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Top 4 Automatic Watering Systems for Potted Plants

Container gardening allows everyone to grow their own food, regardless of their space and resources. It’s convenient because containers are compact and can easily be moved as seasons and needs change. They also allow you to have more control over pests, diseases, and weeds that plague traditional gardens.

However, keeping container plants properly watered presents a unique challenge to many gardeners.

Unlike plants grown in the ground, plants grown in containers have a restricted root system. They are not able to extend deep into the earth to look for moisture like they usually would during dry periods.

Containers will also dry out more quickly than ground soil. Potting soil is typically lighter and less compact than garden soil, so the moisture evaporates more quickly.

We can’t leave our plants sitting in water either. Overly wet soil causes roots to rot and invites pests and diseases.

So how do we master watering potted plants and still enjoy harvests like those gardening traditionally?

First, let’s take a look at some watering basics:

How Often Should You Water Plants?

The key to healthy plants is a healthy root system. Healthy root systems aren’t developed through daily watering.

I know, I know, it’s crazy to think about it, but bear with me.

Remember when I mentioned that plants naturally reach for moisture in the soil? The deeper a plant needs to reach for moisture, the deeper their root system goes. They don’t need to reach if we’re watering them daily.

Most plants do best if they dry out slightly between waterings. The soil on the top of the container may appear dry, but it’s still moist below the surface.

Test the moisture level below the surface by sticking your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it still feels moist, your plant doesn’t need to be watered.

If you’re looking for something a little more scientific, you can also use a moisture sensor to help monitor your soil. The meter has a long probe that can determine moisture levels deep in your soil, allowing you to more accurately determine when your plants need to be watered.

You can gauge how often you need to water your plants by doing the soil moisture test each day after you water. Typically, you’ll need to water every two to three days.

Some plants will require a greater amount of water than others. Smaller containers will also dry out more quickly than large containers.

Looking for inspiration for your container garden? Check out: The 10 Best Planters for Your Container Garden

How Much Should You Water Your Garden?

We want to encourage deep roots by making water available all the way in the bottom of our containers. A good rule of thumb is to watch for water draining from the base of the container; however, some materials in potting soil (like peat moss) do not readily absorb water after they’ve been allowed to dry out. This leads to a lot of water runoff initially.

Adjust for dry soil by going back to each container and watering again after it’s had an opportunity to absorb the water from the first watering. Do the soil moisture test again if you think the soil is having a difficult time absorbing water. It may need to sit in a pan of water for a few minutes until it’s soaked up everything it needs. Do not leave the plant sitting in water long term.

Best Time to Water Plants

We want our plants to utilize as much water as possible, without wasting water they don’t need. In addition to only watering when our plants need it, we want to do what we can to avoid water evaporation.

Most water is evaporated during the heat of the day, so this is the absolute worst time to water our plants. Water droplets on the leaves will also increase the chance of plants being burned by the sun.

Evening hours are cooler, but water on the leaves overnight increases the chance of fungal issues developing.

Early morning hours are generally considered the best time to water your plants. The temperatures are cool, which reduces evaporation. It also ensures the soil is moist through the heat of the day, when plants will need it the most.

Automatic Plant Watering Systems

It’s great to say that plants should only be watered when they need it and only during certain times of day, but most of us have lives that don’t revolve around watering our plants.

And occasionally, we might even take a vacation. At the very least, we like the idea that we could someday take a vacation. We don’t want to have to worry about finding someone to water our plants when we’re away from home.

Automatic watering has been a lifesaver in my garden. Literally, it has saved the lives of thousands of plants.

It’s simple for a home gardener to set up their own automatic watering system. I rely upon an automatic hose timer so my plants can be watered deeply on a regular schedule.

Most Popular Automatic Watering Systems for Potted Plants:

Wick Watering

Wick watering is an easy way to keep container plants watered, both indoor and outdoor. One end of a wick is placed in the container, while the other is placed in a water source. The wick is made from absorbent material that draws water from the reservoir to the soil when the soil becomes dry.

Wick watering can be used if you have multiple containers in close proximity. Wicks from each pot can be designed to share a common water supply.

Low cost wicking systems can also be made by recycling 2-liter plastic bottles.

The wick can be placed in the container before you fill it with soil, or it can be added after it has been planted. You will want to make sure the wick is wet before it is placed in the container so it will properly transfer water to the roots of your plant.

I recommend placing your wick deep in the soil to encourage deep root development.

Bottle Watering

Bottle watering uses a water reservoir, capillary action, and gravity to slowly feed water to the soil. Watering globes are available commercially, but the same effect can be accomplished with glass or plastic bottles.

