A Guide to Self-Watering Systems

Ever had to leave your plants alone to go on a vacation or work trip? Maybe you have a large plant collection that needs extensive upkeep to stay lush? Or, perhaps, you’ve struggled with watering your green pets consistently?

Either way, you’ve probably already heard of plant self-watering systems as being the solution to all these problems. However, one question remains—should you actually use any of them?

Before we dive into the topic, here are some things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking of trying out any self-watering systems:

  • This type of watering isn’t suitable for all plants. Although there’s a great deal of water-loving houseplants with rainforest origins, there are those that cannot handle sitting in moist soil all the time. Pick your battles wisely—a fern will appreciate having a self-watering system far more than a succulent.
  • Some potting mixes don’t gel well with automatic watering systems. Have you ever tried watering a plant only for the water to run off, barely soaking the soil at all? That happens when the substrate is hydrophobic, either due to its composition or becoming coated with water-repelling particles. Self-watering systems won’t be able to sustain your plant in this case, so consider switching out the old potting mix if you want to use them.
  • You’ll still need to keep an eye on your plant. It’s easy to fall into a “set it and forget it” mindset when using a self-watering system, but you shouldn’t let its convenience distract you from checking up on your plant’s wellbeing. Look out for any root issues, maintain the watering system itself, and switch back to manual watering if need be.

Water Cones (or Globes)

Using water cones and globes is the easiest way to implement a self-watering system. They both work by slowly releasing water through small pores in their walls, and the difference between them is mostly in that spikes tend to require separate water reservoirs, while globes have them built in.


  • Quick to set up
  • Easy to use
  • Can work as decorative items


  • Can damage the roots upon insertion into the soil
  • Are prone to releasing too much water at once
  • Big pots may require multiple spikes/globes
  • Can water the soil unevenly

Wick Watering

This method of watering is often used in emergency situations, such as when you need to leave for a while and don’t have people available to plant-sit. All it requires is a container with water placed above the plant and a wick extended down from it into the soil; alternatively, you can insert a short wick into the bottom of the pot and place it on top of the water reservoir. As the soil in the pot dries out, it “pulls” the water in from the wick via capillary action, thus ensuring that the plant always gets moisture. This wick can be any absorbent piece of string you have on hand—yarn, thread, rope, etc. Pay attention to its thickness—the surface area of the wick will determine how much water it’ll be able to transfer.


  • Quick to set up in a pinch
  • Easy to DIY
  • Can water multiple plants at once


  • An improper wick may not work or flood the plant
  • Wicks leak water on contact with other surfaces
  • Wicks break down and need replacement over time

Self-Watering Planters

This is, perhaps, the most common of the self-watering systems. It uses a pot for the plant and a reservoir for the water. Depending on the type you get, there may either be a tube connecting the two or a system of pores that keeps the lower layers of soil moist at all times. Some planters even come with an indicator that shows you how much water is left in the reservoir!


  • Inconspicuous
  • Compact
  • Great for beginners in plant care


  • Needs repotting to set up
  • Not fit for large plants
  • Often requires a specialized potting mix

Drip Irrigation

Typically reserved for plants that grow outside, drip irrigators have been adapted for indoor use via digital control. They typically consist of a programmable water pump system connected to a series of tubes. These tubes then deliver water to the plant by either steadily dripping it onto the topsoil or by injecting it into the soil through a stake nozzle.


  • Can water multiple plants at once
  • Allows precise control over the amount of used water


  • Requires electricity
  • The tubing system is visible
  • Is on the expensive side

Now that you’re more familiar with the kinds of self-watering systems, we hope you’ll find one that suits you best—if need be.

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