have to water them several times a day just to keep the plants alive. However, by using self-watering pots, you can grow lush, vibrant plants with a lot less watering. This segment shows step-by-step instructions on how to make your own self-watering pot.

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Self-Watering Planter Saves Time

Self-watering pots are important here in northwest Kansas because we have high winds that are extremely drying. And, we also have a lot of good sunshine, which the flowers like, but are also drying.

Self-watering pots will reduce the amount of time that you need to spend watering. Start with a pot that doesn’t have a hole in the bottom. Then, you’ll need an assortment of cans. With the smaller cans, you’ll have a smaller water reservoir, but you’ll have more dirt space for the root or your flowers. With a larger can, you’ll have more water, but less root space.

You’ll need to remove both ends of the cans and make small notches on the bottom. Or, you can leave one end on the can and make sure that there are holes on the bottom edge. This way, the water will go through the cans, and you won’t have a vacuum.

We’re going to start with the smaller cans. It will take three to give you a good, solid base for the shelf. The shelf is made from an aluminum pizza pan, and it will hold up the dirt. The dirt is heavy when it gets wet, and you don’t want the dirt to fall into the water.

The notches on the edges are for cloth strips. 100 percent cotton strips from old towels work well because this is a wicking method of watering. The strips of cloth lay down into the water, and wick it up into the soil.

You’ll also need one notch on the recycled garden hose. It has a notch on the bottom, so that you won’t have a flat end sitting on a bottom of the pot, which could cause a vacuum. So, you’ll need a small air hole, and the hose will fit into one of the notches. The hose is for watering the reservoir.

Then, you’ll need to place everything inside the pot. And, you’ll also need an overflow. The overflow hole is positioned by placing a can beside the pot to determine where the shelf is located. The overflow hole needs to be below the top of the can so that the roots don’t sit in water, because that could kill them.

Then, you need an old t-shirt. Put the t-shirt into the pot. Cover all the areas inside so that the dirt doesn’t come in contact with the pot. This keeps the dirt out of the water.

Next, fill the pot with soil, and put your plants in. Tuck them in securely, and then use scissors to trim away the excess cloth. Next, move your pot to a permanent place outdoors, because after you fill it with water, it will get heavy. Just fill the reservoir with water, and you’re done.

Before the flowers get used to having the flowers on the bottom, you’ll need to water them for a couple of weeks - in the traditional manner – until they get established. You can see if roots have found the reservoir and if they’re using the water just by filling it. If the water comes out the overflow hole immediately, then you’ll know that they haven’t grown enough yet. So, just keep checking it.

Once they’re established, then you’ll only have to water two to three times a week instead of every day. In some of the pots that I have, which are exposed to the sun and wind, I need to water twice a day if they’re not self-watering pots. So, it really helps the environment, and it helps your back, too, since you don’t have to carry a lot of water everyday.

This is one size, of course, but you can also have a larger size. This is something that has become popular here - it’s a lick tub. A lick tub is something that the cattle producers use to feed their cattle. And if you talk to the producers, and tell that what you’re planning to do with them (especially if you’re beautifying the downtown), I’m sure that they would help you out. It’s an inexpensive way of getting a very large pot with a large reservoir, and a lot of space for soil for the plants. With something this big, that has weight on the bottom from the water, you can plant cannas or Magilla Perilla. They’ll grow at least three feet tall or more with good soil and watering. Then, you’ll have a large planting to go with the large pot.

This large pot takes larger cans. About five cans will give you a steady support for the shelf. You can shop at your local thrift store if you don’t have anything in your garage. It’s a good way to recycle items. This shelf is from a lazy susan, and it has enough space on the sides for the strips to go through. You’ll need more than three strips on this one because it’s a large pot. And, you’ll probably need two t-shirts.

They’re fun to do because you can paint them with a Krylon paint to either contrast with the flowers, or it can be the same color, and you can really make it pop. Here we have the final product. These have been outside all summer long, since the first of June. This is a tropical hibiscus. Remember, when you make the overflow hole, it should be close to the hose, so you don’t have to bend over to see if water is coming out. I found that out the hard way after it was planted.

You can see that it has been overflowing. It was emptied this morning when I brought it in so that it wouldn’t be so heavy. They should also be emptied in the fall when you bring the plants into the house for the winter. You can empty it out by just tilting it over. And if you have some perennials, you can do the same thing. Just remember to empty out the water so it doesn’t break the pot when you bring it in.

This next plant, a wax begonia, is an annual. It has an overflow hole like the other one. You can see that after the plant starts to grow, you can barely see the hose. It’s a good idea to water the plant by taking a funnel and putting it into the tube. It makes it easy to water, and you don’t splash water on the plant.

There you go. You can see how wonderful the final product is. It takes less watering, and you have beautiful flowers. That’s what I want!

This feature story prepared with Anita Coleman, Kansas State University Research and Extension, Master Gardener. For more information, visit your local extension office, or visit our website.

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