Similar to wick watering, bottle watering will slowly draw water down into the soil as your plant needs moisture. Bottles with tapered ends work best for this, like soda or wine bottles. Fill your bottle with water, and invert it into the soil near the base of your plant. Check the water level in your bottle and refill it as needed.

I prefer to use recycled wine bottles for bottle watering due to their long, tapered necks. The long necks can reach deep into the soil and provide stability to keep the bottle upright.

If you decide to use a recycled plastic bottle, you may want to get a bottle spike. The bottle spike will provide additional stability, as well as restricting the opening of the bottle to keep all the water from pouring out before being placed in the soil.

Drip Irrigation

Drip watering systems run lines with small holes that deposit water directly at the base of the plant. They connect directly into your garden spigot and are run for a certain length of time to ensure all plants meet their watering needs.

Since the water is deposited slowly, the soil has time to absorb most of the moisture without much water runoff. You will need to experiment with the length of time you leave the water turned on. Your goal is to have some water running out of the bottom of the container so you know that the deepest roots have gotten what they need.

Once you have determined how long to run the drip irrigation, you will need to check the moisture levels in your containers daily. If they dry out in two days, then you’ll need to run irrigation every two days, etc.

Group your containers together based upon their watering needs. Larger containers will need to be watered for a longer time, but will need watering less frequently. Smaller containers will need less time more frequently. You will also find some of your plants use more water than others.

Containers with similar watering needs should be grouped together into their own “zone.” A zone is one individual line of your irrigation system. Each line will have its own unique duration and frequency for watering.

It is easy to set your drip irrigation on an automatic timer. The timer will allow you to program your irrigation needs to run at a specific time at the interval that you choose. You won’t need to worry about having time to water early in the morning or having someone water while you’re on vacation because an automatic drip will keep your plants hydrated on schedule.

Micro Sprayers

Micro sprayers are similar to drip irrigation, except that tiny sprinklers are installed along the line. The sprayers distribute a fan of water across the base of the plant, covering a wider area of the container than a drip would.

Micro sprayers distribute more water in a shorter period than drip irrigation, but still at a rate that the soil can easily absorb the moisture.

Determine the duration and frequency of your watering for micro sprayers like how you would for drip irrigation. You’ll find the duration will be shorter since more water is being distributed, but frequency should stay close to the same.

Kits are available that make installing drip irrigation and micro sprayers easy. Once you have the initial setup, you can add lines and customize your setup to best meet your needs.

Keeping your container vegetable garden properly watered doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming. With a little planning, you can enjoy your own homegrown vegetables and still have a life outside of the garden.

How do you keep your garden watered? Comment below with your favorite method.

You can have a hectic life, take vacations, and still grow your own food. Easily DIY your own automatic watering system for your potted plants.

How To Install A DIY Drip Irrigation System For Potted Plants

An automatic watering system for outdoor plants makes life easier, and saves you tons of time. It’s also very easy to install your own, and doesn’t take much time (it’s totally worth every second!). Follow these easy step-by-step instructions to install a DIY drip irrigation system for potted plants.

We have an area behind our house that gets full sun that I always thought would be perfect for growing, but it’s under the eaves of the house so it doesn’t get much rain.

My husband put a few pots of peppers there last year, but hand-watering all of those pots became a major chore in the heat of the summer. We were in a drought last year, so we had to manually water these pots a few times a day. Not fun!

My husband told me he wanted to line the area with pots of peppers this year, so we decided to add a drip irrigation system to make watering our container plants easy.

It turns out, putting in a DIY drip system for potted plants is just as simple as it was to add overhead sprinklers to our greenhouse.

Plus we had some of the poly tubing left over from that project, so we were able to use that for this project – bonus!

Installing drip irrigation system for potted plants

Table of Contents

What Is A Drip Irrigation System?

Think of a drip irrigation system as an automatic watering system for pots and containers. It hooks right into your garden hose or spigot so when it turns on, all of your pots will get watered at the same time.

You could turn the water on manually, or set it up on an automatic timer to create a self-watering system for potted plants (trust me, a timer is totally worth it, and it’s not very expensive to buy yourself one!).

Benefits Of Installing DIY Drip Irrigation For Containers

Installing a drip water system for potted plants has lots of benefits to you, and to your plants. The main benefit is convenience, and let me tell you, an automatic drip irrigation system makes container gardening SO MUCH easier!

Not only do self-watering pots make your life easier, but it’s better for your plants too, and ensures they’re getting exactly the right amount of moisture.

Consistent watering not only keeps your potted plants happy and healthy, it also helps to prevent problems like blossom end rot.

Healthy plants have less problems with pests and diseases, and produce TONS more yummy food for us? What’s not to love?

