Self watering recycled plant pot for growing herbs & flowers

MANBEARPIG Mar 23, 2008 Home & Garden
How to recycle a soda bottle into a planter that waters itself!


Using this design and materials, plants can be grown for virtually the cost of a pinch of seeds.  The planter waters itself via a cotton wick and reduces routine maintenance for the indoor gardener.  Plus, the materials are cheap and readily available - and the best part - it's all recycled!



Step 1: Materials 

You will need to gather these materials:

* One 2 or 3 liter soda bottle with the cap
* A piece of newspaper, a piece of plastic from a bag or a piece of aluminum foil
* Cotton string
* scissors or knife to cut the bottle
* a drill (or something similar) for making holes in the cap
* tape (optional)



Step 2: The cap 

To begin, I made holes in the cap for drainage and to accept the cotton string that will act as a wick to draw the water up into the soil.

I drilled one large hole in the center of the cap and eight smaller holes around it. The large hole is what will hold the string and the smaller holes will allow water to drain out.



Step 3: The wick 

I am using cotton string to act as a wick to draw water up into the soil. As the soil dries and the roots absorb moisture, the wick will bring water back up into the soil from the reservoir below and feed the plants.

I cut three equal lengths of string (about 15 inches long) and tied them together with a simple knot about 3 inches up from the bottom.

Into the cap, I fed the three short lengths of string through the big hole in the middle of the bottle cap and pulled them through so the knot rests on the hole on the inside of the cap. The short ends will dangle in the water and the long ends will go up into the soil to feed the roots.



Step 4: Cutting the bottle 

I used a marker to draw a line on the soda bottle to use as a guide when I cut it with scissors. The two parts that I was left with would be the cup and the reservoir.

When the cup is inverted (with the neck down) and put inside the bottle, it should not touch the bottom. There should be about 2 inches of clearance so that the wick can dangle in the water but the cap cannot touch it.


Step 5: The cup 
The cup is what the soil goes into and where the plants grow.

Roots do better in darkness than in light, so they need to be blocked from sunlight.

To do this, I have tried three different materials. I have used a piece of black plastic from a garbage bag, aluminum foil and newspaper. I have found that newspaper seems to work best since it is biodegradable and helps to retain moisture. It is also easy to remove from the cup for transplanting. Best of all, it's the cheapest of the three since used newspaper can easily be obtained for no cost at all.

I put the light-blocking material all the way into the cup, trying to flatten it against the sides of the cup to increase the amount of soil that I can fit in later. Once it was in there nicely, I poked a hole in the bottom for the wick.



Step 6: The cup cont'd 

I fed the wick through the hole that I poked in the cup and screwed the cap on.

The cup is now ready for soil.



Step 7: Soil 

Depending on each particular plant's moisture needs, I mixed up the appropriate soil with perlite, vermiculite or peat moss and was ready to add it to the cup.

I held the wick up into the middle of the cup and began putting the soil in. Having the wick run up in the middle of the soil helps it to absorb water more quickly and allows the roots to get to it much faster than if the three strands were separated and on the sides.

After adding a little bit of soil, I separated one string and made a coil in the dirt. I put a little more soil in and made a second coil. I put in a little more and made the third coil and then filled it up the rest of the way. I believe that the coils help to spread out the moisture better than just having them going all the way up the middle.



Step 8: Water 

After all the soil was in the cup, I trimmed off the rest of the newspaper and thoroughly soaked the soil with water. Depending on the plants needs, you may not be able to use regular tap water, and since I have a rainwater collector that is what I use the most.

So, I soaked the soil thoroughly and let it drain for an hour. I also made sure that the bottom part of the wick was wet as well, since this will help it absorb better. Placing a dry wick into the reservoir will cause it to float and not absorb as well.

Take care to let the cup drain completely. Drips of dirty water into the clean reservoir water can cause algae to grow. The water should only need to go up, not back down into the clean water.



Step 9: The reservoir 

The reservoir is just the bottom of the bottle and is used to store water.

I put some water into it and placed the cup inside. There should be enough water for the wick to dangle into, but not so much that it touches the cap. I have found that too much water will encourage algae to grow since little pieces of dirt that fall through the hole in the newspaper contaminate the clean water. This isn't beneficial, because this design is meant to constantly feed the plant clean water and algae will make it harder for water to reach the soil.

Since the cup pressed down into the reservoir creates a vacuum, it makes the removal of the cup a little tough. To solve this, I put a tiny hole on the side of the reservoir to let air in. Now the cup can be removed easily for watering, transplanting or harvesting.



Step 10: Planting the seeds 

Now that the planter is finished, it is time to plant seeds. The planter is useful for growing small plants such as herbs and flowers or as a starter for larger plants that will have to be transplanted later. Make sure to provide the plants with the proper amount of sunlight that they need to grow.

The wick delivers clean water from the reservoir up into the soil and to the roots. This is quite useful, since the plants can be left unattended for periods of time because the soil waters itself. Basically, they can be left alone to grow with little care from the gardener. Using a two liter bottle, two inches of water keeps the soil moist for nearly two weeks or more. I have been pleasantly surprised with how well this works.

About once every few weeks, I remove the cup, water the soil, rinse off the wick and allow it to drain. This helps to wash out any buildup of minerals in the soil and completely rehydrates everything. Take care to let it drain completely so as not to contaminate the new fresh water in the reservoir.

Then, the cup goes back into the reservoir and I can walk away from it for another couple of weeks.



Step 11: Optional step: Creating a mini-greenhouse lid

This step is optional, but the planter can be made into a mini greenhouse or terrarium with another bottle. This is useful for plants that require a high humidity to grow.

