Do you want to own real plants in your home, but you can’t commit to watering them consistently? Self-watering planters are a big help! This is a must-have if you are forgetful, if you’re not home often, and if you live in a hot or dry climate. It’s also perfect if your plants are placed in an area wherein sprinkling isn’t convenient (especially indoors) and if the plant doesn’t like getting its leaves wet.
Contrary to what the name suggests, a self-watering planter doesn’t actually water itself, but it works to provide a consistent source of moisture to the plants growing in it. It also helps you water less frequently. Though styles and designs may differ across different kinds of planters, the basics are the same. The water is poured directly to the water reservoir, and it’s then wicked into the planting container above the reservoir.
Common Features of Self-Watering Planters
For people who are clueless about self-watering planters, these things typically include these items:
- Water reservoir
- Wicking mechanism
- Planting container
- Fill tube
- Overflow hole or spout
- Drainage hole and plug
- Water level indicator
Not all self-watering planters have all these, but these are the usual parts and features. The top section of a self-watering planter is the space for the plant and the potting mix or soil. The water reservoir is found at the bottom. It varies in size and is often made to be proportionate to the overall size of the container. Smaller planters have a 1-gallon or less water capacity, while for larger containers, it’s not unusual to have a 5-gallon reservoir.
All planters must contain an overflow mechanism to allow water to drain out of the reservoir is full to prevent plants from sitting in the water once you overfilled the reservoir by mistake. This mechanism also helps keep the water at the proper level after heavy rain.
The drainage hole is also an essential part of a self-watering planter, as it allows you to drain the container at the end of the season.
The fill tube or a type of opening is used for pouring the water directly into the reservoir. This varies from a simple tube placed in the corner planter to a hole in the planter rim. It can also be placed on an opening in the container wall that gives direct access to the reservoir.
There are planters with indicators that show how much water is left in the reservoir. It’s convenient, and you can easily know when the reservoir needs to be refilled.
How Do Self-Watering Planters Work
There are two ways in which self-watering planters move the water from the reservoir into the planting container, and both rely on capillary action. If you’re not familiar with it, think about a paper towel with one end dipped in water. Capillary action happens when the water slowly creeps across the rest of the paper towel. Here are the two options:
The most common design has a section that sits inside the water reservoir, and the potting mix is placed directly in contact with the water. The water from the wet mix is pulled up to the rest of the planter through capillary action.
The wick which can be a strip of mat, an absorbent tube-shaped plug, or thick string is placed inside the container. One end is in the water reservoir, and the other is in the potting mix. The wick works to suck water out of the reservoir and deliver it to the potting mix.
Advantages of a Self-Watering Planter
There are many advantages to using self-watering planters. They can easily be the best way to grow some plants. Here are some of the great takeaways to using a self-watering planter:
- Convenient and time-saving
Perhaps the biggest selling point of self-watering pots is that they provide the convenience of making sure the plants are watered, rather than you need to monitor the soil of each potted plants if it’s already dry. Keeping an eye on each plant pot can be time-consuming, especially if you have lots of plants. And when you get caught up in your own life, you may tend to forget the other living things in your home that you need to take care of. With self-watering planters, the soil is kept moist as the water is delivered from the reservoir at the same rate the plants are absorbing them.
Self-watering pots provide consistent moisture for the plants without having to water them constantly. They can generally go for a week between watering. The consistency is essential for plants that don’t react well to inconsistent watering, like tomatoes.
Conserving water is a constant concern for gardeners. When you water in a conventional way, water will tend to evaporate directly into the air. Self-watering planters only evaporate some of the water from the soil, because the water in the reservoir cannot evaporate with the dense soil covering it. The amounts of water you will be using will be considerably lower.
- Keeps plants healthier
A lot of plants rot due to over-watering because it starves the plant of oxygen and causes problems like fungus and diseases. Meanwhile, underwatering has its own cons, too, as it doesn’t help the plant maintain nutrients and carry out photosynthesis. Self-watering pots can keep the plants healthy by providing the exact amount of water when they need it. This encourages deep and healthy root growth as the plants are consistently watered with the right amount.
It also helps the soil to retain nutrients if the soil is watered and kept moist in a consistent manner. When the reservoir is full of water, it simply pours it back into the plant, creating your won water cycle. Nutrients aren’t expelled out from the container or into a garden bed.
Also, some plants like tomatoes and phlox are prone to fungal diseases if leaves are left wet. By watering from below, this issue can be resolved.
Best Practices for Using Self-Watering planters
Self-watering planters are easy to maintain, but still, there are a few things you need to do to keep it beneficial and make sure that your plants are getting enough water and nutrients.
Making a sterile compost in your potting soil is one of the things you must not forget to do when planting in self-watering pots. If you’re using a commercial pot mixture for self-watering planters, the best way to fertilize is to use slow-release fertilizers over the topsoil before adding the plants to allow the fertilizer to slowly make its way down the bed as the plants grow.
- Don’t allow the reservoir to dry out.
It will be okay to forget to water the plants with a self-watering pot, but you can’t forget keeping the reservoir from emptying because it can cause the wicking system to dry out. Once it’s dried out, it won’t work when you refill the reservoir. If somehow you left the reservoir to dry out, you will need to water from the top to soak the soil well. This will ensure that the capillary action will start once again.
- Use the right potting mix
You don’t just place some soil you got from the backyard, dump it into your self-watering pot, and call it a day. For self-watering planters to function properly, you need to buy commercial potting soils formulated specifically for this type of planter. But you can also make your own potting mixture with equal parts coconut coir, peat moss, perlite, and good quality-compost.
- Choose which plants to plant.
Self-watering planters are best for plants that enjoy evenly moist soil. It includes small, leafy plants such as spike mosses, baby’s tears, and coleus. It also works with thin-leaved plants like Boston ferns, umbrella palms, and peace lilies. Backyard vegetables like lettuce, spinach, and herbs also grow well in self-watering planters.
However, not all kinds of plants like this steady flow of moisture. For instance, cactus, succulents, orchids, and other plants that need to have their potting soil dry out, must not be placed in a self-watering pot. This is because these plants do not grow well in constantly moist conditions and may even cause the plant to rot and die.
- Empty and clean after each season.
You must not leave the potting mix on the planter the whole year. The reservoir will need some cleaning out because roots will tend to grow down into the reservoir, and it can fill or clog the wicking wells. This can happen for plants like sweet potato vine, which has aggressive roots that search for water, so you may find masses of roots sucking the reservoir dry.
Also, if you live in an area wherein there’s extremely cold winter, you need to drain the planter and store it, instead of using it. Water may freeze in the reservoir, and it may cause the planter’s walls to crack.