How Do Self-Watering Planters work?

A person holding and examining an Ella Square Artstone self watering planter

Even the most enthusiastic gardeners can struggle with watering. Am I watering too much? Did I water enough? Who will water my plants if I go away for a week?

If experienced gardeners have concerns, imagine those of novice gardeners.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way to remove the worries? So you could enjoy a patio with lush plants without the fear of dreaded root rot.

Well, stop worrying. Welcome to the world of self-watering planters, where your plants can care for themselves.

We'll give you the complete lowdown on how self-watering planters work. And why they're a dream come true for experienced and novice gardeners alike.

Self-Watering Planters Water from the Bottom Up

Traditionally, you water your plants using a watering can or garden hose. Plants receive water from the top down. But the issue is that you might look at the soil's surface and think the soil is wet.

Unfortunately, water might not have reached the plant's roots. And that's where and how plants access water ... at their roots.

Self-watering pots work by reversing the process using a sub-irrigation system. It maintains water at the plant's roots where required.

So, instead of a top-down process, you move to a bottom-up process that relies on capillary action.

The Science Behind Self-Watering Planters

Self-watering planters work on a simple yet ingenious principle: capillary action.

Plants absorb water through osmosis. The water then moves through the plant because of water potential differences. That movement (transpiration) occurs through osmosis, gravity, mechanical pressure, and capillary action.

When roots don't have contact with water, they can’t draw enough to keep plants from drooping. Sub-irrigation keeps a ready supply of water at the plant's roots.

Picture a straw soaking up liquid — that's capillary action in action! Self-watering planters harness the action through a wicking system. Plants drink when they need to and remain consistently hydrated.

The system adjusts to weather conditions. Thirsty plants require more water on hot, dry days, and the reservoir keeps it on hand.

The Components of Self-Watering Planters

First, the planter has a reservoir for water storage beneath the potting soil. Your mission is to keep that reservoir filled.

That reservoir, however, is separate from the soil. That's important because overwatering is one of gardeners' most common mistakes. Saturated soil prevents oxygen absorption. As a result, plant roots suffocate, killing the plant.

Next, there's a wicking system, typically made of cotton or felt. That system allows your plants and soil to draw water from the reservoir.

Your soil remains aerated so plants can breathe. Equally important, they can access water whenever needed.

Say Goodbye to Root Rot

Root rot, caused by fungal pathogens thriving in waterlogged soil, is a common concern for gardeners.

Self-watering planters, however, offer a practical solution to this problem. They deliver water directly to the roots, allowing excess moisture to evaporate through the soil surface.

As a result, self-watering planters maintain optimal soil moisture levels. They also minimize the water-collecting risk at the pot's bottom. The wicking action ensures that plants receive water as needed without drowning their roots.

You can effectively prevent root rot by monitoring the reservoir's water level. You'll also promote healthier, happier plants using self-watering planters.

Do Self-Watering Planters Need Drainage Holes?

If you've been gardening long enough, you've learned the merits of drainage. And no doubt you've repeatedly heard that planters must have drainage holes.

But that almost seems counterintuitive with self-planters. Do they need drainage holes when their trick is having a water reservoir?

There are two main types of self-watering planters:

Reservoir-based planters

These planters have a built-in reservoir at the bottom that holds water. The plant sits in a separate pot inside the planter, and a wicking material draws water up from the reservoir to the plant's roots.

These planters typically do not have drainage holes. You control the water level in the reservoir, so the excess water shouldn't drain out. However, some may include an overflow hole.

Sub-irrigated planters

These have a double bottom with a water reservoir below the plant's root zone. The plant sits directly in the bottom part of the planter. Capillary action draws water up through the soil.

Sub-irrigated planters may or may not have drainage holes. Some have a small fill tube as an overflow drain, preventing the plant from sitting in waterlogged soil.

How to Fill a Self-Watering Planter

Filling a self-watering planter is a straightforward process. Nevertheless, it's essential to do it correctly to ensure your plants receive the right amount of water.

Some self-watering planters have a separate fill tube or opening for adding water to the reservoir. Others may require you to remove a plug or lid to access it.

