Saturday, March 24, 2012

How To: Self-Watering Seed Starter Pots







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102 comments:

Dlsarmywife said...

I've been saving my husbands soda bottles for just this reason...although I just realized I've been tossing the lids!!! I'm sure I can come up with something though to make it work! Your seedlings look fantastic! =D

ASBloom said...

D, Those would work great! The smaller bottles would be better for lots of starts. Have fun!!

Diana said...

This is absolutely brilliant, as is your followup comment about using smaller water bottles! I need to pot up my tomato seedlings so this will be just the thing for them. Thanks a million from Colorado where nothing much is growing in our crazy weather!

Anonymous said...

Place a block of wood under the cap when punching the hole or you will end up with a splintered deck/floor.

Anonymous said...

I use 1 quart Gatorade bottles and do the same thing. If you threw out the lid it's no big thing, use several cotton balls or a bunched up piece of paper towel, or cotton fabric, or even a piece of sponge
to act as an absorber and clog the hole.

ASBloom said...

Thanks for the nice comments and great suggestions, everyone.

It would definitely be a good idea to put something under the cap before puncturing it. We didn't have any problems, but were probably lucky.

I also had been thinking about using an unbleached coffee filter inside the bottle, to hold the soil. This would help the moisture to wick evenly and it would make it very easy to remove the plants if you plan to transplant them into the garden at a later date. I haven't tried it yet though.

Renata said...

This is such a great idea, cheap and easy to make. I definitely try it. Thanks for sharing.

Angiehhtra said...

Would this concept work for an indoor herb garden on my windowsill? I have a serious black thumb & tried to gorw an indoor herb garden for cooking on my counter with a grow light installed under my cabinets. I grew a little parsley & cilantro, but it never became big enough to clip & cook with. My Rosemary would never grow :-( I just sorta gave up. But I LOVE this concept. Would you recommend the 2 liter bottles for herbs or something smaller?

jennyappleseed said...

Just a question...you said to water from the top of the soil the first time, so how do you add water from then on? Thanks for posting this, btw.

ASBloom said...

@Angie-I don't see why it wouldn't work for an indoor herb garden. There's enough soil in each planter (if you use the 2 liter bottles) to keep most herbs happy.

@Jenny-The first time I water them from the top so that the soil gets a good dose of wetness. After that, I lift the top part (with the plant in it) up and pour an inch or two of water into the bottom. As long as the soil didn't completely dry back out, the water will be sucked up into the pot from below. If the soil dries out too much, it breaks the surface tension bond of the water and inhibits capillary action (which is why the whole thing works in the first place), so you would need to water from the top again. Does that make sense? Sorry for the wordy explanation.

Joe Todd said...

Great post. I have all my seeds started this year but will probably play around with this idea so I'll be ready for next year.

TJ said...

We just tried these this year, too! We didn't use the lids, we put a piece of old cotton tee shirt material in the hole instead. Works great!

SweetHarmony said...

Do you plan on transplanting these later? About how big should the plant be before attempting a transplant?

KtCallista said...

I will be sharing this idea with my little gardener. We have a short growing season and last year her plants just didn't make it in time.

Genny Hays said...

We live in the desert and I think this idea will work great for us!

Anonymous said...

Great idea! How often do you have to add water when growing seedlings? Just wondering because I would love tp use these in our summer place, but during spring we only get to visit and water the plants during weekends...

ASBloom said...

@SweetHarmony: Yes, I have already transplanted the cucumbers. the tomatoes will go outside this week. The root ball slips out of the pot very easily for transplant.

@Anonymous: I only add water when I see that it's close to empty in the bottom basin (every four to seven days, depending on the size of the plant). I try to never let it dry out completely.
I bet this method would work well for you, even if you only water once a week. You could cut the bottle so that the lower portion was actually larger (say 70% instead of 50%) and would hold more water wile you're away.

Maria Burgess said...

Neat idea!I've been saving bottles here and there for storage items. Will check this out soon! Thanks for sharing! Great article!

mdelhomme said...

what do you think about using tennis shoe laces as wicks? The cotton kind, not the nylon.

greengreengoddess said...

I love this idea but we don't drink soda (ever). Maybe I could go round the neighbourhood on recycling night and pinch a few from the neighbours' bins! It is still technically recycling right!?

Anonymous said...

