Self-watering planters for easy vegetable gardening

I have met many busy urban dwellers who already have their vegetable gardens or would love to grow their own and eat it, too. However, there are a few common problems faced by them:

  • Growing veggies in hot climate means daily watering, which becomes a problem for time-starved urbanites, and especially when we go away for vacation.
  • Small and dense urban spaces where both space and sunlight are limited.
  • Excess water escapes through evaporation and surface water run-off. The runoff is not returned to any use except waiting to be evaporated from the hard surfaces or collected in dish or hidden corners, creating breeding grounds for mosquitos.

In permaculture principles, we can face a perceived problem by looking at the situation from a different angle by turning problems into solutions. What’s more, we can learn and mimic nature by creating a closed loop system by not wasting resources, but extending its use and ensuring that the outputs are more than the efforts put in.

What are self-watering planters?

This is an irrigation system where one can save water and grow healthier veggies. Self-watering planters are also called “sub-irrigated planters” or SIPs, because the plants get to “sip” water when they want. Self-watering planters have the ability to hold water in a reservoir and this water is then drawn upwards (or wicked) through capillary action that delivers water into the growing medium and to the plants roots keeping your planters consistently moist.

Self-watering planter

Below is a summary of many benefits and also a short note of caution to help you learn how this system can meet your gardening needs.

Benefits of self-watering planters

With zhu hao sauce crispy yam puff crispy dragon roll honeydew puree with sago deep fried garlicky fish ball.

Save water = save money
  • They are water-efficient!
  • Prevents evaporation of surface water by watering from the bottom up (which occurs when you water planters from the top).
  • Minimise loss of water through evaporation or seepage.
Ensures moisture in soil
  • Water contained in the reservoir is protected by the soil cover above it.
  • Therefore does not evaporate easily as when poured from the top into the soil.
  • It is slowly released into the soil there is no need for any excess to drain off as it does in conventional pots.
Compaction of soil is reduced
  • Watering from the top will cause soil compaction over time.
  • This reduces your soil’s ability to absorb water and impacts plants’ root growth.
Reducing salting of the soil
  • You risk accumulating salts when watering your soils from the top as water evaporates from the surface, it leaves the minerals behind.
  • Eventually your soil will struggle to support plant life.
  • Little evaporation means no salting of soil.
Soil Retains Nutrients
  • Excess water drains out of the hole at the bottom or through the sides when watering a conventional plant container.
  • Nutrients in the soil, too, are lost as excess water drains through it and it becomes necessary to replenish it with new organic matter.
  • Self watering planters take away this hassle as the closed system keeps the nutrients within the planter.
  • Any overflow keeps the nutrients within the water reservoir and can be conveniently poured back into the soil.
Encourages Healthy Root Growth
  • Healthy and deep root systems require adequate and deep watering.
  • Conventional planters poses the risk of water stagnation resulting in the roots rotting.
  • Self watering planters enable consistent watering at every depth in the pot as the plants get to “sip” water whenever they want.
No Hassle Gardening
  • Ease and convenience, taking away the stress and demand from your gardening routine.
  • Make watering an occasional concern through your busy week.
  • Allow you to go on vacations without impacting the health and beauty of your garden and plants.
Protect Your Exotic and Delicate Species
  • Some plants species require a consistent dose of water to survive harsh and extreme climates like the hot and humid tropics.
  • Self watering planters make growing and care of these species a lot easier on you, by ensuring a regular and supply of water directly to the soil. Eg. Tomato.
Minimise spillage and messes
  • Minimises spillage of water and soil, staining and dirtying of the surroundings, etc. by watering from the bottom up.
  • Ideal for use in any part of your home or office whether indoors or outdoors. (For outdoor use, ensure there is an overflowing pipe for excess rain water to drain out of reservoir.
Making it harder for weeds to grow
  • When evaporation is reduced to a minimum, it is harder for weeds to establish in drier soil, especially when there is a layer of mulch covering the soil.

Note of caution

  • The bed is always in a state of dampness or wetness which does not suit all plants.
  • When the reservoir has water in it the underlying soil remains much damper, which can be a problem for vegetables that prefer drier conditions, eg. Rosemary
  • The mix of vegetables grown should be changed every couple of years as it is basically an enclosed container growing veggies. Crop rotation is always a good practice. The purpose of crop rotation is to help maintain the balance of nutrients, organic matter, and microorganisms necessary for healthy soil. Of these three, the invisible world of soil-dwelling micro-creatures is the one that most benefits from crop rotations.

“In permaculture principles, we can face a perceived problem by looking at the situation from a different angle by turning problems into solutions.”


Do you use a self-watering planter? What’s your favorite plant to grow in it? We will shed more light on what are the plants that grow well in such systems under different lighting conditions in a future post. Share self-watering garden picture using #eatyourgarden #cocreatenature

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