Use a watering can or hose to fill the reservoir to the recommended level indicated by the manufacturer. Be mindful not to overfill, which can lead to water overflowing or saturating the soil excessively.

After filling the reservoir, monitoring the water level regularly is essential, especially during hot or dry weather. Check the water level indicator if your planter has one. Otherwise, insert your finger into the soil to gauge moisture levels. If the soil feels dry, it's time to refill the reservoir.

The frequency of refilling depends on various factors:

  • The size of the planter
  • The type of plants
  • Environmental conditions
  • The season.

Generally, you may need to refill the reservoir every few days to once a week during the growing season. Scorching weather may require more frequent filling.

While adequately filling the reservoir is crucial, be cautious not to overfill. It can lead to waterlogging and root rot. If you see too much water around the plant, water less.

Indoor vs Outdoor Use

Outdoor and indoor plants thrive in self-watering planters.

Indoors, where temperature and light are stable, require less attention. You'll likely have to fill their reservoir less frequently.

Self-watering planters can be especially effective outdoors. They offer a convenient solution for maintaining plants in gardens, balconies, or patios.

Outdoor environments present different challenges, such as fluctuating temperatures, exposure to direct sunlight, and variable precipitation. Self-watering planters can help mitigate these challenges by providing a consistent water supply to plants.

That's particularly true, especially during hot and dry periods when you'll likely need to water more frequently. Self-watering planters with built-in reservoirs can also help conserve water outdoors by minimizing runoff and evaporation.

Summing Up the Advantages of Self-Watering Planters

Self-watering planters distribute water evenly throughout the potting mix. That ensures the plant's roots have constant access to moisture. As a result, they promote healthy growth, reducing the risk of overwatering and underwatering.

But they offer numerous other advantages, making their investment worthwhile.

Improve the Health of Your Plants

In addition to their practical benefits, self-watering planters can improve plant health. Consistent soil moisture levels promote better aeration. That helps prevent common issues such as root rot and fungal diseases.

It also means plant roots can take in water and nutrients better. So, you'll enjoy healthier, happier plants more resistant to environmental stressors.

Stop Struggling with Over or Underwatering

One of the major killers of potted plants is over or underwatering. You might even think you have it right until you see plants wilt or leaves turn yellow.

With self-watering planters, you avoid underwatering. Even if you forget to water, the reservoir has your back, keeping a steady water supply on hand.

You also avoid giving plants too much water. The bottom-up system lets plants drink when they want to. So, you substantially reduce your risk of root rot.

Conserve Water in Drought Conditions

Self-watering planters promote water efficiency and conservation.

First, you deliver water directly to the roots for improved efficiency. So, you avoid concerns about failing to water deep enough.

Second, you avoid spraying water over plant leaves. That can lead to plant diseases. Moreover, you'll lose some water to evaporation.

Equally important, you'll conserve water by putting it where it belongs. This is especially beneficial in regions prone to drought or for individuals looking to minimize their water usage.

Get Away Without Worrying About Your Plants

You can spend hours watering plants, especially outdoor plants. And the hotter it gets, the more frequently you'll have to water.

With self-watering planters, you can fill the reservoir, sit back, and relax. You need to check the fill level occasionally to ensure that there is enough water in the reservoir. Rather than watering multiple times during the week, you can likely get by doing so once or twice.

So get away for a week to visit friends or the shore. Your plants will be fine!

Decorative Artstone Planters

With Artstone self-watering planters, you'll enjoy all the benefits plus one. They look great!

Artstone planters feature a one-of-a-kind marbled look that fits any decor, inside or out. Their resin construction makes them incredibly durable yet lightweight. The planters are waterproof, frost and UV-resistant. So they'll last for years, even outdoors.

And you can select from numerous shapes and sizes:

Tack on the benefits of self-watering, and you'll enjoy gardening and plants like never. Artstone planters include a satisfaction guarantee to top things off!

Count on Root & Vessel for Quality Self-Watering Planters

Root & Vessel is your one-stop shop for decorative planters, including self-watering.

Our planters have a satisfaction guarantee, so you can depend on them whether you use them inside or outside.

We even have a rewards program for loyal customers to unlock special savings. Unlock the joys of gardening with our dazzling array of decorative planters!