This is such a great tip for teachers who have their students plant in the classroom! With this set-up, the seeds won't dry out over the weekend! Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

This is such a great idea! I always over water my plants..How wet are you supposed to make the soil the first time you water it?

ASBloom said...

@mdelhomme: I think shoe laces would work just fine. Either kind, actually. I tried both cotton yarn and poly yarn and they both worked.

@anonymous: I make sure to totally wet the soil during the first watering. I water from the top once, then from below (by wick) after that.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea! I potted my seeds up like this just yesterday, but have turned them into little greenhouses as well by using extra bottles. Cutting them in half and using the top half to cover my plants with the lids off. Now just to wait!

SDyson said...

This is a terrific idea. My son loves to plant seeds and we always have empty water bottles around. We will try this!
Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

For those who have discarded the lids, you can always use a small square of old screen to block the hole, yet water through.

Paula-Jo said...

WHAT A BRILLIANT IDEA!! I'm a hoarder and have been keeping plastic bottles for ages for exactly this kind of thing. I started my spring flowering seeds like this now and will keep them in a light, sunny spot until August/September to transplant outdoors. I used cotton shoe-laces and they seem to work wonders. Thanks for sharing, from South Africa!!

ground-water-testing said...

lulu

Unknown said...

Don't use a screwdriver. If you want to punch it, then buy a awl or a hole punch or even use a small drill. Using a Philips head to punch the hole will probably ruin the screwdriver.

Other then that: great idea.

DadAtHome said...

How do you get the labels off the bottles so that you can enjoy the view better?

Bufftbone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b68b2d38-a9df-11e1-b244-000bcdcb5194 said...

when do you transplant plants like peppers and tomatoes to bigger pot? do you have to transplant or can u just keep in 2 liter bottles? im new to gardening.

ASBloom said...

@Unkown: You're probably right about the screwdriver, but the one we used didn't seem any worse for wear afterward.

@DadAtHome: The bottle we used were from Cascade Ice sparkling water and the labels came off very easily.

@b68b2: We moved our plants outside into the garden once they were about a foot tall, but the timing would depend on your planting zone.

Anonymous said...

This is a great idea! Family has been thinking about building a greenhouse - wow! this will be so much more economical. Especially since I have a sun room.
I use the "wicking" system for my outdoor plants in the opposite way. No plant wants to have soggy roots all the time, so after a big rain I lay a piece of string/rope in the saucers leaving the other end on the ground so it will drain my saucers.

Scott Sheldon said...

Great! This really works well, very informative, thanks for sharing! When plants get bigger then those I found the AQUEOUS planter to be the most effective self watering planter on the market! You can check it out at www.godawn.com

Anonymous said...

It's really awesome, it's what I've been looking for, I'll try it out this weekend. Thanks a lot from Patagonia Argentina. Carla

Anonymous said...

hey! i was wondering, will this work for Venus Fly Traps?

i'm aware of the humidity the VFT needs, so i could improvise in adding something to the self-watering pot

but yeah, would this work for the VFT? :O

ASBloom said...

@Anonymous--I don't really know much about Venus Fly Traps, so I'm not a good one to answer that question. Does anybody else out there want to chime in? Readers?

Jaime Alvaro Burbano Cuellar said...

What about if you make the string long enough to go to the top of the potting soil and curl it like a slinky as you are adding the potting soil? Then when you get to the to the top, you cut it?

Janet said...

Can this work for starting cuts from flowers, ex. geraniums?

lively lawry said...

Hi Bloom,
thanks a ton for such a wonderful idea! i have experimented with cut bottle as a plant, but I had not thought of having a wick to suck water! do check this link - http://www.caleidoscope.in/eco-ideaz/index.1.html

Crumpettes said...

I really love your site, and this self-watering planter is such a great idea! I’ve already got a few started.

@ ASBloom – the coffee filter trick is wonderful for plants in regular pots, also – keeps dirt from running out the hole(s), also keeps the dirt ball nicely together for transplanting.
@ Anonymous, and anyone else interested – the plastic lids off the big Chobani Greek Yoghurt containers make excellent (and attractive) lids for the 2 litre bottles.
@ Dad, and anyone else interested – pull off the label as best you can, then fill the jug with the hottest tap water you can get and let it work from the inside to loosen the glue goo – works great! Wash off with Dawn, or something similar.

Kathleen Valentin said...

I found you through Pinterest and I'm sooo glad I did.
This a smashing idea and I intend to use it.
Thank you so much for posting.