I used another soda bottle and cut the bottom off. The place where I made my cut is right below where it begins to curve. Cutting it above this will prevent the new greenhouse lid from fitting in easily and snug. So, look at the bottle, observe where it begins to curve and cut a little below it.

The greenhouse lid will now fit into the cup easily and will trap the humidity. It will not be uncommon to see water beading up on the sides and dripping down into the soil. I have not had any problems with the water leaking back down through the soil and into the reservoir. I think that is because the wick will only absorb as much water as the soil needs to fill the deficit of water created by the absorption from the roots.



These planters are easy to make and are made with recycled products that would normally be discarded. They can be decorated and given as gifts, made by children as projects or just left on a windowsill to grow fresh herbs or flowers.

The soil really does seem to stay moist longer than it does in a conventional flowerpot with regular watering. My favorite part is that the plants will grow with very little help or attention from me.

The fact that all the parts used (the bottle, the newspaper, the compost, rainwater) are all recycled or free and can be recycled again is what I like a lot. The planter can be used several times and can simply be tossed into a plastic recycling bin when finished.

I've made dozens of these and what I like the best is that I can grow miniature crops of herbs and flowers for literally the cost of the seeds and with little effort on my part.

Have fun and happy gardening!


What did you think of this tutorial?
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35 CommentsAdd a Comment
Ellen Weisgerber on Nov 15, 2020
I love this, will definitely be doing this next spring. Thanks a bunch (of flowers).
Thrjays on Dec 7, 2017
Great idea - i will try this
Dale on Jun 4, 2017
I have done this before but cotton string will rot and break and then your plants won't get watered. Now I do the same thing but use acrylic yarn (like any four ply yarn) and it works a lot better. Also I have found newsprint with no print on it in pads of paper for little kids to draw on. Iit's very cheap and you don't have to worry about chemicals from ink.
Sarah on May 1, 2017
Brilliantly presented tutorial, well done.
ulrike on Mar 23, 2017
mmmmm, how you fill up the water during growing-time? : is it just from above - floating the soil or is there a hole to give construction wasn't perfect because the upper part the kept slipping down - there was no more room for water I had to tape it. But anyway: good idea to receycle plastic-bottles
Anita M on Mar 8, 2017
Im in the process of making planters, I am trying this in the morning.
theresa on Feb 6, 2017
can't wait to try this
Kathy on Mar 22, 2018
Did not want to reort, hit by accident.
maza xasa on Dec 9, 2016
I've try'd to the samething and it me some wonders
MANBEARPIG on Nov 20, 2016
Thanks for this nice idea to plant. It' s what we need to be kínder with the environment.
Patrick on Aug 3, 2015
Ingenious and quite kind on the environment. Well done. Am off to the dump site to gather bottles. Fun idea too, thanks
Kaylee on Apr 11, 2015
It work out good. It was a little hard but, then we figured it all out. :)
anne nichols on Oct 18, 2014
Best diy post I ever read. Beautifully explained.
Saiful on Apr 11, 2014
Thanks a lot. This is very informative.
Maggielari on Mar 17, 2014
Just can't wait to try this. Genius. Thanks a million.
Chris on Dec 19, 2013
Surprised you would use newspaper since most inks are toxic as well as the chemicals used to whiten the paper
Susan on Aug 13, 2014
I have read that most inks are not biodegradable. I suppose it depends on the newspaper company.
Dee Wilson on Feb 7, 2013
I just purchased some seed and I can't wait to try this. What a great idea for someone like Me who for gets to water. Thank you
Fern on Jan 26, 2013
Genius of an idea. I plan to try it. Thanks!
Marge on Jan 25, 2013
A brilliant Idea and beautifully explained. Thank you
Marie on Jan 25, 2013
C'est génial! J'adore cette idée ! Merci pour ces explications
Scot on Dec 21, 2012
If I am growing petunias, how many seeds or plants can I grow per bottle? Do you have problems with the roots getting tangled up in the string?
Julie on Dec 14, 2012
I am definitely going to try this!!
Deborah on Dec 09 on Dec 9, 2012
I love this idea cannot wait to try it out.
Debbie on Dec 8, 2012
Great ideal. I am going to try it!
niriksha on Dec 8, 2012
to good idea.i have been looking for good solution, for watering my plant when i am out station for week or no request or please to other members for taking care of my plants.beautiful detailed tutorial.
Jennifer on Dec 8, 2012
I have been looking for a great idea for all my 2 liter bottles! So excited for this idea.
Nancy on Dec 8, 2012
Love growing herbs, but never have lick they eventually die. Maybe I can with this method. Thanks
Mothe Madhava Reddy on Jan 8, 2012
wow good idea. I'll try in my Office.
johndenis on Jan 15, 2011
yes,its good idea,i'll try it
Betsy M on Aug 31, 2009
I would like to know more about the string you are using... it looks pretty "open". I want to try this and make sure that the string is actually going to "wick" up the water... can you tell me what you used?
jennifer on Dec 1, 2008
its okay there are better ideas but i dont know why my mom loved it and shes gonna try to do it at home !!
Rose4mom on Sep 9, 2008
Wow! Great idea, Keep up the good work. I will have to try this at home. Thank you
Shannon on May 9, 2008
I've been trying to grow some herbs with not much luck, I'm going to try out this method as it seems pretty foolproof. :D Thanks for the great tutorial :)
Kimberly on May 6, 2008
What a great idea! I have two black thumbs. I'll have to give this a try.
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  • Comments : 35
  • Rating : + 602
  • Last Updated : Mar 23, 2008