Thinking of having an irrigation system? Here’s exactly what you need to know before building a self-watering garden bed for your plants. Be sure to also check out our DIY planter box and our DIY backyard greenhouses.
Summer is upon us! And that means it’s time to experiment with new plants and planting methods in your garden.
Whether you’re just getting started or have been DIY-ing for a while, this season is the perfect time to try the latest DIY trend that’s been making the rounds. Self-watering garden beds are the talk of the town, and DIY sub-irrigated planters are the most sustainable option for giving your green thumb something to work on.
Inexpensive and nature-friendly, this method gives your plants room to thrive at their own pace. Plus, there are a ton of different styles and designs that can be constructed in a matter of a few hours! From perforated water pipes to a full-fledged water storage reservoir, the options are virtually endless and built around your comfort.
So, if you’re looking to jazz up your backyard by building a self-watering garden bed, then read on. We’ve got all that you need to know before you start your very own sub-irrigated garden.
Be sure to also check out our DIY rain barrel, which collects water without using gutters.
Benefits of Self-Watering
The biggest benefit of self-watering is that your plants will finally get the nutrition they need, on their own terms.
Our plants are living beings too and they know best when it comes to their needs. With self-watering, they’ll get to “water themselves” through the sub-irrigation system you build for them!
Not only will they get to take water from their very own little reservoir as and when they need it, but you can also take a step back and relax. No more guessing games!
All you’ll have to do is fill the reservoir below your plants whenever it gets empty. This guarantees consistency, and your plants can maintain their desired moisture level through transpiration.
Say goodbye to the million mental alarms that you have to set to keep your plants watered and in good health. With self-watering, you rest assured!
Things to Be Careful of with Self-Watering
While self-watering is one of the best ways to begin your new gardening adventure, if you are a building a self-watering garden bed, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
Toxic mineral buildup
Due to the process of transpiration and evaporation, several dissolved salts and minerals are left behind on the topsoil leading to a buildup. This can be harmful to the plants and for your consumption.
To tackle this, remove the reservoir in between and flush out the soil with fresh water. Avoid using water with a high salt content to water your plants, and don’t use liquid fertilizers.
Change the potting mix during the new growing season and use compost instead for wholesome and organic plant growth.
Self-watering planters without an overflow opening can become risky for your plants. Too much contact with the water can cause the roots to rot and eventually plant death.
The best way to avoid this is by inserting an overflow pipe or outlet such that the water can flow outside if the water level increases.
This also maintains the balanced moisture of the soil and helps in the growth of healthy plants.
The water reservoir and drainage holes are quick to become a breeding ground for pesky mosquitoes.
Besides being a huge health hazard, it’s also not great for your plants.
Clean the reservoir and drainage pipes periodically to avoid this from happening. Flush out the water every few days and plug the holes with a pot scrubber to prevent insects from flying in.
How Does Self-Watering Work?
The science behind self-watering is pretty straightforward.
It follows the method of sub-irrigation, where plants are watered from below rather than above. It’s extremely natural and organic and allows the plant to draw water through the process of transpiration.
Some self-watering systems also make use of overhead watering through irrigation tubes (drip irrigation) or overhead showers, but the choice is yours.
The roots of the plants draw water from the reservoir below, as and when they need it. This water then reaches the leaves through osmosis and is used up for energy production.
In this method, the plant gets to maintain its required moisture content and feels comfortable in its original natural habitat. It’s the best way to ensure that your plant remains healthy and happy!
Plant parents needn’t stress over under-watering or over-watering their saplings. A self-watering raised container garden is also much less wasteful, as plants take in only as much as they need at a time. All you have to do is refill the container from time to time when it empties.
Kits & Self-Watering Pots
If you aren’t sure about building a self-watering garden bed, there are plenty of kits and self-watering pots available online and in garden stores ranging across different price points.
We’ve rounded up some of the best picks that you can buy online below:
GardenBasix Planter Pot – This multipurpose window planter comes with drainage holes at the bottom and can store water for up to a week!
Glowpear Mini Bench Planter – Contemporary and chic, this mini planter makes gardening possible in even the smallest of spaces. It has a generous soil depth and is great for flowers and herbs.
Amazing Creation Window Herb Planter Box – Rectangular and available in a pack of three, this planter allows your plants and the roots ample room to grow. It’s also sturdy and crack-resistant – the best for your window garden.
Building Your Own Self-Watering Bed
If you’re thinking of building a self-watering garden bed, there is some prior planning you’ll need to do.
First, you’ll have to zero in on the area where you want to create your little garden, ascertain the sunlight available, and decide on the kind of plants you want to grow.
We recommend a beautiful flower or vegetable garden outdoors that’ll be sure to stand out! Just make sure that your planter receives around six hours of sunlight, and you’ll be good to go.
With some simple and easily available materials, you can design your very own DIY garden bed in just a few steps.
This is by far the simplest and most fool-proof way of ensuring a healthy garden with minimal hassles involved.
A drip irrigation system minimizes the number of problems that come up when you’re considering how to make self-watering garden beds.
Amy from Get Busy Gardening provides a detailed guide on how to build your own system from scratch. You can even buy the kits online or from stores near you.
All you need to do is install the system and position it near your pots and planters. It hooks right into your garden hose or spigot so that all your plants are uniformly watered once you turn the tap on.
Automatic timers make things even simpler! Your plants will be watered at the appropriate times with barely any effort on your end.
Not only will it help create a proper routine for watering your plants, but also make it so much easier to ensure they stay adequately hydrated.
