Self-Watering Planters (7 Ideas & Why You Should Order One Today)

Wouldn’t it be great if your garden tended itself? If only there was a way to halt weed growth momentarily and press pause on the harvest just long enough that you could get out of town for a little vacation.

Well, there’s not much that can stop weeds from growing (except maybe one of these mulches) but there are actually plant pots that can take the chore of watering off your hands.

Aptly called self-watering planters, these pots are simply containers with built-in water reservoirs that automatically irrigate the plants inside them. Not only do these kinds of pots save time water and waste less water, but self-watering planters promote healthy plant growth by minimizing the risk of over-watering.

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Maybe you’re not even traveling this year, but you can still treat yourself to a less stressful staycation with self-watering planters. This summer has already seen record-breaking temps, so beat the heat with self-watering planters that will keep your plants hydrated even on the hottest days.

In this post, we’ll unpack what a self-watering planter is and I’ll offer a few recommendations. Then I’ll walk you through exactly how to use one so you can get started with this awesome gardening tool.

What is a self-watering planter?

A self-watering planter is a type of container designed to deliver hands-free irrigation. Each pot includes a built-in water reservoir that allows the plants to draw moisture as needed through sub-irrigation.

Self-watering planters can be used with any plant, but are especially ideal for plants that don’t like to dry out, including vegetables like tomatoes and certain moisture-loving flowers, like petunias.

This system helps prevent over or under-watering of plants, promotes healthy growth, and allows for worry-free watering, especially during periods of drought or when you’re away on vacation.

How do self-watering planters work?

Self-watering planters work through a process called capillary action, wherein water droplets travel from a wet surface to a dry surface.

Most self-watering planters are designed one of two ways—through a wicking system (a rope connecting the reservoir to the soil compartment. As the soil dries out, the wick pulls moisture from the reservoir to the potting soil.

Another design for self-watering planters is to put the potting soil section in direct contact with the water reservoir. Moisture moves through the compartments the same way as with a wick. The more water a plant pulls from the soil, the more water will be pulled from the reservoir into the soil.

Benefits of Using Self-Watering Planters

Automated irrigation

If there’s a way to automate any garden task, I’m down—especially if it’s irrigation. Watering one or two pots isn’t such a big deal, but when you have a whole garden’s worth of pots to irrigate, it’s a game-changer to have a hands-off system.

Just the right amount of water

It’s surprisingly easy to overwater plants—as well as the inverse, underwatering—but using a self-watering planter eliminates either issue since the soil only draws water as needed. Plants are guaranteed to get the exact amount of moisture they need, exactly when they need it.

Conserves water

When you water plants via a hose or overhead irrigation system or mister, a lot of water is lost due to evaporation and surface runoff. A far more efficient method, self-watering planters ensure that the water stays where plants need it—at their roots.

Promotes healthy root growth

For optimal growth, plants need optimal conditions. Self-watering planters are designed to provide plants with their ideal watering needs. Sub-watering with self-watering planters encourages the development of large, healthy roots that have to reach deep to pull water up through the soil.

Prevents moisture-related foliar diseases

Some plants are very sensitive to backsplash, like tomatoes. Backsplash occurs when water droplets bounce from the ground back onto plant leaves, or from one plant to another. Sometimes these water droplets transmit diseases. Self-watering planters remove this issue entirely.

Protects plants against water stress

It’s easy to see when plants need water and when they’re adequately hydrated. Water-stressed plants will have discolored leaves and stunted growth, and if they aren’t treated quickly the plants may suffer permanent damage.

Self-watering planters prevent plants from becoming stressed in the first place by providing moisture before the plants need it. This is an excellent safeguard anywhere, but especially in hot climates and drought-prone areas.

Best plants for self-watering planters

The best plants to use with self-watering planters are plants that prefer to stay consistently moist (but not soggy).

  • Tomatoes

Inconsistent moisture is a major reason that tomato fruits crack, so planting determinate, bushy types in self-watering planters will certainly result in improved yields and better-tasting fruit.

  • Cucumbers

Cucumbers love moisture, and the vines will be very happy in a self-watering planter. Choose compact types with bushy growth habits for ease of harvesting, or install a simple trellis to contain sprawling vines.

