How To Make a Self-Watering Container

Reader Contribution by Mike Lieberman

Containers are great for those that are gardening in small spaces. Though there is the fear of not knowing when or how often to water them. This is why I started to make my own self-watering containers.

Self-watering containers are not the same as regular containers that you see in the stores. This is because the roots of the plants suck up the water from the reservoir container. They consist of  two similar sized containers called a reservoir and planting container. The ones that are most commonly used are the 5-gallon containers.

Placed on the inside of the reservoir container is a wicking basket with holes drilled in it. You can use a 16 oz deli container for that. Some holes are also drilled around the side of the reservoir container to allow for air circulation and for the excess water to drain out. 

In the planting container you drill a  3-1/2-inch hole into the bottom in the middle. All along the bottom, you drill some 1/4-inch holes to allow the soil to drain and breathe.  The planting container is put inside of the reservoir container with the wicking basket directly under the large hole.

The wicking basket is filled with soil and watered. You can then continue to add moist soil to the planting container along with the plant. You water the self-watering container by removing the planting container and pouring the water directly into the reservoir container. When the water reaches the top of the reservoir, it will begin to come out of the overflow hole.

Since there are holes in the wicking basket with the soil, it will soak up the water and allow the plants roots to drink up the water as needed. This is a more natural way for the plants to soak up water as opposed to watering them from the top.

It also makes it easier to never over or under water the plant because you can tell by the overflow hole.

Here is how you can make your own self-watering container.


  • Drill
  • 1/4? bit
  • 3 1/2? hole saw for metal and wood
  • 1 1/4? hole saw for metal and wood
  • 2 food grade 5 gallon containers — 1 for planting container and 1 for reservoir container
  • 1/2 deli container for wicking basket
    Instructions On How to Make With 2 Containers and No Pipe
  • Use the 1/4? drill bit to drill holes in the deli container.
  • Attach the 3 1/2? hole saw attachment to the drill. Drill a hole in the bottom of the container. I’ve found drilling in a counter-clockwise direction to work best.
  • Reattach the 1/4? drill bit and drill holes in the bottom of the planting container to allow for drainage.
  • Put the wicking basket in the middle of the reservoir container.
  • Place the planting container in the reservoir container aligning the wicking basket with the hole in the middle.
  • There will be a little space between the wicking basket and the planting container. You can duct tape the basket to the bottom of the container, but it’s not necessary.
  • Hold the containers up to the light. You should be able to see through the reservoir container where the planting container is. Using the 1 1/4? hole saw, drill a hole 1/4? in the reservoir container below where the planting container is.
  • This is the hole where you will water the plant from.
  • That’s it. You’re done!