Why To Use Two Containers When Making A Self-Watering Container

Posted on May 7 2010 - 3:36am by Mike Lieberman

When I started my balcony garden this year, I changed up how I was making the self-watering containers. Last year I used vinyl tile to separate the reservoir from the plant and soil.

It worked well and served it’s purpose, but I learned my lesson when breaking them down. The containers froze up, and I had to wait three months until I was able to break them down.

As I was breaking them down, I noticed that the weight of some of the soil and plants was causing the tile to break. This caused the plants to become to wet and not allow them to drain.

That got me thinking about using two containers. They are called the reservoir and planting containers. The planting container holds the soil and plant. It has holes cut into the bottom for drainage, the pipe and the wicking basket. The reservoir container holds the wicking basket and the water.

One main difference in how the self-watering containers work is that you can easily remove the planting container from the reservoir container. This makes breaking them down a hell of a lot easier.

It also allows for better separation between the reservoir and the soil. All of the holes at the bottom of the planting container give the soil the chance to drain out any excess moisture and for the roots some more breathing room.

Using the vinyl tile definitely worked, but using two containers is much more sturdy and reliable design. Do you think using two containers is better than vinyl tiles?


12 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Chia May 7, 2010 at 4:37 pm -

    I my father-in-law used the two bucket method. I did the one bucket and cut out the lid to use (in place of the vinyl tile). I'm not sure which one is better yet, so we'll see at the end of the season.

    p.s. I love your site! Thanks for all the great info.

  2. sustainahillbilly May 7, 2010 at 6:02 pm -

    Thanks for this topic! I bought a few commercially made self-watering planters about 5 years ago that I loved… but I haven't been able to find them since! I wish I had bought a lot more of them but I thought they were a regular product. It seems much more economical to make my own, though.

  3. Mike Lieberman May 7, 2010 at 10:43 pm -

    Are you talking about EarthBoxes? If so, I've never used, but know that they are much more expensive. These are definitely much cheaper even if you buy all the materials.

  4. Mike Lieberman May 7, 2010 at 10:43 pm -

    Nice. It's all about experimenting and seeing what works.

  5. MsChristy May 8, 2010 at 1:14 am -

    If you're using two containers, is there enough space in the bottom to simply drill a filling hole in the bottom container to replenish the water instead of using copper pipe? If a water hose isn't handy, a funnel and plastic tubing would work with a watering can. I might have to try this with a few five gallon buckets and see what happens!

  6. Mike Lieberman May 9, 2010 at 6:10 pm -

    I really like that idea and am going to experiment with it. Hmm…now you got me thinking. Would make it even cheaper that way. Thanks!

  7. Julianne Idleman May 29, 2011 at 4:55 am -

    We have two Earth Boxes that we plan to test alongside your new two bucket method. Did you ever decide to cut a filling hole into the side as MsChristy suggested, I’d love to see pictures. Sounds to me like it could be a lot easier for the kids to water that way.

  8. Mike Lieberman May 31, 2011 at 7:38 am -

    Check the how-to on this page. I don’t use pipe anymore and just pour straight into the reservoir container.


    Keep me updated on your experiment.

  9. Rolf June 8, 2012 at 8:42 am -

    Good work! One question: I see you lifting the planting bucket off from the reservoir bucket. Are there any problems with the soil falling trough the 3-inch hole when you do that, especially since it will be very moist? Or is there anything placed over the hole to prevent that from happening?

  10. Mike Lieberman June 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm -

    The soil stays in the planting container. Some might fall through, but not all of it.

  11. Natalia October 31, 2013 at 9:27 am -

    Hi Mike. I’m hoping you still respond to comments here. I live in South Florida in a townhome with a tiny back patio, but I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so I’m using your method. Because we’re in zone 10b, this is prime planting/growing season. My problem is, about a month and a half after setting up my buckets, the water in them smells *really* bad (like excrement). I’m not sure how I can empty that nasty water out and put in fresh without losing all the soil out of the bottom of the planting container. Any advice?

  12. Ragtimelil October 19, 2014 at 7:11 am -

    What do you mean by “breaking down?”

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