  • Basil

Moisture-loving herbs like basil are ideal for self-watering planters since the plants will be far less likely to get foliage diseases and will be much slower to bolt. Plus, you can keep a container herb garden on your porch or windowsill so your favorite herbs are always readily available.

  • Spinach

Any plant that responds well to hydroponic gardening is a great candidate to use with self-watering planters. Leafy greens like spinach love the cooling sensation that self-watering planters offer in the heat of summer.

Most plants adapt well to self-watering planters—but there are a few that don’t. Avoid planting succulents or cacti in self-watering planters, as these plants prefer to thoroughly dry out between waterings.

Top self-watering planters for busy gardeners

What sets a self-watering planter apart from any old regular plant pot? Most self-watering planters have a water reservoir and fill tube, wicking mechanism, planting container, and of course, drainage holes. Some self-watering planters even have a water level indicator.

The water reservoir will vary in size depending on the size of the pot itself and can hold anywhere between one and five gallons of water.

Best for vegetables

Best for outdoors

Best for shrubs and small trees

Best window box

Best hanging basket

Best budget planter

Largest capacity for size

DIY self-watering planter

You didn’t think I was going to pass up a DIY opportunity, did you?

You could buy a nice-looking self-watering planter—or you could make your own with one or more of these inserts that you can use with nearly any hanging basket or plant pot. Or, plant this terracotta reservoir with your plants.

How to use a self-watering planter in 4 easy steps

  1. Fill the planter with soil

Perhaps more important than the planter itself is the soil that you fill it with. Opt for a soilless and aerated potting soil mix, since most plants require well-draining soil. Depending on what you decide to grow, you can look for potting soil specific to certain plants (flowering annuals, vegetables, or perennials).

Once you select your planter, fill it the majority of the way with your chosen potting soil. Moisten the soil by watering it to kickstart the water-wicking process.

2. Place the wick

If your planter has a wick, make sure that one end is in the reservoir and the other is embedded in the potting soil.

3. Plant your desired plant(s)

Carefully plant your plant in the soil, making sure to completely bury the roots but not plant the plant too deep. The potting soil should be about level with the original soil line on the plant, whether it’s a complete seedling or a rootball.

4. Fill up the water reservoir

After your plants are settled into their planter, fill the water reservoir with water to the fill line.

If your plants are young or the roots are too small to reach the bottom of the planter, you’ll need to encourage root development by overhand watering the planter for the first few weeks after transplanting. Once the new plants are established, you can let the self-watering planter do its job by watering from the bottom.

Tips for using self-watering planters

  • Place the planter somewhere with adequate sun

Find out how much light your plant needs and place the planter where the plant will get sufficient light. If you notice that the soil stays moist and the reservoir stays full, the plant probably isn’t getting enough sun. Move the planter to a sunnier area and the plant will naturally absorb more water.

  • Refill the water reservoir when it becomes dry

Until you get used to the rhythm of your sefl-watering planter, keep a close eye on the planter and never let it dry out completely, as that will interrupt the water-wicking process. If you get regular rains in your area, the natural precipitation may be enough to keep an outdoor planter full but keep an eye on indoor planters.

  • Clean the planter regularly

Plant roots and pieces of potting soil can get stuck in the water reservoir, inhibiting the wicking process. It’s not a bad idea to empty and clean the planter once a year, either in early spring or at the end of the growing season.

  • Drain the reservoir in winter

Water left in the self-watering planter could freeze in the winter, causing the planter to crack. You’ll get the longest life out of your self-watering planters by periodically cleaning and draining them.


All in all, self-watering planters are a nifty invention and a godsend for the busy gardener. The no-electricity, automatic irrigation system can save you time, money, and water when used correctly. Plus, self-watering planters reduce the risk of your plants contracting foliage diseases and root rot.

Most plants are great candidates for self-watering planters—especially moisture-loving herbs and vegetables, there’s no reason you can’t try out different plants in these unique pots. As long as you take care of self-watering planters, draining and cleaning them at the end of the growing season, you can reuse the pots for multiple seasons.

Now you have no excuse to take that much-needed vacation—so why not try out one of these self-watering planters and give yourself the break you deserve?

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About the author:
When not writing content or growing flowers in her native Virginia, you can find Sarah hiking a long-distance trail deep in the woods. Follow along with Sarah’s adventures at

Sarah C.

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