What are Self-Watering Planters and Containers?

By Shannon McKee
Published: May 12, 2017 | Last updated: April 27, 2021 01:12:37
Key Takeaways

Self-watering planters and containers are convenient and practical, but are they a cure-all for gardeners looking to save on labor? Shannon McKee examines the pros and cons of this popular gardening method.

Self-watering containers are an option gardeners should consider when examining the different gardening options on the market.


These containers have a reservoir in the bottom of the pot that allows growers to add extra water that provides a more consistent source of water for the plant.

They come in a variety of reservoir sizes and there are a variety of ways the water moves into the media. There can be pros and cons to growing in self-watering containers, depending on your gardening needs.


The most basic type of self-watering container has a small chamber on the bottom of the pot where water is wicked up through the media from the reservoir. In most cases, these pots are a good way to keep the growing media moist for plants that require frequent watering throughout the day.

These basic self-watering containers are the least expensive types of self-watering container on the market, but still cost a little more than standard containers without reservoirs. Keep in mind that some plants can have expansive root systems that can become waterlogged if they find their way into the water reservoir area.

If you’re going this route, another thing to remember is that it is possible these pots will increase the soil’s temperature as there will be less soil to help insulate the roots, depending on the size of the pot and its material.


Most self-watering containers come with instructions on proper watering techniques and whether or not a hole needs to be added for outdoor use, which is intended to prevent rain from overwatering the soil.

There is usually a hole towards the bottom of the pot where the water should be added to the reservoir, but this does not allow for rain water to exit the media if there is a heavy downpour in your area.


Forgetting to add water to the reservoir can also be a problem with this type of pot, especially since the reservoir is usually on the small size, which may result in the soil completely drying out if you’re not careful.

Aside from the basic self-watering containers, there are others on the market that are a little more technical in how the water reservoir applies the water. These particular containers can also be a little more expensive than other options, depending on the features they have.

Similar to the basic self-watering pots in that they have a separate area for water, the more advanced self-watering containers often have a larger reservoir and a tube with a water level indicator. The water is either wicked up naturally or through the use of drip irrigation and/or a water pump, and they also offer other perks such as built-in places to add stakes and ways to add nutrients.

There are even newer containers that are on wheels, which allows for easy portability. Many of today’s self-watering planters are sleek and stylish as well, adding to the wide variety available to growers.

In summary, the pros of using self-watering pots and containers are plentiful. They reduce the frequency of watering plants; they offer features such as water level indicators that make it easy for beginning gardeners; and they are perfect for gardeners who are away from home on occasion and don’t want to worry about asking family or friends to come over to water often.

Some growers feel the containers help with water conservation, as they only apply enough water for the plants to use and there is no runoff. However, there are some cons in that these pots and containers tend to be more expensive than other options.

They can cause some plants to have waterlogged roots; they might lure gardeners into forgetting to check on reservoirs; and their improper use might be detrimental to the health of the plants.

Following the instructions is a good way to ensure any type of container is used properly to create a healthy environment for your plants.

Overall, self-watering pots can be a blessing for gardeners who are not able to always water their plants in a timely fashion, but every gardener has to determine whether or not these are the right containers to suit their purposes.


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Written by Shannon McKee | Freelance Writer, Gardener

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Shannon McKee lives in Ohio and has been a freelance writer for several years now, including on her blog, Nicknamed by loved ones a garden hoarder over the past few years, she grows a wide variety of plants in her urban garden.

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