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How to Build a Self Watering Container Garden


Self Watering Container Garden
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Once again I have a project that I got from someone else. Near as I can tell the originator of this idea for a Self Watering Container Garden is:  Apparently some commercial entity patented it and told him he had to change the name of his free plans…

That is overly complicated.  However, I like the idea.  It still is a lot better system than just putting your plants in a plastic bucket with holes drilled in it.


  • 2 18-gallon (or similar) dark colored plastic totes with lids
  • Its better to go wider than taller
  • The straighter the box sides are, the better.
  • 1 5″ pond basket (these are plastic planters with perforated sides to allow the free flow of water)
  • Alternatively you could cut slots in a cottage cheese container
  • 1 2-foot length of 1-1/2″ plastic pipe or tubing (1-1/2″ should be the outside diameter).
    • Cut one end of the tube at an angle.
    • This helps the free flow of water through the tube and into the water reservoir in the bottom of the finished box.


  • Pencil
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
    • 1/4″
    • 1-1/2″
  • Saw


  1. Take one of the totes, the pen/pencil, and the pond basket.
  2. Mark the HEIGHT of the basket all around the outside of the tote
  3. Cut along this line. When you’ve cut the entire box, discard the top half;
  4. Turn the bottom portion upside down.
  5. Take the pond basket, put it upside-down on top of the bottom portion of the tote, and trace the circle.
  6. Cut the circle out,
    1. cut about a half-inch or more INSIDE the circle.  Keep the hole about an inch smaller in diameter than the top of the pond basket.
  7. After you’ve done this, drill a 1-1/2″ hole in the corner of the tote bottom, and a lot of small (1/4″ or so) holes all over it. This is the “Base
  8. Next, take the pond basket and put it right-side up in the bottom of the second tote box.  That is the one that hasn’t been used yet.
  9. Put the base in the tote box (drilled side up), wedging it down as far as it will go, and positioning the pond basket directly under the big hole.
    1. Because the big hole in the base is smaller in diameter than the top of the pond basket, the pond basket will help support the weight of the base once the soil is on top.
    2. Because the pond basket will be filled with soil, it will act as a wick for the moisture (much like the square wicks in opposing corners in the authentic “self-contained gardening system” that was my inspiration for this container).
  10. Drill a 1/4″ (or slightly larger) hole straight through the outer box AND the base just below the level of the base. This is the drainage hole.
  11. Cut the end of the 2-foot length of 1-1/2″ pipe at an angle (if you haven’t done so already) and feed this angled end into the 1-1/2″ hole in the base. This is the pipe you’ll use to fill the box with water.
  12. Drill a matching 1-1/2″ hole near the corner of the lid for the pipe to go out
  13. Take the lid that fits onto the box. Cut out the center of the lid, leaving just a rim (about 2″ worth), enough to snap back onto the box. (You can discard the center piece, we won’t be using it.)
  14. Now cut a piece of plain black tarp (vinyl, etc.) so that it is at least a couple of inches bigger around than the top of your self-contained gardening system. Cut a hole in it for the pipe to fit through. When you’re ready to plant, cut “X”s in the tarp where the plants will go.
  15. Finally, snap the rim onto the box:


Because of the tarp, the lid may NOT snap neatly into place anymore. This may not be an issue, but if it is tie the rim in place:

One of the companies that sells “self-contained gardening systems” have been gracious in putting their planting guide online: Planting Guide – PDF Format. It’s a large file; give it time to load. Print it out, and be sure to read the whole document before using your self-contained gardening system (whether it’s commercial or homemade).


Published inDIY Prepper ProjectsKitchen & Farm

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