Self Irrigating Planter Resources

Homegrown Evolution is up in San Francisco this weekend to do a talk about the world of self-irrigating planters (also known as SIPs or self-watering planters or a couple of other variations on that general verbiage). In our opinion SIPs are the food growing tool of the aspiring urban agriculturalist. Make or buy one of these things and vegetable container gardening is a breeze. No need to water your pots three times a day during the summer! For those who can’t make our talk, and as a resource for those who can, we thought we would put all the Internet resources in one place in this here blog post.

SIP hacker and horticultural Internet hero Josh Mandel’s original pdf instructions for how to make your own.

Mandel’s revised instructions with thoughts on how to eliminate the use of PVC plastics when building a SIP.

Where to buy a SIP: Even if you build your own, you should follow the Earthbox company’s user guide for how to fill the box, what kind of soil to use and how to fertilize.

For a nice example of rooftop and window gardening with SIPs see the Green Roof Growers of Chicago.

How to make a small SIP with soda bottles. Here’s another variation with conventional pots.

Last night we went to a wonderful screening organized by the folks at How to Homestead. They have an interesting SIP variation made with milk crates profiled in a how-to video by Mariana Lopez. She also offers a recipe for a DIY potting mix in that same video.

Ohio State University Extension Service’s list of vegetable varieties for container gardening. These are varieties with smaller root systems that do well in small pots.

Lastly, all of Homegrown Evoution’s self watering container posts.

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks for the links! I’ve continued to try to grow my spare tomato and pepper starts in pots, big ones, but always find the watering difficult to gauge correctly. Straw on top of the soil helped some, but it was always a risk. Maybe I should change my methods a bit!

  2. self-watering pots are great for our SoCal climate, i started using them this year after hearing about them thru this site actually

    i bought a couple EarthBoxes and am making some more of my own SICs with a drill and a hole saw

  3. I’ve been seeing stuff like this pop up around the internet on green blogs and such and most people don’t seem to realize that systems like this have been utilized en masse by growers of another plant for years. Maybe I need to start sending in tips of all the well known grow setups in the homegrown community that people don’t seem to realize are easily adaptable for legal plants. Google “hempy bucket” for a very simple and frequently used proto-hydroponic planter that people have had great success growing veggies in too.

  4. I tried the SIPs (we call them SWP_self-watering container). I think they work great. I even grew sweet potatoes in them.

    Hempy buckets sound interesting.

  5. This is very cool, thanks for all the wonderful links and resources! I have never heard of this concept before but always forget to water my planters so had virtually given them up.

  6. Ok, so I’ve built 10 of these suckers, and they’re doing an amazing job with my tomatoes. We’ll have freaking bushels of them.

    But then I got to thinking. What about Bispenol-A and Bisphenol-B? Won’t the chemicals used in making plastic rigid be absorbed by the plants, and then absorbed by us? I’ve personally seen the side-effects of [brand name deleted] bottle use (prenatal developmental defect blamed by doctors on the plastic bottle manufacturers), so am pretty nervous about the whole notion.


  7. Erik

    I’m concerned about the plastic issue as well. That’s why I’m just about to make a metal version. Will post about it in a few months.

    At the very least don’t use PVC for the watering tubes–substitute copper, bamboo or irrigation tubing (plastic, but not as bad as PVC).

  8. Thanks for the quick response. That sucks – all sips currently have pvc. Got any tips on replacing them without doing a lot of digging?

    crud. New project for the weekend.

    When you do post your metal sip plans, please post suggestions for sourcing! Don’t have tons of money to buy a buncha galvanized metal buckets!


  9. Erik

    Truth is I’m still using PVC. I figure a season or two won’t hurt. The Green Roof Growers in Chicago have been using black irrigation tubing–the plastic is not as bad and the stuff is cheap. I think they have a post about it at

  10. Thanks again. I’m not as up on the facts regarding absorption of BPA and B, so don’t know how much danger we’re really talking about here (potentially none?). Nevertheless, I went out and dropped a bundle on copper pipe, so that at least is finished!

    I also went out and priced purchasable small aluminum trash cans – very expensive. Curious to see what sort of cheaper sourcing you come up with!


  11. The metal is definitely going to be more expensive, though I will look into scavenging possibilities. However, all plastic degrades over time, especially in the sun. So in the long run, I suspect, metal may be more cost effective.

  12. Here are nicely illustrated instructions for making your own two bucket Sub-Irrigated Planters to grow veggies in:
    It’s amazing what you can do with two 5 gallon food grade plastic buckets and a touch of ingenuity! Self-Reliance is making a comeback. Keep up the good work:)

  13. Here is a great SWP design.
    I found food grade barrels for $20 on craigs list. I amde my cuts at, from the top, 4″, 12″, and at 13 3/4″. This saved 1 long cut and resulted in a deeper planter. I spray painted the ouitside hunter green, they look good and work Great. My only concern is that they hold so much water I wonder about the possible need to add some oxygen to the water. Any ideas on how much of a solar cell you would need to run an aquarium airpump with a bubble stone?
    P S instructables is an Excellent source for DIY projects of all kinds, including solar, wind, and gardening. Just search 55 gallon barrels and see what all comes up.

  14. Avi and Specks beat me to it – I was going to say, for all concerned about chemicals leaching from the plastic – why not go for food-grade plastic? My first thought would be used 5-gallon buckets from wine/beer making. U-brews often have them on hand for cheap, or quite often you will see them offered for cheap/free on local used sites. The downfall, I imagine, would be less growing space – but I think it would work great for larger plants that would benefit from a deep root system (tomatoes, squashes, etc…)

  15. Very interesting concept. I believe making one of these is not that hard. You can do it with few containers and some miscellaneous parts, a lot of them can be found around the house, and a drill with hole saw. co2 boost buckets

  16. a) you have turned me on to Sub Irrigated Planters and I love them
    b) google “bubble SIPS” you only have to use one bucket, and don’t need more than an ice pick/awl and box knife for tools
    c) google “wicking beds” for raised bed style SIPS (and I saw tree boxes included in one)
    d) the mother of all SIPS, the Chinampa garden
    it’s a SIP in a pond. Never needs watering!
    e) your last link above is dead as of 20150831

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