Mary G said...

For plants intended to go outside into the garden, I would recommend ONLY using cotton string or other biodegradable things for the wicks. You don't want to end up with a bunch of nylon/polyester strings in your soil. Yuck! LOL

I also love the idea of using the tops of other bottles to create a mini-greenhouse for increasing the humidity. Ya'll are a bunch of geniuses! =)

Anonymous said...

agree re using an awl vs a screwdriver. The screwdriver may look fine (although I would be livid if someone used mine like that!!), but the top of it is not designed to be impacted that way, and may chip off. Better to use a hot nail, a cold nail with a hammer (an surface protection if you're working on a marrable surface (or concrete which is also dangerous to work on with impact tools and no safety gear), or an awl.

Anonymous said...

Instead of lifting the top off every time you want to water, try cutting a small (maybe 1 inch) hole in the side of the water container, not large enough to compromise the stability of the bottle, but large enough to fit the spout of your watering can in. Might also help the bottle breath and discourage mold build-up.

Anonymous said...

If done under supervision, a hot skewer would melt a hole in the lid. This starter pot is a great idea. I just made one.
Noelene

Smarta vardagstips said...

Thank you for this tip! I've linked to you and this great idea in my blog. I love it!

I use these as flower pots for orkids!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I'm trying this.

Rob Goddard said...

that's a cool idea, gonna try it myself. thank you :)

Brandie Anderson said...

When do you recommend starting these? I live in MN so Spring doesn't start until the end of March, just looking for the level of temperature for transplanting.

Anonymous said...

It is summer here and very hot and dry. If the dry weather affects the pants I have, I will be using the top half of plastic bottles, with caps off, as mini greenhouses. Bob T

Backyard Farming in Michigan said...

A drill works much better for the caps. Also, you can cut the bottom out of a somewhat smaller bottle and place it inside the top of the planter until the plants reach a couple of inches. It sort of acts as a mini greenhouse by keeping the humidity high which is critical for very young seedlings

Simply Incognito said...

a spent (or new) coffee filter will also work to plug the hole if you loose the lid.

This is also a great way for the classroom kids to sprout the seeds they get in their oranges at lunch... most of them are amazed that something that "comes from the store" has seeds that will actually grow. Granted, it has never gone so far as to produce fruit (being hybred, doubt it would) but the "experience" of growing something... watching it... priceless.

blumer728 said...

this would be awesome for african violets as well.!! better than paying 10+ bucks for the "special pots"
Yay!

ASBloom said...

Brandie: I'd ask my local garden store expert about timing. I know we can put plants outside much earlier here in Seattle than you would be able to in Minnesota. I wouldn't want to give you any advice on that.

Great ideas everyone! Thanks for your input!

Sandra Courtney said...

Thank you so much for sharing that super idea! I have plenty of 2 liter bottles and was wondering what I could do with them. You gave me the idea! :o)

Anonymous said...

Just found this site today on fb; GREAT idea to start seedlings! Another use I have found for 2L pop bottles is to "plant" them upside down in the garden right beside the tomato plants...minus the bottle caps and with the bottom cut out, leaving some of the bottle up out of the ground. Filling the bottle with water allows the water to get to the root zone of the transplant; I tried some with and some without-huge difference in growth and health of the plants. This way there's no danger of soil fungus splashing up onto the leaves and eventually ruining the crop.

Cintya Maria Pedroso Ferrari said...

Hi! I saw the pictures of your post on Pinterest, that's how I've found your blog.
I really liked this post! Really nice idea to plant herbs and recycle things at the same time!

Thanks for sharing!

Regards from Brazil! =)

Anonymous said...

Does this idea work on cuttings?

Carola (ka-ro-la) said...

This is aeesome

gardener mimi said...

I live in Michigan and have been antsy for a couple of weeks wanting to do something related to gardening. This is an awesome idea. I have a large bay window in the kitchen and it will be full this weekend... This idea was right on time to relieve my "cabin fever" or "winter blues". Thank you so much for the idea!!!

Jennie said...

And this is why I LOVE this site!!! Can't wait to do this.....thank you!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, several variations of the string wick can be used for houseplants. My prayer plants and African violets have loved it for many years. But your seedling tricks are a great new item for my seed starting. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Genial

dorothy said...

