June 19, 2021

Wicking Pots

I'm always on the look-out for ideas to conserve water. I've been happy with my ollas, and here is another nifty idea, wicking pots. Container plants usually need a lot of watering, and I find them difficult to keep properly hydrated. The wicking pot solves those problems. The idea is to create a water reservoir in the bottom of a pot. This allows for watering from the bottom with no evaporation loss. An air space above the reservoir keeps the roots from growing into the water and drowning the plant.  Here's how I made ours.

Pots and perforated drainage pipe.

Anything with no drainage holes can be used as a pot. I chose something fairly decorative, since these are going on the front porch. 5-gallon buckets are common, as are 55-gallon drums cut in half to make two containers. It needs to hold water in the bottom, so anything without drainage holes will work. The perforated drainage pipe will create the water reservoir and air space. Any kind of pipe could be used, or plastic bottles. They just need a diameter of 4 to 6 inches. 

Each pot also needs...

Watering tube.

It should be long enough to stick out of the pot, and a diameter so that a garden hose can be used to fill the pot. 1.5 to 2 inch PVC works well, with the bottom cut at an angle.This will keep it from sitting flat on the bottom of the pot and preventing water from filling the reservoir. 

Pot with drainage pipe and watering tube.

The next step is to drill a drainage hole. It needs to be one inch below the top of the drainage pipe. This will create the necessary air space and keep water from flooding the pot. 

Drilling the drainage hole.

Next, is to add a barrier to keep the soil out of the water reservoir. Most people use some sort of landscape cloth, but cotton fabric or old cotton t-shirt fabric can be used.

I used landscape cloth.

Then the pots are filled with soil.

The fabric is fitted around the contour of the drainage pipe, so some of the soil is in contact with the water.

I placed these wicking pots on either side of the front porch steps. The slabs were from pillars on the original front porch, which were torn down. Dan added the trellises when he finished rebuilding it.

Ready to plant.

We want the pots to contain vining plants that will look pretty and help shade the front porch. 

Wicking pots containing transplanted Matt's Wild Cherry Tomatoes.

From what people say, wicking pots only need to be watered once a week. Sounds like an excellent kind of container gardening, doesn't it?


Rosalea said...

Your house looks lovely, Leigh. Those plants will set of your entrance beautifully. Great idea, as always!

Leigh said...

Thanks, Rosalea! Best of all, we'll be growing something edible. :)

Goatldi said...

That is a super idea and I have multiple container plants that’s where I started my blueberries . I have more that I can definitely use this idea and I love the idea of watering once a week.

You should be quite pleased with yourself. I think often times when people hear I’m homesteading they think about someone out in the middle of nowhere giving up any creature comforts or delights and just surviving day by day. I know whenever I tell people I was off the grid they immediately looked at me said “well do you mean you don’t have lights “?
So they really don’t know what we’re doing. Your post goes along way and showing that we can have creature comforts and decorative items and we enjoy them as much as “normal “ folks do. But they don’t need to waste and aren’t hard to make.

God bless the hard-working folks that brought homesteading into the 21st-century y’all rock!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, this looks super interesting! That said, I am not quite understanding the purpose of the drain pipes other than to create a space for the water to sit and the soil to sit on - is that correct?

SmartAlex said...

Wicking pots are awesome! When the plants get big and root bound you may have to water every couple of days in hot weather. I have NINE reservoir containers right now which I filled initially when I planted and in this first month I watered just one tomato plant. That was yesterday. And we haven't had much rain. A lot of this I credit to topping them off with the leaf mulch to stop the top drying out. Its just so much more efficient to put the water in the bottom so you know it didn't just run down the sides and drain out.

Leigh said...

Goatldi, thank you! There are so many creative ideas out there. This one is definitely a work-smarter-not-harder idea. I agree about aesthetics; I think they're important. I'm willing to go the rough and rugged route, but I like it better when things are visually appealing. :)

Leigh said...

TB, I confess it took me awhile to understand this concept. I must have looked at half a dozen or more videos before it finally clicked. You're correct, the drain pipes create a space for the water reservoir, and also for an air space to keep the roots from growing into the water and becoming water logged. I wouldn't have to be drain pipes, they're just cheap and often handy. Anything that can create the needed water pocket would do.

Leigh said...

Alex, I'm thrilled to know these have worked well for you. I'll remember that about the root binding. I chose the biggest pots I could find in hopes that won't happen. But I'll keep an eye on it. I mulched mine with wood chips, and that seems to be helping keep the soil moist.

Ed said...

I've owned several of those pots (prefabbed versions) over the years and they do work well though I have found I have to be selective on what type of plants will thrive in them. Some plants thrive more when their soil is allowed to dry out periodically and don't do well in them. But ones that require constant moist soils do really well. I think they also work much better outdoors than indoors where evaporation can be much slower.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Ah, okay. That makes more sense. Thank you!

Leigh said...

Ed, good point. It helps to know what the plants like!

Renee Nefe said...

this sounds a lot like some pots I bought a few years ago to plant my garden in when I had to move it into the sun...they're called EarthBox. They have a drainage hole so you can't overfill them with water and they also have a plastic cover (think shower cap) to hold the moisture in the pot longer. Zuki found the fill tubs to be very fun to chew on. She also enjoyed digging all the dirt out of them. LOL Maybe I can have my pots back in a year or two. sigh

Renee Nefe said...

oops, I meant tubes...not tubs. lol

Leigh said...

Renee, I seem to vaguely remember those. Weren't they kinda popular several years ago? I had to check out their site. Kind of a nice ready-made system. Maybe next year you can get new tubes and use yours again!

Cederq said...

So to be straight, any size tub or container will work fine as long as you apply the airgap? I have a vague recollection of using two five gallon tubs many years ago and wonder if that was a variation of this? I like the idea, does the color of the container have an effect, white versus dark?

Leigh said...

Kevin, as long as they don't have pre-drilled drainage holes in the bottom, I think they'd work find. Drilling your own drainage hole in the side will keep the water level just right. I don't think container color matters. When I was researching, it seemed people used all kinds and colors; all with success.