Self-Watering or Sub-Irrigated Container from two 5 gallon buckets

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This is a planter container which is based on the Earthbox or EarthTainer idea where a reservoir of water is under the planter and being wicked up to the growing medium. The water is then refilled through a fill tube and overfilling is prevented with a weep hole. These work really well for things like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, basil, broccoli, and brussles sprouts.

There are more material efficient ways to build these but this tends to be a fast and simple method.

Required parts
2 five gallon buckets
1 yougurt cup or similar
~24" length pipe - I used 3/4" PVC
black trash bag
nylon string

drill with 3/16 bit
some way to cut two larger holes in a bucket
utility knife

In the bottom of one bucket you need a hole in the center large enough for the yogurt cup and one at the edge large enough for the pipe to fit through. Also drill 3/16" holes every inch to inch and a half around the rest of the bottom - this allows excess water to drain back to the reservoir.

Cutting the large holes will be the hardest part. I have hole saws (1 inch and 3 inch) for this so it takes less than a minute. A dremal tool with a zip router bit in it works well too. I have used an exacto knife, keyhole saw, jig saw. Just think about it, be careful, and end the project with the same number of fingers you started with.

Nest the two buckets together. Cut the bottom of the pipe at an angle or drill several holes in the bottom to allow water to flow out of the pipe - Insert the pipe into the buckets and though the side hole.

Also cut a weep hole just below where the upper bucket sits within the lower bucket. This will prevent the water level from getting too high.

Fill the planter. I used the mix as described by "engineer gardener" 2 parts peat moss, 2 parts perlite, 1 part pine bark fines. To this I added tomato-tone and dolomite lime. I have also used the bagged soilless container potting mix like sold by MiracleGrow or Schutz and they worked well - try to get the one without the water holding crystal gel additive.

Cover the bucket with a piece of the trash bag and tie the plastic down with string.

Slice an X in the center and plant the seedling.

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This is my fourth year using these. I have seen several people use this nested bucket but here are other ways to build them including from 18 gallon totes:

One of my thoughts in using these is it is really just a poor man's hydroponic system. This year I plan on using hydroponic nutrients in waterings as fruit is growing.

Last year I had real problems with blossom end rot. Don't be afraid of lime or crushed egg shells in the grow mix.

This year I am replacing several of my buckets with totes to reduce watering effort and time.

A funnel greatly helps to pour water into the fill tube.

If you have good ground to grow in use it. Plants were made to grow there. I use this as most of my prime veg sunny area is paved.

5 gallon bucket planting ideas
1 plant per bucket of: pepper, broccoli, brussles sprout, grape tomato, ice box watermelon, small cucumber
2 or 3 basil plants


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Staff member
Very nicely done. You took a lot of time to put this in a viewable format. I have so many buckets laying around I need to get busy and make a few of these. I really like this! is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to