I don't have the bottles either, but what I do is use ordinary picnic cups, different sizes. I punch a few holes in the bottom of each cup, put soil and seeds in cups, then I place in a cake pan. I keep water in the cake pan and refill when needed. Working great. I placed in a well lit room. Right now they are about 6 inch tall.



Anonymous said...

In using the coffee filter in place of the cap, do I pull the wick through the filter creating a small hole?

Carrie said...

I wanted to start multiple plants so I used small water bottles instead of the large 2 liters. I also used rounded shoelaces for the wicks. It works great! I haven't watered them since I planted them 2 weeks ago and they are already 4'' tall. Thanks for the great project!!

alternative-energy-gardning said...

Love this, cheap and easy to make. I definitely try it. Thanks for sharing.

Krystal Nagorka said...

I am wanting to grow my own garden this year but have a few delema's. One is that we will be moving cross country in September. 2 we are renting and I don't want to put the time, energy, and, money into having a proper garden. But I really want some fresh veggies over the summer. I've been saving pop bottles Just for this little garden idea I have in my head. I just have no idea if it will work. I also have been saving milk jugs, which I'm hoping I can use as planters. I was thinking i could just put one plant in each gallon milk jug. Like one lettuce plant in one and one pepper plant in another, and so on. I've also saved some bigger pop bottles and juice containers. Does anyone know if this will work for me? Or have any ideas? Also my last problem is that I don't have any windows that have direct sun light. My biggest brightest window faces eastward so it has morning sunlight but I wouldn't say its direct sun light. Would it be OK to start seedlings in this window? Or my other ideas is to turn my small basement bathroom into a little grow room. Could I buy a light bulb strong enough to provide enough light in a bathroom its very small. Like 3x4. Please advise! Thank you!

Lynn said...

We did this a few years ago in the kindergarten class at school. We sent home tons of flowers that year for Mother's Day!!! The kids had a blast...works so well...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! I really appreciate the instructions on how to add water later on.

@Krystal Nagorka - you might want to check out this blog for some gardening ideas: http://lifeonthebalcony.com/

Jennifer @ jenniferskitchen.com said...

This is a great idea!
I'm writing a post for my blog on creative seed starting containers
and would like to feature this idea and just wanted to make sure it was ok with you.
I will of course give you credit and link back to your site.

My blog is: http://jenniferskitchen.com/

Anonymous said...

Would this work for a cactus garden? If I used sand and rocks instead of dirt?

JulieSimpson said...

Greetings from New Zealand. I've followed your example and successfully set up some self-watering growers. They're working very well.

http://www.squarefooter.co.nz/2013/04/plastic-bottle-self-watering-growers.html

The seeds are now up and all's well.
Thanks for sharing the ideas

JulieSimpson said...

Here are our seeds up. Yay!

Troop Leader 21300 said...

I am going to use this with my Girl Scout troop - ages 5 through 12. They will make the self-waterers and I'll give them either seedlings (for the little ones who can't wait) or seeds (for the older girls). They will earn a Gardening badge, too!

Beverly Coffmon said...

I'm definitely going to try this! Meanwhile, I've forwarded the entire site to my daughter-in-law, who had mentioned the "possibility" of creating a garden this year! Hoping she's joins the site! I love it!

Lenny Webster. said...


Watcha mate,I'm living in Cyprus and this is just the job for seeds here. In Blighty(Britain) this would be great too, especially for my Grandkids, they may even take it to school as a project.
Here in Cyprus this method doesn't take long. I love it.
From CyprusLenny.

Kaleb Earl said...

I've been looking at ideas for a window herb garden, and this is PERFECT. I'm a student, so a couple times a year I go away for a week or so at a time. I think If I use 2 bottles for each one, I can make them with an extra-large reservoir.

I wonder, do you think certain herbs would work better in this kind of environment than others? Also, suggestions as to the kind of soil to use?

Anonymous said...

I tried that out several years ago here in Germany and it worked just great. Thanks for reminding me ... dont know why I ever gave it up.

Beverly Coffmon said...

I think this idea is great!! I'm getting ready to try it on my African Violets as well. One of the leaves I've been "starting" in a small glass bud vase has a couple small leaves on the new root system, which indicates it's time to "plant" in A.V. soil! Going to give it a try and then will report my findings here at a later date...thank you for this valuable suggestion of a self-watering bottle/container!

Marcia said...

Thank you for this. What a great recycle idea! Just planted some seeds, will plant up some new ones this way. Great to look at for kids of all ages...