Drip Irrigation Kit For Potted Plants

Depending on how many potted plants you have, a drip irrigation kit might be all you’ll need in order to install your entire system.

You can buy a smaller kit if you have 8 pots or less, or you can get a larger kit like this one that will work to automatically water up to 20 containers.

Drip irrigation kits are a great way to get started, and will include full instructions for setting everything up. Some kits even come with a timer.

But keep in mind that even when you start with a drip irrigation kit, you might still need to buy a few additional parts (for example, most don’t come with a pressure regulator). So be sure to read the details of what’s included in the kit.

Some contents of a drip irrigation kit for potted plants

Of course, you can also make your own custom drip irrigation system design, which is what we did for our setup since we already had the mainline tubing and a few other parts to get us started.

DIY Drip Irrigation Supplies Needed

  • Drip irrigation kit (optional – but if you want to use it to get you started)
  • Mainline drip irrigation hose (1/2″ poly drip irrigation tubing)
  • Drip irrigation backflow preventer
  • Garden hose connector (1/2″ faucet fitting)
  • Pressure regulator
  • Poly tubing end cap
  • Irrigation micro tubing (1/4″ vinyl)
  • Irrigation drippers with spikes, one for each pot (we used these 360 degree adjustable drippers)
  • Drip irrigation hole punch
  • Drip line connectors
  • Drip irrigation spikes (1/2″ tubing stakes)
  • Drip hose goof plugs (just in case)
  • Garden watering timer for drip irrigation
  • Garden hose splitter (optional, comes in handy if you want to hook up another hose to the same spigot)
  • PVC pipe cutting saw or a PVC cutting tool (for cutting the thicker tubing)
  • Tape measure

How To Install Drip Irrigation For Potted Plants

Step 1: Attach connectors to faucet, hose or spigot – It’s easier to hook everything in if you attach the connectors to your hose or spigot first. So grab the backflow preventer, the pressure regulator, and the faucet hose fitting for this step.

Start by attaching the backflow preventer onto your hose or outdoor spigot (it simply screws on). Next, you’ll attach the pressure regulator, and last the faucet fitting (this just screws on too – no tools needed!).

Basically, you’ll end up chaining the garden hose attachments together in this exact order (backflow preventer, pressure regulator, faucet fitting).

Drip irrigation hose connectors attached to faucet

Step 2: Attach the 1/2″ poly tubing to the hose fitting – Take one end of your 1/2″ poly mainline tubing, and push it into the open end of the faucet hose fitting. Once you’ve pushed it in, pull down the collar on the hose fitting piece, and tighten it to secure the tubing.

You might want to kink the tubing and turn on the water to make sure there’s no leaking at this point, otherwise you can wait to test everything later on in step 7.

Attaching poly tubing to faucet hose fitting

Step 3: Figure out your drip irrigation system design – The next drip system installation step is to determine how far apart the drip heads will be, so you know exactly where to install the micro tubing.

Figuring out the drip irrigation design sounds hard, but it was actually really easy.

We simply spaced out the pots where we wanted them to be, and then laid down the poly tubing hose in front of them (Tip: let the tubing sit in the sun for a while to warm up first, it’s easier to lay it flat when it’s warm).

Measure spacing between irrigation drippers

Then we measured where each pot was, and marked the poly tubing where we needed to add the drip tube lines for each of the drippers.

Once we measured it all out, we cut the tubing at the very end using using our PVC cutting tool (you could use a PVC pipe saw to cut the tubing instead), and caped the tube with the end cap.

Hose end cap closes off mainline tubing

Step 4: Figure out how long the drip lines will be – Next we measured how long each piece of the micro tubing needed to be for the drip lines.

That’s simply the length from the spot you marked on the mainline tubing, up to the spot where the drip head will be inside the pot.

We added several extra inches to the length of each piece of the micro tubing so it would be loose enough to allow room for us to move the pots around a bit if we wanted to (which we have done, and it works out really well).

Measuring micro tubing for drip lines

Step 5: Install the micro tubing – It’s easy to add the drip lines and the micro sprinkler heads.

For drip line installation, you simply punch a hole in the mainline poly tubing (using the drip irrigation hole punch) where you want to add the drip lines (these are the spots you marked on the tubing in step 3).

Poke holes in drip irrigation tubing to install drippers

Don’t panic if you punch a hole in the wrong spot. I know that making a mistake isn’t ideal, but if you do end up punching a hole in the wrong spot… well, that’s why they make goof plugs! It’s good to have them on hand just in case.

Next you’ll attach the drip line connector first to the mainline tube, then attach the micro tubing drip hose onto the other end of the connector.

