Is a Self Watering Pot Worth the Money?

Lechuza Self Watering Pot
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If you're considering a self watering planter pot, you'll notice that most of these pots are more expensive than the traditional planter pot. In short, if a self watering pot helps keep your plants alive and makes you the green thumb hero, then the money spent buying the pot is worth the cost of losing the plant. I bought my first self watering pot after being gifted a semi-expensive and difficult to find Asian tree with fragrant flowers (Michelia Alba). It saved so much time and trouble (more on the trouble below) and kept my plant healthy and thriving. So before considering cost as only parameter, understand the different types of self watering pots and it may help guide your decision on the right self watering pot and the right price.

Self Watering Plant Pots: The Basics

If you already know what a self watering pot is, then skip this section. The basic goal of a self watering pot is a way to semi-automate the process of watering your potted plants by providing a natural way for water to be pulled into the soil from water reservoir. And best of all, this all happens without needing to plug in a pump or setup a timer. The magic behind it is capillary action, or wicking. A simple example is what happens if you partially dip a absorbent piece of paper into water, the water will travel up the paper.

A self watering pot should reduce number of times you need to water your plant, which reduces the chances you forget to water your plant. Instead of weekly watering, you might only need to water monthly. These may depends on factors such as:

  • Location of plants is in a "hot" location near the windows (direct sunlight) may need more water than one in the shade (indirect sunlight)
  • Larger plants such as trees will need more water that shrubs
  • Seasonally, it's warmer weather will cause your plants to dry out faster
  • A self watering pot with a large reservoir will last longer than one with a small reservoir

Other than the absent minded plant owner, a self watering pot is also perfect if you travel for multiple weeks at a time and your plants keep drying out, but don't have anyone nearby to help you water the plants.

The Wick: Rope vs Dirt

The wick is the most important part of a self watering pot, as this is the mechanism in which the water from a self watering pots reservoir brought up into the soil and roots of your plant. Some self watering pots contain a rope wick (an example). Others may contain a cutout that's filled with dirt (combination of soil substrate) that acts as a natural wick. By viewing a simple picture of the pot exterior, you might not be able to determine the type of wick. Instead, look for images of the inner workings of the pot or confirm in the product description.

My Opinion: The self watering pot with a rope wick is generally more affordable. If the rope is high quality, it should last the lifetime of the pot. However, if the rope were to ever breakdown, you wouldn't know until your plant starts to wither. On the other hand, the dirt wick is more natural and the dirt will never breakdown. However, since the pot would to be specially crafted, the cost of these types of self watering pots are generally more expensive. Over the long term, I expect a dirt wick to outlast a rope wick.

It's time to make a decision on rope vs dirt and below are key points to consider:

  • Go with a synthetic rope self watering planter if you have plans to periodically re-pot your plant. During that process, you'll have the opportunity to check on the condition of the rope. If it's in bad shape, this is the perfect time to change it.
  • Go with a dirt (soil substrate) self water planter if you're style is "set it and forget it" or your plant is too large to handle that often. The soil substrate mix will be more costly than rope (either cotton or synthetic), but will last longer between maintenance.

Fully Sealed Self Watering Pot vs Open Water Tray

Do you commonly over-water your indoor plants to the point that the water tray under the pot isn't large enough to hold the excess water? Every once in awhile, I under-estimate how much water the plant needs. This cause over-watering and the excess water to leak onto the floor. This commonly requires additional cleanup and more stress. So if you're considering a self watering pot, this is an opportunity to consider a pot that will solve that problem.

A fully sealed self watering pot is one where the water tray is built-in and sealed up. Here's an example Lechuza Self Watering Pot, and the one I also ended up purchasing. With the sealed self watering pot, the only way for you to over-water is if it overflows over the top of top of the entire pot.

Because the sealed off self watering pots have nowhere tor excess water to drain, they provide a way for you to monitor the water level in the reservoir. I've seen a couple of methods:

  1. Styrofoam float sticking out of the pot
  2. Clear plastic section of the pot (not recommended)
  3. No way to visibly tell (not recommended)

The Lechuza Self Watering pot features a simple, but effective styrofoam on a stick system. The styrofoam is is placed on one end of the stick and pointed towards the water reservoir. The styrofoam is buoyed by the level of the water in the reservoir. As the water level in the reservoir rises, the stick with the styrofoam in the water is pushed upwards. At the top, is a simple indicator that helps you gauge how much more water needs to be added.

A more simple solution are pots with a certain section of the pot made clear so you can visibly see the water level. On the surface, that also seems simple enough. But in my experience with DIY self water pots with leftover clear takeaway containers from restaurants, the clear plastic always turns green with algae growth, similar to what you might see on the inside of a fish tank. If that happens on the inside of a self watering pot with clear plastic section, that would end up defeating the purpose.

Lastly, some pots simply have no way to ever know. You just have to sort of guess. But the product will still be labelled as self watering pot, which is true, but lacks a fairly important feature that helps prevent over-watering. This includes some self water setups that are add-on products to turn an existing pot into a self watering pot. I've seen a couple of these styles online:

  1. Simple Self Watering Trays
  2. Self Watering Tray with Pipe

** Note: Fully Sealed Self Watering Pots should not be used outdoors where it may be exposed to rainwater, unless there's an additional drain hole at the top **

What's Included in the Self Watering Pot

When comparing prices, consider what you get in the self watering pot. Some products come with soil to aid in the wicking process. You put their special substrate at the bottom of the pot, and top off with regular soil. Some pots just come empty and you either just use simple potting soil or buy your own substrate on the side.

Some are simple self watering inserts where you provide the actual pot. For that, you'll need to double check the insert fits nicely into your pot. Too small, and the dirt can get around and fill up the reservoir. Too large and it won't even fit. Most of them are designed to fit "standard" size containers such as buckets, which are not all that aesthetically pleasing.

Other Self Watering Styles

I've never used this style, but have seen it in use at other people's homes. In short, these are often times glass globe stakes where the water reservoir is above the soil. Since it's above, they usually come in colorful features. In my opinion, since these are generally also decorative, it's an attractive additional perk to those looking to buyers. My concern with these are they're delicate (if you opt for glass), potentially a pain to fill, and difficult to monitor.

These also come as simple clay inserts where you attach a used water bottle full of water. Since clay is permeable, the water slowly seeps into the soil. I haven't tried these, but the reviews look mixed.

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