Anonymous said...

once you plant them in the ground you can put the bottle over top to act like a little green house. When it gets too damp inside you just open the lid and the humidity regulates. This allows you to put out your plants earlier and if it get really cold at night it is really easy to cover with a sheet.

Anonymous said...

There are always extra lids at our grocery store, where you recycle the bottles.

Cindybrck said...

I am wondering do you think this would work for my pineapple tops? Have had them in soil for about 6 months changed the soil because the old soil got a white substance on it and the pots I have them in are 18 inch. But when I took them out to put new soil in they have not grown any new roots. And what do you think about using this as a orchid pot?

Faith b. said...

I love this idea, cause I want to grow my own herbs, but they need consistent watering-which I usually forget to do!
For those inquiring about the Venus Fly Traps, try the idea from others about making a "top" out of another soda bottle, because VFS's like a humid environment. It would sort of be like a terrarium! Hope this helps.
This is such a cool idea, I intend to buy some "starter" herbs at the local plant nursery. I'm not so good with seeds....

Hydroponics Equipment Specialists said...

Bravo to your watering and gardening tips. Every gardener should consider these or even those who just want to start building their own greenhouses.

Kaleb Earl said...

Problem I have encountered: The cotton string grew mould, which then ate through it. I think poly string is probably much better.

Anonymous said...

I just discovered something that maybe nobody has thought of. You know the Gain Dish Washing liquid sqezze bottle has a lid that already has a hole in it. I found out that the lid does fit on the 2 liter bottles. So save the effort of using to drill a hole in the 2 liter bottle lid.

CM said...

I am not sure I made the hole in the cap big enough, does it usually take a few hours for the water to seep through after first watering?

ASBloom said...

CM,
If the string isn't damp, it may not drain properly. Another thing you can try the first time is sticking a toothpick in the hole while it drains. This will allow the water to travel down the toothpick and drip off the end. It has something to do with surface tension. Once it's drained properly the first time and all of the soil/string are wet, it should work great.

CDP Information Systems said...

If you want an easier way to get labels off of any bottles all you have to do is spray it with 10W40. The oil will dissolve the glue and the label comes right off.

Ellena Jones said...

Nice blog, thanks for sharing tht idea try it myself. thank you :)

Seed Drill

Anonymous said...

This would also be a great project for assisted living/retirement homes, children's Sunday School classes - just so many possibilities!

Amy said...

I just made a few of these to start cuttings in; geraniums and begonias. Gatorade bottles sit nicely on my window ledge. Over the winter I'll try to propagate some perennial plants from seeds and in the spring I will start my vegetable and annual seeds in them. To everyone who wondered if you could grow plants other than those shown, I say just try it, what have you got to lose - it costs virtually nothing and you learn best by experimenting.

Tania Pearson said...

Thanks for the ideas, I'm a mom of three on Maui. Learning to grow things and teaching my kids in the process..

Anonymous said...

If you push the top(soil loaded part) down into the lower(water basin) part of this project can it create a seal between the two and cause a suction due to the capillary action of the water being pulled up the string that would overcome the capillary action and stop the flow of water?

I do realize that the forces acting here are negligible but i was wondering if anyone could offer some insight to help people solve problems they may be having.

Also, another step that could be taken to speed up the future process of watering might be to use a sharpie and mark a line on the backside of the water basin that indicates the "MAX FILL" for your bottle, so you can quickly go down the line and water all your bottle plants. Most likely an idea for people that have larger numbers of these.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, this is exactly what I was looking for. Just one quick question, if I were to add pebbles or sand at the bottom then layer the soil on top, would that work too?

craftmenot chicrafter said...

This is great project with my 6 year old son. Thru the clear bottle he can observe how the seeds grow and very eco friendly tools.

Ginger Walrus said...

I live in the tropics where the weather hardly gets lower that 30 degrees Celcius. But I've finally managed to start some plants from seeds that require soil temperatures 20-25 degrees Celcius (68 - 77 degrees Fahrenheit)to germinate by replacing the water in the bottom with ice instead. I just replace the ice whenever it melts.

Anonymous said...

I say, use the 2-litre or you may have to transplant right away. And maybe take your bottles 'round to visit other window sites that get natural light-- or start a few with your kitchen grow light and a few at another spot... in case it's some other "environmental" thing like a cold or warm (heater vent) draft that held 'em back last time. Good luck!