Self-watering Planter Basics: DIY Gardening with Sub-irrigated Wicking Beds (Albopepper)

Self-watering Planter Basics: DIY Gardening with Sub-irrigated Wicking Beds (Albopepper)

Sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) are often referred to as “self-watering” systems. Also known as wicking beds. There are various ways to construct them. The systems shown in this video do no not use a base of gravel. Instead, the water reservoir is created by hollow pieces of corrugated, perforated drain pipe. Such drain pipes are inexpensive and easy to transport. Their light weight speeds up installation and makes them ideal for applications like roof terraces, balconies and decks. Also, if the system needs moved or deconstructed, the process is MUCH easier!

Sub-irrigated System Basic Components:
– Water-tight Container
– Aeration Screen
– Wicking Media
– Overflow Hole
– Fill Tube

Learn more at my website:
https://albopepper.com/sips.php

WATER-TIGHT CONTAINER:
Any food grade plastic container will work fine, including 5 gallon buckets, totes or IBCs. Beds can be built from lumber or composite materials and then lined with a water tight liner. Look for a non-toxic, fish safe pond liner. PVC will work ok but I personally prefer 45 mil EPDM liners.

AERATION SCREEN:
The growing media is suspended above the water reservoir with an air gap in between. The soil releases excess moisture rainfall or irrigation. The root zone receives air, allowing for respiration & preventing root rot. The upper edges of perforated pipes form the aeration screen in these SIPs.

WICKING MEDIA:
Potting mix slowly absorbs water as plants needs it, pulling it up from the reservoir through capillary action. The wicking material connects the reservoir to the soil enabling this process. Pieces of cord can serve as a wick. Or in corrugated pipe system, narrow bands of potting mix provide the wicking. Wicking materials should be highly absorbent will resisting decomposition.

OVERFLOW HOLE:
An overflow hole is placed at the side wall to prevent overfilling of the planter. It is slightly below the aeration screen. With corrugated pipe systems, the hole center is be around 3.25 inches.

FILL TUBE:
To directly sub-irrigate the planter, you’ll need a fill tube. This allows you to pump water directly to the reservoir, filling the system up. I generally combine soda bottle that then funnels into a 1/2 inch pvc pipe.

QUICK TIPS:
– Your SIP must be levelled for consistent moisture absorption.

– Avoid raw manures due to pathogen issues.
– Bagged manures & composts may contain high levels of salts.
– Avoid fine silty particles which reduce aeration & lead to compaction.

– Both synthetic & organic fertilizers can work in SIPs.
– All-purpose organics may offer minerals like calcium & magnesium.
– Apply all dry & liquid nutrients to the potting mix not the reservoir.

– In temperate regions, SIPs work best with annual crops rather than perennials.

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50 Comments

  1. Pat Long on June 6, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    I’m wondering what kind of material the corrugated pipe is made of? Is there a certain material we should look for when building them to grow food?

  2. Hydroponic Gardening & More with Brent on June 6, 2022 at 8:32 pm

    A great vid on wicking beds! That’s what I call them primarily.

  3. Al on June 6, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks a lot for your videos, always watching!!! I have a "Water ionizer" at home, it produces an "Ionized Water" (acidic and alkaline). I wonder which water would be better for plants: acidic, alkaline or regular tap water. People drink alkaline, so I thought that acidic should be good for plants… I noticed that flowers stay fresh longer in acidic water. Do you know anything about it? Thank you

  4. GreenFingers Urban Gardening Solutions on June 6, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    Best demo yet, love your explanation. My question is about garden soil, can I add a little to the potting mix for my SIPs? Where I stay, it’s only coco coir that is easy to get, the others will need to be imported somehow and that’s going to be so expensive. I need someone to help with using topsoil with SIPs. Was thinking of making the wicking medium and lower half of tote with coir and perlite or vermiculite …then I top it with soil, coir, perlite, vermiculite. What do you think?