It’s a win-win for both the plants and plant parents!
Wicking is the process by which the roots of a plant absorb water through their capillaries. It is an essential part of the self-watering technique and ensures that the plant gets its necessary nutrients.
One step you can take while building your self-watering container garden is to gently tease the roots toward the bottom of the reservoir to help them stay in contact with it and draw in water whenever needed.
A more effective option that keeps your roots from rotting under constant contact with water is to use wicking material.
Soil is a great wicking material in itself. The best way to ensure wicking is to run a perforated tube through the soil and into the reservoir. This allows the soil and water to mix and keeps the surface moist.
Make sure that you insert a drain tube, as mentioned in this blog by Family Handyman. This ensures that excess water can be drained out when not in use while also helping to allow steady absorption.
When building a DIY watering system, you’ll want to look at cost-effective and inexpensive options that do the trick. Here’s where the handy PVC pipe comes in!
Make sure to include an inlet while you’re building your own self-watering raised bed. Through this, you can refill the water reservoir from time to time. PVC pipes are a great option for the same.
The Frugal Upstate mentions a super-easy way of building your self-watering irrigation system with low-cost materials that work like a charm.
They insert the PVC pipe through the soil layer and into the reservoir so that you can keep refilling the water source whenever it runs dry. It’s cheap, sturdy, and reliable with no worry of damaging the top layer. A true hack, unlike any other!
Constructing Your Garden Bed
Wondering how to make self-watering garden beds for your dream garden from scratch? Follow a few easy steps and customize it as you like to create the best-ever DIY sub-irrigated garden bed this summer.
This is arguably one of the easiest projects you’ll ever take up but yields insanely satisfactory results too!
Construct the frame
Pick the location where you would like to put the planter. It should be protected from the harsh weather and receive quality sunlight. Also, note that it’s best to build the container at the spot you intend for it to stay because the container will be too heavy to carry.
Begin by building the end frames for your planter. For this, measure the area that you’d like your planter to cover. You can use any treated wood for the same, or even use plastic or metal, whichever you prefer.
We recommend rectangular containers, so cut your material into the preferred lengths. Attach your longboards to the short ends and reinforce them with pieces of wood at the joints.
Clad your frame with additional wood or metal and secure the container with a rubber liner on the interior. This will keep the wood from rotting.
Add additional cladding and trim to secure your structure and give it a professional finish.
Add an overflow
Trust me, you don’t want your plants to be destroyed due to excess moisture. That’s why we recommend adding an overflow that will regulate the water level in the reservoir.
Measure halfway up from the bottom of the planter bed and drill a hole. Through this hole, insert a tube or PVC pipe that will act as an outlet for the excess water.
Cement it into place and cover the opening with a bit of landscaping fabric. This will keep insects from entering the reservoir.
Add a perforated pipe and layer of rock
Add a perforated pipe that will carry the water and a layer of rocks to hold the pipe and water in place.
Cover it with additional landscaping fabric to build your top planter on.
Lay Out the soil and plant
Cover your landscaping fabric with garden soil or your potting mix. Around one cubic yard should do.
And that’s it! Plant your seedlings, and you are done building a self-watering garden bed!
From vegetables to tropical plants, herbs to annuals and perennials, building a self-watering gardening bed works for almost all plants.
This includes African violets, snake plants, monstera, herbs, garlic, tomato, and more.
However, one type of plant you’ll want to avoid is succulents. These are plants that don’t require moist soil and can retain water for longer periods of time. Eg: cacti, echeveria, and so on.
Thirsty plants like fiber-optic plants may also struggle under a self-watering system because they require constant watering.
When it comes to self-watering planters, good-quality potting soil is your best bet.
Commercial potting soils made specifically for self-watering planters are easily available in stores as well as online. You can also make your own mix with pea moss, coconut coir, perlite, and compost.
But remember, never use dry potting mix. Always moisten your mix before using it.
The bottom layer of a self-watering planter is the reservoir. This is the section that holds the water that your plants use. It also consists of a pipe or the wick that helps in transferring the water to the overhead layer for transpiration.
Make sure you line it with a rubber membrane to keep the wood from rotting or the metal from rusting (depending on the material your box is made of).
If your planter container doesn’t have drainage holes, then simply line it with gravel or sand and cover it with a permeable cloth. This will ensure that the excess water is drained out with little to no difficulty.
Watering your self-watering raised bed depends on the temperature and weather. During the summers, your plants will want more water. Especially during hot months, you’ll find that you might need to water once or twice a day.
In the winter, however, you may have to water once every few days. And in the rainy season, you can sometimes go weeks without watering the beds.
You’ll just have to keep a check on the water level in your reservoir and refill whenever it seems used up.
Whether it’s a beautiful little flower patch or your very own self-watering vegetable garden, you’ll need to determine is a method to water your plants.
The best way to water your raised garden bed is through a consistent automatic system. Both sub-irrigation and drip irrigation work like a charm.
Always keep in mind the weather and the amount of water your plants need and adjust your drip irrigation timer accordingly.
With sub-irrigation, be on the lookout for signs of under-watering and make sure that your reservoir doesn’t dry out. Along the same lines, don’t over-water them either, or you’ll end up running the risk of damaging the topsoil which will eventually lead to plant death.
Some self-watering planter kits come with fertilizer strips, which you can use while planting new saplings.
While it is great to use dry, granular fertilizer mixed in with soil, nothing beats compost. And homemade compost is by far the best!
Good luck building a self-watering garden bed! I’m sure you’re plants will be happy!