wick watering system for potted plants

Homemade Wick Watering System for Potted Plants

Related Articles

Plants need water regularly, and they’ll begin to wilt or die off if they don’t receive the correct amount of moisture. Whether you have to be away from home or you simply have a bad memory, you may not be giving your plants the right amount of water. A wick watering system will help to solve this problem by providing moisture to plants when you don’t.

How It Works

A wick watering system for potted plants employs a soft fabric string or ribbon, known as the wick. You’ll find one end of the wick buried in the potted plant’s soil, with the other hanging in a bucket or pot of water. Water flows up the wick through a scientific principle known as capillary action and waters the plant with just the right amount of moisture. When the potting soil is completely damp, it ceases to soak up water from the wick until it dries out once again.


A homemade wick watering system uses materials found in most average homes. You’ll need an old T-shirt and scissors to cut it, or some wide cotton shoelaces. A rock or some heavy nuts and bolts will hold the end of the wick underwater and a large bucket or pot will hold the water.

How to Make

Surround a bucket or other vessel with potted plants. Tie a weight to the end of a strip of fabric or shoelace, making one strip per plant. Bury the other end of a strip about 3 inches deep in each pot, placing it about halfway between the stem and the outside of the pot. Place the weighted ends of all the wicks in the bucket, and fill the bucket with water. Watch the level of water in the bucket and refill it when necessary.


The soil will absorb only as much water as it needs, so a wick watering system avoids the problems of over- or under-watering. It relies much less on regular care, so the plant is more likely to get a regular supply of moisture. A homemade system works just as well as commercial methods of watering plants, but it costs much less. You can leave your plants alone for an extended period without paying someone to come in to water them while you’re gone.

  • Apartment Ratings: Indoor Gardening: Wick Watering
  • University of Florida: Baby Sitting Plants

Working in sunny Florida, Anne Baley has been writing professionally since 2009. Her home and lifestyle articles have been seen on Coldwell Banker and Gardening Know How. Baley has published a series of books teaching how to live a frugal life with style and panache.

Homemade Wick Watering System for Potted Plants. Plants need water regularly, and they’ll begin to wilt or die off if they don’t receive the correct amount of moisture. Whether you have to be away from home or you simply have a bad memory, you may not be giving your plants the right amount of water. A wick …

Wick Watering for Container Plants


Share on ThriftyFun This page contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution!

Tip: Recycled Self Watering Container for Indoor Plants

This easy recycled planter would be a great summer craft for kids but is also a very effective way to keep your houseplants from drying out.


  • 2 liter bottle
  • string
  • drill
  • knife and/or scissors


Cut the top off a 2 liter bottle, a little over halfway up. Drill a small hole in the cap, large enough to thread some twine through. Thread twine through cap and tie a knot on the inside to prevent it from slipping through. Cut the twine off with several inches on each end. Fill the top of the bottle with potting soil and fill the bottom with clean water. Dip the string into the water to submerge it and set the top in place.

This self watering container is great for indoor plants that don’t have a large root structure, or for starting seeds. I use this planter for a jade but I think it would work really well for an African violet also. When the roots reach the edge, I will trim them back and add soil around them so the light doesn’t damage the roots.

By Jess from Hillsboro, OR

Article: Wick Watering for Container Plants

From the simple to the extravagant, the garden marketplace is full of products that can feed and water your container plants for you. But if you prefer to spend your money on plants, rather than “systems,” you may want to consider a simple and inexpensive method using wicks. If you’re leaving home on vacation for a week or two, or you simply don’t have the time to water dozens of containers every day, wick watering can be an efficient, do-it-yourself solution to keeping your container plants happy.

How It Works

Method #1 (For Multiple Containers)


  • Wicking cord
  • 5 gallon bucket (reservoir) or several plastic milk jugs

The best way to insert water wicks into your container plants is to “plant” the wick in the pot at the same time you’re planting the container. The wick(s) should be long enough to reach from your water reservoir to the bottom of the pots. Excess cord can be coiled around the sides of the pot and hidden beneath the plant’s foliage when you’re not using it.

Arrange your pots closely around the water reservoir. Make sure your plants are watered normally (from the top) before starting the process. As the soil dries, water will be drawn into the pots through the wick.

Method #2 (The African Violet Method)


  • Wicking cord
  • Water reservoir that fits underneath pot.

A tray with a hole in the center, that allows the pot to rest of top of the reservoir.

This method works well for small, individual pots. It is commonly used to water small African violets. A shorter cord is placed in the bottom few inches of the container and run out the drainage hole. The pot is then set on top of a reservoir and the cord is allowed to dangle into the water and draw up the water as needed. If needed, fertilizer can also be added to the reservoir. This method works best for smaller plants because water will only travel about 4″ up the wick.