  5. sandbucketbaby on June 6, 2022 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks again! This really helps!

  6. ASA Blue on June 6, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    At about :29 I noticed an Air-Pot in the picture. What has been you experience with these? I am trying one for the first time this year and just planted out a tom in a 12G Air-Pot utilizing a Hybrid rain gutter grow system.

  7. Martha England on June 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Hi Al, I made 3 raised sub-irrigated beds as you have described. I LOVE them. They have been astonishing. My husband thinks I’m a genius so that’s cool. I’m wondering if you have ever added liquid fertilizer into your water reservoir? I am contemplating using Dr. Earth liquid fertilizer and simply adding it through the fill port and then filling with water as usual. I don’t see a down side. Do you?

  8. The Northwest Forager on June 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Good stuff! I’ve been wanting to try this and I appreciate you breaking down the science behind it.

  9. Closing the Loop on June 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    This is not easy.
    and there’s no need for this. Mycorrhizal fungi, if encouraged to grow fulfills all of these needs. People are accomplishing everything you’re bringing out with hugelkulture and varying permaculture methods using free or mostly free resources. I wish you would lay out the retail cost for a setup like the one you display. That’s a real limiting factor for alot of people. Especially people starting out. I find that the further a system departs from nature, the more work and time it requires

  10. amarshri on June 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    I have spent hours looking at other videos that are like 30 mins long and this video provides more context on how to build a self watering planter. The text is also super helpful.

  11. Károly Bús on June 6, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Ott

  12. Randy Smith on June 6, 2022 at 8:39 pm

    Good video and thanks for taking the time to do it. I was thinking maybe this for my Blue Berries, but you suggested not perennials.

  13. Angela Kwan on June 6, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Hello, we make our own compost in one of those countertop composters. Is this okay to mix in occasionally? We use a lot of coffee grounds as well – would wrapping the corrugated pipe in landscaping fabric help keep the pores from clogging. I’ve also seen the pipes with fabric sleeves in other videos. I like your idea of keeping an air gap by drilling the overflow spout below the top of the pipe … I don’t see other folks doing that …. pros/cons?

  14. M&B on June 6, 2022 at 8:41 pm

    This is totally awesome! Thanks so much!

  15. Blue Ocean on June 6, 2022 at 8:44 pm

    Great video. Do you think these SIP will work well in AZ with the extreme temps? Will the wicking work fast enough to water the plants? Subscribed!

  16. GrowStar on June 6, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    Super !

  17. topster79 on June 6, 2022 at 8:45 pm

    What would be a good soil mix and fertilizer and nutrients for one tote. I want to plate corn in the totes. Ive not been good with corn in the past what type of soil and fertilizer and nutrients would be good for corn, thanks

  18. Little Bean's Garden on June 6, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    Great information! TFS! 😊

  19. J A on June 6, 2022 at 8:46 pm

    First person other than myself that I’ve seen use a level lol. Nice ✌️

  20. Jeb Gardener on June 6, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    Have you ever tried using nutrient solution instead of water? Maybe if the top is shaded you won’t have algae problems?

  21. tastyfrzz1 on June 6, 2022 at 8:47 pm

    The one feature the it’s missing is the float valve like what I’ve got on the rain gutter gardens. That way I just turn in the water in the spring and turn it off in the fall. I use it with grow bags but it set the bags in totes with net cups going down into the rain gutter. That way I get an air gap to prevent root rot. I also still get air pruning. I do wish to have a bigger version for carrots so might try something bigger like this.

  22. mykarma2 on June 6, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    I’ve found plenty of raised bed groups but known on SIP raised beds, do you know of any? The issue with SIP raised beds is going to be different than issues with regular raised beds.

