Water bottle plant waterer

DIY Slow Release Watering: Making A Plastic Bottle Irrigator For Plants

In the hot summer months, it’s important that we keep ourselves and our plants well hydrated. In the heat and sun, our bodies perspire to cool us down, and plants transpire in the midday heat too. Just as we rely on our water bottles throughout the day, plants can benefit from a slow release watering system as well. While you can go out and purchase some fancy irrigation systems, you can also recycle some of your own water bottles by making a plastic bottle irrigator. Continue reading to learn how to make a soda bottle drip feeder.

DIY Slow Release Watering

Slow release watering directly at the root zone helps a plant develop deep, vigorous roots, while replenishing the moisture aerial plant tissues lost to transpiration. It can also prevent many diseases that spread on the splashes of water. Crafty gardeners are always coming up with new ways to make DIY slow release watering systems. Whether made with PVC pipes, a five-gallon bucket, milk jugs or soda bottles, the concept is pretty much the same. Through a series of small holes, water is slowly released to a plant’s roots from a water reservoir of some sort.

Soda bottle irrigation allows you to repurpose all your used soda or other beverage bottles, saving space in the recycling bin. When making a slow release soda bottle irrigation system, it is recommended that you use BPA-free bottles for edibles, such as vegetable and herb plants. For ornamentals, any bottle can be used. Be sure to thoroughly wash out the bottles before using them, as the sugars in soda and other beverages can attract unwanted pests to the garden.

Making a Plastic Bottle Irrigator for Plants

Making a plastic bottle irrigator is a pretty simple project. All you need is a plastic bottle, something to make small holes (such as a nail, ice pick or small drill), and a sock or nylon (optional). You can use a 2-liter or 20-ounce soda bottle. The smaller bottles work better for container plants.

Punch 10-15 small holes all over the bottom half of the plastic bottle, including the bottom of the bottle. You can then place the plastic bottle in the sock or nylon. This prevents soil and roots from getting into the bottle and clogging up the holes.

The soda bottle irrigator is then planted in the garden or in a pot with its neck and lid opening above the soil level, next to a newly installed plant.

Thoroughly water the soil around the plant, then fill the plastic bottle irrigator with water. Some people find it is easiest to use a funnel to fill plastic bottle irrigators. The plastic bottle cap can be used to regulate the flow from the soda bottle irrigator. The tighter the cap is screwed on, the slower the water will seep out of the holes. To increase flow, partially unscrew the cap or remove it altogether. The cap also helps prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the plastic bottle and keeps soil out.

For a crazy plant lady like myself, the thought of going away for a long weekend is utterly overwhelming. And a vacation? Picture me breathing into a paper bag at the mere thought of it. After coming home to one too many sad, crispy plants, I’ve become more careful when it comes to my leafy friends.

Aside from hiring a plant sitter (that’s a real profession, btw), there are a few things you can do to keep your plants happy and hydrated while you’re away. These three self-watering planter hacks are just what you need to put your plant care on autopilot.

3 Self-Watering Planter Hacks

As with any self-watering planter, the idea is to let the plant water itself by either wicking water when needed or through a slow drip irrigation system of sorts. But you don’t have to spend a ton of money on specialty (read: expensive) pots. Just use materials you already have or repurpose old containers like soda bottles and milk cartons for a zero-waste alternative to pricey planters. Not only will the soil stay at the right moisture level but concentrating moisture at the roots may even help strengthen your plants root system, thus giving you stronger, more resilient plants.

There are lots of different ways to create self-watering planters, but different methods work better for different plants. Moisture loving ferns and hardy rubber plants have very different watering needs so you should tailor your methods accordingly. Same goes for size of the plant you’re watering. If you’re not sure which method is best for your plant, do a test run before hitting the road. You want to make sure the soil stays consistently damp but not soaking wet.

Here are my three favorite hacks for watering plants of all shapes and sizes.

Pebble Tray

This is the easiest way to water plants, especially for small plants that don’t need a ton of water. Simply line a small tray (if using metal, make sure it has a plastic liner to keep it from rusting) with small stones from a garden supply center or the dollar store. Place your plants in the tray and fill it with water until it comes about 1/8” above the stones.

The plants will absorb the water above the stones and then bask in the humidity created as the rest of the water evaporates.

Just make sure the water doesn’t sit more than 1/8” above the stones, as most plants don’t like having their roots sitting in water for long periods of time. Once absorbed, the plants will sit on the stones and not have their roots sitting in a pool of water.