Testing for Success

A wick is too small in diameter to draw up enough water for a large plant.

There are not enough wicks in the pot.

The soil is too heavy or too compact.

  • The pot is sitting on top of the wick and the wick is getting pinched.
  • Most gardeners find this system reliable for a week or more, but if you’re leaving town, perform a trial run for at least as long as you’re going to be gone.

    When to Change the Wick

    Wick Watering Tips:

    • Plastic or ceramic pots are recommended for wick watering. Terra-cotta and wooden planters tend to lose moisture through the sides of the pot and will wick water away from your plants.

    The right soil mix is important for wick watering. Soilless mixes or light “potting soils” work best. If using a regular soil, it should contain at least 50% vermiculite or perlite.

    A thirsty plant in a 6″ pot can drink up to a quart of water per day. Bigger pots and plants with large root systems will need more than one wick per pot. Just how many depends partly on much water the soil will hold. A 3″ pot will only need one wick. A 6″ pot may need two, etc. Experiment.

  • Nylon parachute cord works well ( 7/32″-3/8″ diameter ) to make wicks. This is readily available at big box home centers, hardware stores, or outdoor stores. Acrylic, nylon, or polyester materials work best, because unlike natural fibers such as cotton, they don’t rot or promote fungi growth. Wicks designed especially for this method are also available at many garden supply stores.
  • Tip: Use Yarn to Wick Water to Houseplants

    To keep house plants watered while on vacation is quite simple. Place A bowl of water near plants with yarn running from the water to a hole made in the dirt with the other end of the yarn buried.


    Video: Recycled Self Watering Container for Indoor Plants

    This is a great way to make a self watering container using recycled materials. Learn how to make one in this short video.


    Ask a Question Here are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

    Question: Using Wicks for Watering Plants?

    Thank you for the detailed explanation on using wicks for watering plants when away. I live the the United Kingdom and I have had a lot of frustration trying to get a suitable material to use as a wick with my used/saved milk jugs which I intend to use as my water reservoir.

    Please could you be kind to recommend where I can get these or alternative materials and how to use them.
    Thank you.


    A length of thick cotton string would work well.

    They sell wicks online like on Amazon:

    This site has homemade solutions, which was my go to as I don’t like to buy new when I have something I can give a second or third or fourth life to.

    It worked, but I stopped using it I thought it gave off a musty/mildewey smell from the wet shirts. Perhaps I was doing something wrong. For me, I just went back to a regular watering. which works for me.

    Hope you find a system that works for you!

    I do not know how elaborate a self-watering system you plan to make and that in itself, may determine the type of wick material you will need.

    • In the past, I have used a simple wick system when I was going to be a away for a few days and had some houseplants that needed attention but mine was never intended for long term use.
    • I just used a bucket of water (placed a little higher than plants) in the center of my shower and placed potted plants close by and ran weighted (I used heavy nuts/bolts to weigh down one end) thick white shoe laces to each plant.
    • The nut/bolt held down the string in the water and I just used anything handy to make the string stay in the potted plant.
    • If I was away longer than expected, my son would replace the water in the bucket (or turn on the shower) and it worked for me.
    • I expect you plan to use this for a longer period of time so you will need more wick material.
    • One thing to remember; Cotton is a commonly recommended wicking material, but some warn that natural materials, like cotton, may rot or contract fungus easily. Wicking materials less likely to encounter this problem include nylon and acrylic.
    • The very best thing that I found was clothes line. You can purchase it almost anywhere (I feel sure they have clothes line in the UK) or order it online from several different sources. You may have to do a little searching but you can buy clothes line rope in cotton, nylon or polyester. Cotton or nylon are good but not so sure about polyester as it may not soak up the water as well as other material.
    • . / ?ie=UTF8&keywords=rope+clothesline.(Affiliate Link)
    • Here is an ad for wicking on Amazon.
    • . / ref=pd_day0_86_2?tag=thrif06-20(Affiliate Link)
    • The following may work okay but it does not have good reviews.
    • . / ref=dp_olp_0?tag=thrif06-20(Affiliate Link)
    • When I was younger we used whatever was available and since we had kerosene heaters we always had wicks available and after some thought, I found a link for even this (and it is thick and may be even better).
    • . / ref=sspa_dk_detail_2?tag=thrif06.(Affiliate Link)

    Note: Plants that require excellent drainage, like orchids, succulents and cacti, may not be appropriate for this type of watering.

    Wick Watering for Container Plants Solutions Share on ThriftyFun This page contains the following solutions. Have something to add? Please share your solution! Tip: Recycled Self Watering