  23. Jeff Bingaman on June 6, 2022 at 8:51 pm

    2:50
    You make a channel to put your fertilizer in?
    Instead of spreading it around the base and out to the drip line.
    Do all plants have the ability to deliver uptake fertilizer throughout the plant.
    The reason I ask is because I planted a blackberry Bush and then started reading about how they don’t have the ability to distribute the fertilizer if placed on just one side.
    You have to put it all around.
    I don’t know if that’s the only plant that you have to do it with.
    But since I read about that I’ve spread fertilizer on all sides just in case.
    I also wondered if dumping it on one side could cause fertilizer burn.
    Just saying.
    There is an experiment for you.
    How to place fertilizer.
    In one spot in a line.
    All around the base.
    All around the base out to the drip line.
    See ya.

    I had a night bloom cactus that kept growing bigger and I had to keep expanding it’s box.
    I left it at the last place I lived in a brick with cement lined box on wheels.
    I don’t know how much it weighed, but it was friggin heavy.
    Anyway I placed weep holes in it to drain the water.
    But always worth it when it bloomed with almost 12" wide blooms. I think the last count was like 70 blooms. Friggin awesome. And they only come out at night and fold back in during the day lasting maybe 2-3 days.
    The box before was that rubber lined with Home Depot PVC drains at the bottom through the liner.
    I always worried about the liner creating mold though.
    Didn’t have to water it living in Louisiana though. Just a couple times maybe….
    And I’d worry about the water in your box not completely circulating out.
    Do you add something to keep the water from going stale being it sits in the bottom forever?

  24. DuffyF56 on June 6, 2022 at 8:53 pm

    Watching the video I see you building this planter box on a platform. What sized wood did you use and was it necessary to add bracing to prevent bowing of the boards? I have a 8′ X 3′ SIP Planter box I built using your method but it is not sitting on level ground. I leveled the box but the liner takes up the difference perhaps an inch over the 3′ width of the box. I would like to enclose the bottom of my SIP Planter and am looking for ideas when I watched this video. I was thinking of using 2" X 6" boards running side to side across the 3′ width as opposed to lengthwise as you did but was still concerned with boards bowing due to the weight of the water and potting mix. Thank you for your assistance.

  25. Deake Marschall on June 6, 2022 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks for another great video. I wish more garden vids were as clear and concise as yours.

  26. TWC on June 6, 2022 at 8:54 pm

    Can several Planting boxes be connected together so that the water runs from one to the next? Or would it be easier to just water each box separately?

  27. Mai Sandnes on June 6, 2022 at 8:57 pm

    Finally found you after spending many useless hours watching other non-informative videos and blogs out there. Thanks for your quick and right to the point short video.

  28. LoFi LofT on June 6, 2022 at 8:57 pm

    The way your SIP boxes have evolved is pretty neat.

  29. Michael Roth on June 6, 2022 at 8:57 pm

    Really want to build one of your raised bed versions, need to figure out how to deal with the incline in my back yard.

  30. Raj Nair on June 6, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    u da man!

  31. Dan Ri on June 6, 2022 at 9:03 pm

    Where can I get a pot with a perferated screen shown in the video @ 1:11?

  32. NBAXXX on June 6, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    How far will water wick up the soil? Is there a ratio of water to soil that needs to be considered? For example if you had seedlings put into a tub with a soil capacity of about 20 gallons, would the water from the reservoir reach all the way up to the small roots of the seedling, or does the capillary action of the water only reach a certain point? Does it simply depend on the capacity of your reservoir?

  33. Christian Reichensperger on June 6, 2022 at 9:05 pm

    Hello!
    I really like your channel 🙂 When i saw direclty into the substate, is there a need for addtional watering the seeds?

  34. Lana Weidling on June 6, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    This is the best SIP video yet, because it explains the "how" of SIPs, rather than just DIY steps of one specific planter. So instead of having to go out and buy materials, now I know how to use what I already have on hand! Thanks, dude!!!

    I love your use of corrugated pipe for aeration. (It bugs me that some "experts" still tell people to use gravel.) Anyway, what other material can you suggest that can be repurposed as an aeration screen? Like for smaller pots and planters?

