Cheap, Easy Drip Irrigation

Here’s a puzzle: Given a patio full of thirsty plants, how do I keep them all watered?

I started out the usual way, hauling buckets, and watering each plant.But, as the weather got hotter and the plants got bigger (and I kept adding more plants), they needed a lot of water. Eventually I was using two five-gallon pails each morning, and some of my plants were dry by evening. I didn’t even get a reprieve when the weather was wet; my patio has a full roof so the plants barely get any water from the rain.

I got tired if not being able to skip a day, and worried about my plants surviving if I was out of town for a few days.

I started looking into drip irrigation. The main problem here is that most of those systems hook up to a hose, and I don’t have an outdoor faucet. The systems I found with a reservoir required putting the water tank higher than the plants. That is difficult when the plants that dry out most quickly are hanging or on the patio rails. Even if I rigged something high enough and stable enough, I would still have trouble lifting buckets of water high enough to fill it.

Also, a lot of those systems are expensive.

I found some automatically watering examples where you put a reservoir higher than the plant, then run a cotton string from the water to the plant. I tried this a few places with mixed results. It worked a couple places, but usually the string would just dry out. I never managed to isolate the conditions that determined if it would work or fail.

I came across a few products that attach to the mouth of a bottle. You would fill the bottle, screw one of these on, then shove the bottle upside down in the pot. After looking into those, I realized that all they provided was a small hole for the water to drip out of. I have straight pins – I can make my own holes!

I could poke a hole in the lid of a bottle, but then I would have to pull the bottle out every time I needed to fill it. So, I poked a couple of holes in the bottom of the bottles, pressed them as far into the pots as I could, and filled them up with water. I found that if I left the lid on, I needed to also make a hole near the top of the bottle. Other than that, it worked beautifully.


In the beginning, I screwed the lids back on every bottle every time, to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. Eventually, I just left the lids off and let the run completely dry a couple times a week. With the lids off, it’s easy to fill the bottles with a watering can.

There were some pots where I couldn’t get the bottles down in far enough into the dirt to keep them from tipping over. For those I poked holes in the side of the bottles, kept the lid on, and set them in the pots sideways. I put two holes in the side facing the dirt and one on the side that would be facing up. Next year I will be incorporating the bottles into the soil as I fill the pots.

I had mixed results with half gallon milk jugs. When they worked they were great: good stability and good size. But, the holes tended to close up or get clogged more easily than other bottles.

Another thing that worked really well was plastic baggies. Fill with water, poke a hole in one of the sides, and set on the soil. It is a great short term solution, but long term the baggies got kind of gross, with stuff growing in them.


The biggest challenge was my topsy turvy planter. I especially wanted to set up the self watering for this, because I was having a hard time giving it the right amount of water. It was tricky, because there wasn’t enough open soil at the top to fit a water bottle. If I used a container that mostly set on the plastic, the hole wouldn’t touch the soil and it wouldn’t drip right.

So, I built a specially shaped water-er. I cut the top off of a party favor size bottle of bubble solution, cut a whole in the bottom of a plastic tub (it once held peanut butter), and attached them with plastic epoxy (noxious stuff, seriously only use it outside).


I found that it is important the the hole in the water container is in contact with the soil. If there is a gap, the water flows too quickly.

More photos:


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