Soda Bottle Planter

For medium size plants, you can turn an old plastic bottle into a self-watering planter with just a wick and a water reservoir. Trust me, it’s much less complicated than it sounds.

Materials

  • 2-liter soda bottle or plastic milk jug
  • 24 inch long piece of cotton string
  • Scissors
  • Phillips head screw driver
  1. Cut the bottle in half.
  2. Remove the plastic bottle cap and punch a hole all the way through using a screw driver.
  3. Feed the cotton string through the hole, stopping so that the cap rests at the 12-inch mark. Tie a knot on either side of the cap so the string can’t shift.
  4. Feed one of end of the string through the neck of the bottle and screw the cap back on.
  5. Fill the bottom half of the soda bottle with water, then invert the top half so the cap is pointing down. Nestle it inside the bottom half so that the loose end of the string submerges in the water.
  6. Fill the top half with the potting soil and your plant. Water consistently wicks up and into the soil, helping keep it at just the right moisture level.

If you don’t like decorating your house with plastic soda bottles, simply tuck the planter into a larger pot and voila! Form meets function.

Wine Bottle Drip Irrigation

A wine bottle makes the perfect drip irrigation system for larger plants. Simply punch a few holes in the cap, fill it with water and invert it in the potting soil so the water slowly drips out. But a word of warning: you should do a trial run for this one before leaving on vacation. You want to make sure the right amount of water drips from the bottle – not too much or too little.

Materials

  • Wine bottle (I prefer the kind with a screw on cap because it’s easier to refill, but you can also use a cork)
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  1. Remove the cap from the wine bottle.
  2. Gently hammer 2-3 small holes into the cap. If using a cork, hammer the nail lengthways through the cork.
  3. Fill the bottle with water and replace the cap. Invert the bottle to make sure some water drips out. If you think it’s not enough, add a few more holes.
  4. Invert the bottle and bury the neck about 3 inches deep in the soil. Check on your plant the next day to see if the soil around the bottle feels damp to the touch.

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Milk jugs are a simple (and free!) way to set up a drip irrigation system for garden plants. This idea uses the same principal as the ancient irrigation system using ollas – unglazed clay pots that are buried in the ground and filled with water, which seeps through the walls of the pot and waters the roots of the surrounding plants. This puts the water right where the plants need it and saves water that would otherwise be lost to runoff or evaporation.

Gallon sized milk jugs work best for use in a garden, though this same method can be used to water plants in containers with half-gallon jugs.

Begin by washing the milk jugs out with soap and warm water. Then you can either drill the holes in the jug with a small drill bit or use the handy tip in the video below – fill the jug with water, freeze it, then punch the holes into it with a hammer and nail or ice pick.

Bury the jug in the soil, leaving a few inches exposed. Leaving the lid on after filling will help prevent excess evaporation and will help keep mosquitoes from laying eggs inside the jugs. Simply use a hose or watering can to fill the jug with water as often as needed to water plants.

Slow drip, deep watering—such as from drip irrigation—is the best and least wasteful way to water the plants in your garden.

To make your own slow drip watering system for plants in your garden:

  1. Punch several small holes in the bottom of a plastic milk jug or juice container.
  2. Dig a hole next to the plant large enough for the jug.
  3. Place the jug in the hole with the top on so the top protrudes above ground level.
  4. Fill dirt back in around the jug.
  5. Remove the top from the jug and fill the jug with water.
  6. Put the top back on the jug loosely to keep dirt out and allow the water to drain.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

  • Plastic Jug Irrigation (video)
  • How to Water Plants in Your Yard (video)
  • Watering Tips (video)
  • Drip Irrigation Conserves Water (video)

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Danny Lipford: Well Tricia, it seems pretty close to be planting a plant so close to this one.

Tricia Craven Worley: Well, I agree with you. I wouldn’t dare plant a plant this close. I’m going to plant something a lot more exciting.

Danny Lipford: OK, what is that?

Tricia Craven Worley: How about a milk jug.

Danny Lipford: A milk jug, OK, all right. Explain this one to me.

Tricia Craven Worley: Well, you know here in southern California, we’ve had problems with water for ever and ever. We’ve had some good rains recently, thank goodness, and I’ve got a great green garden right now.

Danny Lipford: Sure do, yeah.

Tricia Craven Worley: But generally speaking, water’s a premium, and this is a great way to deliver water to a specific plant. What I’ve done is taken a gallon jug, milk jug—you could use a juice jug as well—and I’ve poked little holes in the bottom of it. Now, depending on how many holes you put, the water might seep through slower or more quickly.