  35. C I on June 6, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    Did you cap your drain pipes?

  36. teena neuner on June 6, 2022 at 9:08 pm

    wow,it really looks like you got a lot of produce from such a small amount of space. your video was very informative.

  37. Ron Hoff jr on June 6, 2022 at 9:11 pm

    After watching this I’ve decided to give it a shot. I’m building my s.i.p. from reclaimed material from job sites I’ve worked on. You said the bed should be 16 inches deep. It looks like you used 6inch drain tile.Unfortunately my reclaimed bed is going to be made of 2×12’s. The bed is 4×8 divided into to 4×4 sections. What do you think of using 4 inch drain tile to compensate for the thickness of the bed

  38. Christina Tong on June 6, 2022 at 9:13 pm

    Can you make a video about how to reuse your SIPs and how to prepare them each year. Do you dig yours up every year to remove the root ball that will evidently form when plants go down to seek water

  39. AlboPepper - Drought Proof Urban Gardening on June 6, 2022 at 9:13 pm

    Learn more about how to use a self-watering planter:

    Self-watering SIP Sub-irrigated Raised Bed Construction (How to Build)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp9Jdyno9hI

    SIP Raised Bed (Update 1) + Self-Watering Containers + How-To Monitor Moisture Levels :
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5orIjYKFRgE

    SIP Raised Bed (Update 2) + Watering & Aeration Screen Explanation
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJ2T6gUv8Gc

    SIP Raised Bed (Update 3) + Winterizing Planters & Totes
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKrjC5sC5cU

    Self-watering planters have pros & cons. Read more about how they can benefit you the most: http://albopepper.com/sip_expectations.php

  40. Menji Zen on June 6, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    thanks for the in depth explanation! love your videos!

  41. Kellen Chase on June 6, 2022 at 9:15 pm

    built this… probably helps a bit in the crazy hot dry desert that I am in, but I still have to water by hand 2x a day for most of the plants ive got going… this is also my first year growing anything but pool algea.. sooo…. currently working out how to set up a drip irrigation system on this bed. if I could do it differently, I would have made an L of the overflow so that I could get water higher for seed starting etc. may have avoided the landscape cloth that I used as well. thanks for the video and design

  42. Ben Redding on June 6, 2022 at 9:16 pm

    Do mosquites live in there?

  43. dalepres1 on June 6, 2022 at 9:17 pm

    This is an awesome video. Short, to the point, and very educational. Thank you!

  44. Durca Candin on June 6, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    There is no mention about how to connect the reservoir tubes to distribute water evenly. Why?

  45. Michael O. Webb on June 6, 2022 at 9:20 pm

    Hi Al: Do the corregated pipe sections need to have the ends sealed to keep soil out? If so, what do you use for that? Thanks.

  46. Angeleen Del Moral on June 6, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    You’re the Bob Ross of gardening

  47. Christina Tong on June 6, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    I’m reusing my SIPs that I constructed 2yrs from your plans. My issue is that I had to fully empty the SIP soil as there was a root carpet(!) on the bottom of the planters and it was preventing the SIP from functioning well. Do you really dig up your entire SIP to remove that root ball every year? Of note, I have a rooftop garden in full sun with little access to water hence the need to make SIPs.

  48. Slide_ways on June 6, 2022 at 9:23 pm

    So I can add Diluted liquid fertilizer like miracle grow in self working grow boxes bought from the store if not added to the reservoir?

  49. Sasha Verhage on June 6, 2022 at 9:26 pm

    How long does it typically to fill up all the corrugated pipe with water in a 4×8′ ft SIP planter bed?

  50. eugene1221 on June 6, 2022 at 9:28 pm

    Hey thanks for your videos! In building a bed like this, can you just use soil all the way down to the bottom and have that be your water reservoir? It would be simpler to make but is there a draw back like root rot or something?

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