How self-watering planters can help your plants thrive

Consistency wins over random watering.

Are you prone to overwatering or underwatering plants in containers, or do you simply forget to do it altogether? Are they left with yellow leaves and sodden roots, or do they appear limp and lacklustre, as if dying of thirst?  

If you’ve answered yes, self-watering planters could be the answer. They regulate your watering pattern to ensure your plants get everything they want, just when they need it. And they save water in the garden, by only using exactly what’s needed.

Wondering how they work? We’ve got the lowdown and can give you a taste of the options are currently on the market. But first, here’s a little background on why it’s important to get watering right.

White self-watering planter with young plantsCredit: Shutterstock/dennispentek

According to the RHS, not many plants will survive waterlogging. It states: “Prolonged periods of sitting in soil saturated with water reduces the oxygen available to the roots and causes yellow leaves, root rot and death.”   

This is a greater issue for plants in containers than those placed directly into the ground, as drainage is likely to be more problematic, with less opportunity for excess water to escape.  

Problems also occur when plants in containers aren’t watered enough. Their leaves will wilt, and the soil will become too light and dry. You may also notice that the plant’s growth is slower than expected. Once again, it’s more of an issue with plants in pots, as they can’t pull water from the expanse of surrounding soil in the ground.  

How can self-watering planters help gardeners?

They do the work for you

Unfortunately, we’re not all blessed with green fingers, and although our plant-watering intentions may be admirable, sometimes the end result is not always what we would wish for.   

Self-watering pots aim to take the hard work out of knowing when your plants need watering. They create consistency with watering and eliminate human error, keeping your plants hydrated when they need it. How often have you got distracted or forgotten to water your plants, returning to find your plants have seen better days? Or how many times have you overwatered or underwatered your plants, leaving them drenched or too dry?  

Self-watering planters will certainly save you time, but you’ll still need to check in on your plants, because although they are described as ‘self-watering’, the water reservoir will need topping up.  

How do self-watering planters work?

By watering your plants only when they need it

Self-watering pots work by storing water in a reservoir, which, for most planters, is based in the bottom of the planter. This will need to be filled up, but there’s no damage caused by pouring in too much water, as there should be an overflow hole that allows excess water to be displaced.  

The plant is fed by capillary action and the soil ‘wicks’ up the water from the reservoir, supplying moisture to the plant’s roots. This method enables the plant to feed when it needs to and helps achieve a consistent moisture level within the soil, eliminating the need to work out when and how much your plants need watering.

Do self-watering planters save water?

Absolutely – they are very efficient

Self-watering planters use water more efficiently than plants watered by hand, as they aren’t reliant on a gardener’s over-zealous guesswork. The plant is provided with what it needs through the capillary method, rather than being overwatered. 

Another way to save water in the garden is to fill the self-watering reservoir with rainwater collected from a water butt. Our guide on how to get free water saving devices can help you source a reservoir for less.   

Are all self-watering pots the same?

Planters for different purposes

There is a range of self-watering containers available to buy – from decorative options to house your prized flowers and shrubs to practical containers for vegetable gardeners, and vertical options for those where space is at a premium.    

The watering system in vertical containers – think living walls – works slightly differently from the irrigation method for container pots. The water reservoir is based at the top of the planter rather than at the bottom, and the water is fed down through a capillary felt (an absorbent material), which then allows the plants to absorb the moisture they need. 

What do they look like?

Self-watering pots look like standard containers

A self-watering container for the garden will look like any other garden container. The top section will contain the plant with the potting soil and the lower chamber will contain the water reserve. The reserve will vary in size depending on the pot, but as a standard guide, bigger pots will contain larger water reserves.  

Extra features to look out for

Some self-watering pots will include extra features, such as water level indicators to let you know when the water reservoir needs topping up, or a set of wheels to reposition a heavy pot in the garden. And although a water overflow often comes as standard, it’s worth checking to see if one’s included. 

The benefits of using a self-watering pot 

Why you might want to invest

  1. All nutrients are kept inside the pot, as nothing is flushed away with excess water. This means if you add fertiliser to the water, it will be used by the plant and won’t be wasted. 
  2. The watering method makes it harder to overwater plants, so less water is wasted.  
  3. Popping away for a day or two? No problem. You’ll return home to find your plants are still in peak condition.

The disadvantages of using a self-watering pot 

They can be pricey, and not for every plant

  1. Water-hungry plants such as aquatic plants that need consistently moist soil, will not thrive in a self-watering pot. Conversely, those that prefer their soil to dry out between watering, such as cacti, succulents and orchids, may also find it difficult to thrive. 
  2. Expect to pay more for a self-watering pot than a standard container as they have more parts to help them function. 
  3. Excess water in the reservoir can become a breeding ground for mosquitos, as they like still and stagnant water.  

Three of the best self-watering planters

Try these self-watering options outside

1. Great for modern patio gardens

The Vivo range from Elho is not only self-watering but moveable too, with invisible wheels that make it easy to reposition in your garden. The pot also includes a handy plug at the bottom of the water reservoir to prevent it from flooding during heavy rain.

Elho self-watering planters placed around outside seating areaCredit: Elho

The range is made with recycled plastic, which gives the coloured pots a slight nuance, and they are also 100% recyclable. Available as a cube or rectangular planter in white, living concrete and living black – it’s a perfect match for contemporary and urban gardens. 

Featured product

Vivo Next Square 30cm Planter in White

RRP: £43.99

Vivo Next Square 30cm Planter in White

2. Great for vertical planting

If you’re happy to do a little DIY, you might be interested in the PlantBox vertical garden. Bring your eye upwards and show off your flowers, foliage and herbs while brightening up an unsightly wall or small space. You can opt for three, five or 10 troughs, with the largest system measuring 1.2 metres (3ft 11in) across. The troughs simply need stacking together and fixing to a suitable wall or frame.

Living wall plantboxCredit: Simon Orchard Garden Design/Plantbox

Water is added to the reservoir at the top of the living wall before capillary felt ‘wicks’ the right amount of water into the plants’ root zone. With each trough holding 1.8l (about three pints) of water, the plants can go one week in peak summer – and up to one month during autumn and winter – without topping up.  

And if you’re uncertain about what to grow, there are options to purchase plant bundles depending on whether you have a sunny or shady aspect, are looking to grow a herb wall, or would prefer an indoor jungle. 

Featured product

PlantBox Living Wall

RRP: From £72.99

PlantBox Living Wall

3. Great for growing vegetables

This TRIO cottage planter from Lechuza is ideal for fruit and vegetables that need extra support as they grow, as you can add a supporting trellis. Leuchuza also says the frame works well as a patio divider or privacy screen.

Self-watering planters container applesCredit: Lechuza

As the name reveals, the wicker-style planter contains three removable plant liners, each with its own water-level indicator. The container measures 100cm (39in) long by 32.5cm (12.8in) wide and 34.5cm (13.6in) deep and is available in a choice of white, granite, mocha, light grey and sand brown. It retails for £165.99, while the trellis costs an extra £51.99.

Featured product

TRIO Cottage 30 planter in Mocha

RRP: £165.99

TRIO Cottage 30 planter in Mocha
Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

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With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.