Danny Lipford: Right.

Tricia Craven Worley: Now, what I’m going to do is I’m going to literally plant this in here. I keep the top on, because I want to be able to keep the dirt out as I’m piling it around.

Danny Lipford: Oh, I see, OK.

Tricia Craven Worley: And then after I do this, what I’m going to do is pour the water into it. As you can see, as I cover up the container, that little red…

Danny Lipford: Right, yeah. You’ll be able to find it a little bit.

Tricia Craven Worley: Exactly, you’ll be able to find it.

Danny Lipford: Now, is this better than really just coming out with a hose and watering the plant a few days at a time?

Tricia Craven Worley: Well, you know, that’s a really good point. Because you know in my opinion it’s much better. As this water goes in there, the water is going to go much more directly to the root, and give it that deep watering that plants just love, instead of just a splash.

Together with my friend Gilbert VAN DAMME (Zaffelare, Belgium) I have set up some successful experiments with vertical gardening in “container towers”.

We are using all kinds of recycled containers, e.g. plastic bottles, pots, buckets. The containers are stacked into “towers”.

Today, I will describe the way how to start a “bottle tower”, illustrating the different steps with some photos:

2011-09-07 – Step 1 :We leave the lid on bottle No. 1 (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 2 : We cut the bottom part of bottle No. 1 (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 3 : Bottom part of the bottle No. 1 cut off (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 4 : With a sharp object (here scissors) the wall of bottle No. 1 is perforated at 2-4″ (5-10 cm) from the top of the lid (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 5 : A second perforation (drainage hole) is made diagonally across the bottle No. 1. Below the 2 holes a small reserve of water is kept in the bottle. Through these drainage holes a possible surplus of water can be evacuated(Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 6 : Bottle No. 1 is filled with potting soil (or a mixture of dirt and manure) up to 1-2″ (2,5-5 cm) of the edge of the bottle (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 7 : Bottle No. 1 is the bottom bottle of the future tower (Photo WVC)2011-09-07 – Step 8 : For the next 3 bottles (No. 2, 3 and 4, without the 2 drainage holes) we take the lid off and cut the bottom part (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 9 : After filling the 3 bottles (No. 2, 3 and 4) with potting soil, they will be put upon the bottom bottle of the tower (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 10 : A tower of the 4 bottles (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 11 : The bottle tower is kept upright with a couple of simple wires (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 12 : We use the top part of a bottle (No. 5, without the lid) as a funnel and push the bottleneck into the soil of the upper bottle No. 4 (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 13 : A bottle No. 6 will be used as a watertank on top of the funnel (Bottle No. 5). Therefore, a small (1 mm) perforation of the lid is made (here with a drill) (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 14 : Bottle no. 6 is the top bottle, used as a watertank, water running slowly through this small hole (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 15 : Watertank bottle No. 6 is pushed into bottle No. 5, the funnel (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 16 : The whole tower is now gradually moistened by pouring water in the top bottle No. 6 with its perforated lid. Water drips into the funnel (Bottle No. 5) and through this it infiltrates into the potting soil of bottles No. 4, 3, 2 and 1, where a possible surplus of water will be evacuated through the 2 drainage holes in the wall (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 17 : Water runs slowly from the watertank (Bottle No. 6) into the funnel (Bottle No. 5) and from there into the soil of Bottle No. 4 (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 17 : Water running slowly from the watertank (Bottle No. 6) into the funnel (Bottle No. 5) (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 18 : With a sharp knife we cut a horizontal slit and two vertical slits in Bottles No. 4, 3, 2 and 1(Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 19 : Thus a small “window” is created in Bottles No. 4, 3, 2 and 1 (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 20 : With a finger one can push a small cavity in the potting soil (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 21 : The rootball of seedlings or young plants can be planted in the “window” of each bottle (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 22 : Pretty soon new roots will be formed in the humid potting soil and the young plants will start their growth without to be watered regularly, because the complete tower is almost not loosing water (almost no evaporation) (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 23 : It takes only a couple of weeks to see all the species of vegetables and herbs, planted in the “bottle windows”, developing into fantastic fresh food, full of vitamins and mineral elements (Photo WVC) 2011-09-07 – Step 23 : A remarkable kitchen garden is born with minimal means and efforts. It can be set up at any location in rural and urban areas, a very effective tool in the combat of hunger, malnutrition and poverty (Photo WVC)

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