Drip irrigation micro tubing connected to mainline hose

Step 6: Install the irrigation drippers – Installing the dripper heads is super easy too. You basically just plug them into the open end of the micro tubing, and then put them into your container.

Our dripper micro heads came with spikes to hold them in place, so they stay where we put them.

We centered the micro heads in each of our pots, just to one side of the base of the plant(s). Be careful not to damage any tender roots or seedlings when you’re pushing the irrigation spikes into the soil though.

Installing the irrigation drippers

Step 7: Test out your irrigation setup – Before burying the mainline, test everything out to make sure it’s all working with no leaks. You definitely don’t want anything leaking.

At this point it’s also a good idea to adjust the drip heads. The tops of the heads twist so you can control the amount of water that comes out.

We adjusted each one to make sure they weren’t spraying outside the pots, and that they were all working correctly.

Micro heads for drip irrigation

Step 8: Secure the poly tubing – Once everything was installed and tested, we secured the mainline tubing into the ground with some 1/2″ drip irrigation tubing stakes.

The stakes clip onto the mainline tube, which makes securing it easy. Then we simply buried the tubing in the mulch to give it a cleaner look.

Drip irrigation spikes hold poly tubing in place

Note, you can install your poly tubing behind your pots rather than in front of them like we did here. That way, the micro tubing will run up the backs of the pots, and won’t be so obvious.

But it’ll work just fine either way. (We just installed ours in front to make it easier to take photos for you)

Buried the main irrigation tubing

Step 9: Set the timer for automatic irrigation – Last, we set our hose timer to run on a schedule so we never have to worry about watering these pots again (which is especially nice while we’re on vacation!).

Once your automated drip irrigation system is running, I recommend checking on your pots regularly to make sure they are getting the right amount of water. Then you can adjust your timer accordingly to get it just right.

We’ll turn the drip irrigation timer off when we get a lot of rain, and increase the length, or how often the drippers run during dry periods or hot spells.

Garden hose timer for drip irrigation system

Not only is this DIY drip irrigations system great so we don’t have to water these pots, but it makes it much easier to ensure our peppers and tomatoes are getting a consistent amount of water.

Hopefully this will help prevent blossom end rot, which was a problem for our container grown peppers last year. Drip irrigation systems are great for potted plants, as well as the garden.

Self-watering container garden

Installing drip irrigation for potted plants is simple, and doesn’t take much time. (It will actually end up saving you a ton of time and effort!) I know it seems like there are a lot of steps involved with drip irrigation installation, but trust me it really is very easy to do! Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can!

Products I Recommend

More Container Gardening Posts

  • How To Make Potting Soil For Containers (with recipe!)
  • 15 Best Container Vegetables For Pots & Planters
  • Container Flower Gardening Design Tips & Ideas
  • How To Fertilize Outdoor Potted Plants & Containers
  • Choosing The Best Potting Soil Mix For Container Gardening

Share your tips and experiences for installing a DIY drip irrigation system in the comments section below.

About Amy Andrychowicz

I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants – you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.

Comments

Is there a maximum length for doing this? I have pots that are quite far away.

Amy Andrychowicz says

As far as I know, there’s no maximum length for adding a drip irrigation system to potted plants. I ran a hose out to my garden, and that’s at least 50′ away from the spigot. I also have a 15 pot drip system set up along the back of my house, which is probably 60′ or more long, and there’s no problems with water pressure there either.

Julie Traxler says

How can one hide the hose attachments? Mine are out in the open where it will detract from my garden.

Amy Andrychowicz says

I burying the mainline under the mulch, and that works great. That way, you’ll only see the hose where it comes up to attach to the spigot. Then I run the drip lines up the back of the pots (I have them in the front of the pots in these photos for demonstration purposes). They are hardly noticeable, especially once the plants fill in.

Thank you so much for this! It really makes watering my pots so much easier. I have installed one with different zones because of various plant needs. I think I’m overwatering my plants and I have no idea how long to run the system. Do you have like a rule of thumb to share? Thanks!

Amy Andrychowicz says

You’re welcome, so glad you were able to set up your own drip irrigation system for your pots. That’s awesome! There’s not really a rule of thumb to follow for how long to run them. I only run mine for about 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes at night. I will run the drippers longer during periods of drought, and turn the system off when we get a lot of rain. The best thing to do is to check your pots daily to see how damp the soil is. If it seems really dry, then run them a little longer. If it seems too wet, then run them for less time. It doesn’t take long to find that sweet spot.

An automatic plant watering system makes life easier. Follow these easy step-by-step instructions to install a DIY drip irrigation system for potted plants.