Green Culture Singapore
Feature Article for May 2006
Text & Pictures by Mona Aman & Wilson Wong
Edited by Lynnette Terh
Online on 21 May 2006

Above: Commercial self-watering pots are
appealing to look at but can be expensive too!

Are you too busy with your life that you have no time to water your plants? Some of us give up gardening altogether but others who still want some greeneries at home may have resorted to using commercial hydroculture kits, self-watering pots or wicking systems to help us keep our plants hydrated.

Mona Aman, a member from Green Culture Singapore, shares with us how you can make your very own self-watering pot from very cheap materials that are easily available.

Some of the materials given in this article have been derived from numerous discussions she has participated in various overseas gesneriad forums. Mona has also improvised various aspects of this self-watering system to suit her needs.

She is a proud owner of hundreds of African violet plants, which are grown in a bedroom that has been specially converted to grow them. The self-watering pot is Mona's clever solution that minimises the labour of having to water each plant, pot by pot.

You can use this self-watering pot to grow your Afrian violets or any other plants at home or to keep them hydrated while you go on a short holiday.


Above: A Florist Gloxinia plant grown using
the self-watering system

Refering to the picture above, each self-watering pot consists of a reservoir to house the water or nutrient solution. To supply water to the plant, water is drawn via capillary action using a wick that has one end dipped in the reservoir and the other end stuck inside the potting mixture where the plant is grown in.

With time, the roots of the plant may follow the wick and eventually grow into reservoir of nutrient solution! Stare the picture above carefully - besides the thick, brown coloured wick, you should also be able to see some fine roots swimming inside the reservoir!


Depending on the version of self-watering pot you want to make, you will need the following:

Above: From left to right - disposable plastic food container, acrylic string and circular cutter.

1. A disposable plastic food container
2. Several acrylic strings or strips cut from an old panty hose
3. A circular cutter or soldering iron

Version 1:

Above left: A circular hole that has been cut on the lid of the disposable food container.
Above right: A pot sitting halfway into the reservior.
With the help of a circular cutter, cut a hole on the lid of a disposable food container that has a diameter that is large enough to hold a plant pot in place.

You can also use a soldering iron to melt a hole on the lid and then cut out the hole by using a pair of scissors.

Note that the size of the hole on the lid will determine how deep the pot will hang into the reservior of water. Ideally, the base of the plant pot should not be touching the water surface.

Version 2:

Above left: Two holes that have been cut on the lid of the disposable food container.
Above right: The wick is slipped through one of the holes on the lid and into the reservior.

You can also use a soldering iron to burn two holes on the lid of the disposable food container.

One of the holes will be a bigger one in which you can point the spout of your watering can that you can use to refill the reservior.

The other hole, which will be a smaller one, is the one where you pass the wick through.


The wick is the most important player in the self-watering pot. If the wrong material is used, the self-watering pot will not be able to fulfil its role. The wick is responsible for bringing the water from the reservoir to the root ball.

Suitable materials include acrylic strings, which you can buy from a shop that specialises in fishing gadgets or you can also use stripes from an old panty hose.

Things that you need to test:

Test the wicking material to see if it is able to soak up water to feed the soil inside a pot.

You will also need to determine the thickness of each wick, which can be done by braiding together several strings or panty hose strips.

Finally, you also need to find out the number of wicks you need to keep the root ball moist. For small pots, one wick may suffice but for larger ones, two or three may be required.


Above left: Secure one end of the wick to the tip of a screwdriver.
Above right: Push the wick into the root ball of plant via a drainage hole.

You can insert a wick into the root ball of an existing plant by using a chopstick or a screwdriver. Secure the wick at one end over the tip of a chopstick/screwdriver and push the wick through the drainage hole and into the root-ball. The wick should not fall out and you can test this by giving the wick a gentle tug.

If you are repotting a plant into the self-watering system:

Insert the wick through a drainage hole at the base of the pot. Fray out the end of the acrylic string that is to be in contact with the soil. If you are using a panty hose, cut and spread out the panty hose as much as you can. This is to increase the surface area of contact between the wicking material and the potting mix.


Because the food container is translucent and hence permeable to light, algal growth will ensue.

Hydrogen peroxide, available at a concentration of 6%, can be bought from the local pharmacy. Mix 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide of this concentration into 1 gallon of water.

Other people use Physan at the recommended dosage on the product bottle to prevent algal growth.

The non-chemical way is to wrap a sheet of aluminium foil around the reservoir to shield off light.


When you are using this self watering system, make sure the potting mixture in which your plant is grown in isn't too water retentive to the extent that the plant is constantly having wet feet. Some plants like African violets will succumb to crown rot if they are soaking wet all the time.

In the case of growing the African violet, Mona uses 1 part of vermiculite, 1 part of a peat-based African violet growing mix and 1 part of perlite. She recommends that the perlite component be increased, if required.

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