Save your plants from neglect by making a DIY self-watering container out of a plastic bucket. With some well-placed holes and pipes, this project hides the internal mechanisms that keep the soil evenly moist.

By Jenny Krane
June 14, 2018
Read step by step instructions after the video.

Make this self-watering container and save your plants from becoming dried up and withered. A 5-gallon bucket is large enough to hold plenty of soil while also hiding the internal watering mechanisms. The lid to the bucket becomes an aeration shelf and a PVC pipe is the access point for water to enter the lower basin. This project is easy to build with the right tools, and is a great solution for those who have a hard time keeping up with a regular watering schedule but still want to grow some greenery.

  • Working time 1 hr
  • Start to finish 1 hr
  • Difficulty Kind of Easy
  • Involves Drilling, Cutting Plastic, Planting

What you need


How to do it

Part 1

Step 1

Create Aeration Shelf

Using a box cutter, remove the outside edge of the bucket lid. Be sure that it fits inside the bucket, as this will be part of the aeration shelf. Place an empty quart-size container—this will be your wicking chamber—into the bucket and push the aeration shelf into the bucket to sit on top of the container. Trim extra plastic from the sides of the shelf if it buckles on the sides and doesn’t fit snugly.

Step 2

Make Hole for Wicking Chamber

Place the empty quart container on the center of the shelf with the bottom side down. Trace around the bottom of the quart container with a permanent marker. Then, use the box cutter to cut out the traced circle to make an opening for the wicking chamber.

Step 3

Make Hole For Tube

Mark the location for the fill tube toward the outside edge of the shelf. Trace the tube opening on the aeration shelf with a permanent marker. As with the step before, use a box cutter to cut out the traced hole.

Step 4

Drill Holes in Shelf and Chamber

Drill holes about 1 inch apart on the surface of the aeration shelf and in the sides of the wicking chamber. As you are drilling, be careful to hold the plastic pieces in place well so they don't shift around. We recommend placing scrap wood under the surface you are working on to prevent unwanted divots or holes.

Step 5

Assemble Bucket

Using zip ties threaded through the drilled holes near the center of the lid, attach the aeration shelf to the wicking basket. Clip off the extra tails on the zip ties with scissors. Then, place the assembly into the bucket. Place the fill tube upright in the hole in the shelf.

Step 6

Drill Overfill Hole

Using a drill and a thick bit, make an overfill hole in the side of the bucket below the aeration shelf. The hole will allow water to drain when the bucket has become too full and will prevent your plants from drowning. With that said, you'll want to place this self-watering container somewhere outside so drained water doesn't ruin any furniture.

Step 7

Add Landscape Fabric

Drape landscape fabric over the opening of the bucket. Push the fabric inside to line the bottom of the shelf, leaving 2 inches of overlap. Cut the fabric to size and adjust placement. Cut holes in the fabric for the fill tube and wicking chamber.

Step 8

Add Soil to Wicking Basket

Mix potting soil and water in a container until the soil is well saturated. Pack the soil and water mixture into the wicking basket.

Step 9

Fill Container With Moist Soil

Fill the container about 3/4 full with potting soil. Add soil 3 inches at a time, saturating each layer with water. Lightly mix the soil as you go.

Step 10

Plant and Fill With Water

Add plants to the top of the container, lightly packing the soil around them. Fill the water reservoir compartment with water until it starts to dribble out of the overfill hole.


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