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I used to be very much a terracotta girl.
I like that they’re suuuper cheap, and it’s easy to get pots that match.
Saucers are also easy to find.
There are a tonne of shapes and sizes available.
You can get them in pretty much every garden centre (do not buy them online. They break).
They have drainage holes.
Terracotta is porous, so the roots get plenty of air.
…But I’m an underwaterer. My plants dried out waaaaaay too quickly.
Enter self-watering plant pots.
They’re not nearly as cheap, there’s hundreds of styles, and not all garden centres have them.
I’m really not selling them, am I?
Why use self-watering plant pots?
A claim that many self-watering plant pot manufacturers make is that they’re easy to use, and you can set and forget your plants.
I don’t necessarily agree with this. Your plants will still need watering, just less frequently, and there are still a TONNE of other things your plants might need you other than water.
But one benefit that self-watering pots have over regular pots is that it’s easier to get your plants on a schedule.
If you only have one-time window in your week that you can check on your plants, it’s a lot easier to go around and top up reservoirs than it is to go round and check who’s dry.
And there’s always that plant that’s not *quite* dry, but will need watering in a couple of days (yes, hoya, I’m talking about you). You *could* water them now, but that’s just asking for a hissy fit.
I also like self-watering pots for plants that are a pain to water – hanging plants that might drip or big floor plants that have a tendency to scream MORE WATER over and over again until all of sudden it’s too much water, the saucer has overflowed, and you have a damp carpet.
How do self-watering plant pots work?
The idea behind self-watering pots is simple – you pour water into a reservoir at the bottom of a plant pot. The soil gradually wicks up the water using capillary action and directs water to the roots.
We talk a lot about how overwatering is the #2 cause of death in house plants (many believe it’s the top cause, but I feel that abandonment/casual neglect is #1), so surely keeping the bottom of the soil damp is just asking for root rot?
Yes, but also no.
Ok, so self-watering plant pots do work IF you use them properly.
To stop self-watering plants from overwatering, you need to do a couple of things.
The first is to make sure you have a barrier between the soil and the water reservoir at the bottom of the pot. Something that can absorb water, but also has air pockets.
This barrier will absorb water, and whilst the soil will be able to absorb some moisture from it, it will only be damp, not saturated.
Oxygen will still be able to get into the gaps in the soil because there isn’t enough water to compact the soil.
The second thing you have to do is remember how your plant liked to be treated in a regular pot.
Did it like to stay damp? Dry out completely?
Try to emulate that same care – plants like hoya might like to wait for the water reservoir to be totally empty before refilling.
Plants like Calathea prefer to have it topped up.
Plants like Monstera and a lot of Philodendron don’t really care either way.
So self-watering plant pots aren’t necessarily an easy way to care for house plants – they’re just a tool that can benefit some people, for example, people that can only check their plants every couple of weeks, or people that travel a lot.
My self-watering plant pot collection
I have several kinds of self-watering pots.
The simplest type of self-watering plant pot are the ones that consist of an outer pot, an inner net pot (or you can use a nursery pot if you want to DIY it) and a string that loops through the inner pot and dangles down into the outer pot, which has a water reservoir in it.
They’re great – cheap, cheerful, and work great. The only downside is that they don’t come in larger sizes – the big self-watering pot market seems to be dominated by Lechuza.
And then I have pots that don’t have a cord wick, but rather the legs of the inner pot (or base plate, in some cases) are hollow so the leca, pon, or whatever barrier you’re using fills the legs and reaches the reservoir that way.
I prefer these because the cords can get gross after a while.
Light can penetrate (sorry) that plastic and algae/slime can grow.
Here they are:
My favourite pot is the one in the middle. Can I find it again to purchase another? No. BUT I WILL FIND A REPLACEMENT (and will update the page accordingly).
The one on the left is also great, and you can buy it here. Bear in mind that it doesn’t have a water gauge thing, but there’s a little window at the bottom so you can see when it’s empty.
(Tbh those windows are only useful if the water level hits the window - if it's above or below it you can't see it because water is clear. I wonder if you could add food colouring to it, or if that would harm the plants? Hmm)
The one on the right is a travesty. They tried to cover all the bases, but instead ended up with a pot I can only use as a cache pot, and they’re not even that good for that. The full rant is included in my cheap self-watering pot review.
My favourite self-watering plant pot
Ahhhh, it’s that one in the middle. It has everything. And I don’t think I ask for much. It’s nothing flashy, or gimmicky, it’s just…solid.
- Sturdy and well made (source: have dropped it)
- It has a water gauge
- It’s easy to assemble
- It has an inner pot, which instantly makes it superior to Lechuza, because it makes flushing leca so much easier
- It’s easy to clean (there’s a lot of matte finishes out there that always look grubby)
- It has a little chute so you can fill the reservoir at the bottom without wetting the substrate
- Aesthetically pleasing
- Pretty cheap – I got it from AliExpress for about £10, but it’s since disappeared from there.
The brand is Leizisure, but if you search AliExpress for that it doesn’t come up. If you spend a few *hours* searching for self-watering pots you might stumble across similar ones (yes, I went back through my orders but the page is not found) from the same brand.
Perhaps they’re hiding from Lechuza.
As I said, I’m hunting for an alternative as we speak (I honestly didn’t realise how much I loved it until I came to write that review). Will update.
Self-watering plant pots I recommend for beginners
I really like the Lechuza ones, but they are a bit pricier. They come with pretty clear instructions and a variety of shapes and sizes. I like this cube one.
One great benefit for fellow lazy people is that they include pon, which as well as acting as a barrier between the water and the soil, has fertiliser added to it, which I believe they say lasts about six months. Nice.
Those little string ones you can buy in packs of six are also AMAZING for people that want to get started with leca (I have full guide for leca newbies here).
There’s a wealth of pretty cheap ones like the square one on the left above, that have a shute for you to pour water down but no water gauge. I really like those for leca as well, but it is easier with either a water gauge or a bigger clear window so you can properly see the water level.
Self-watering plant pots I wouldn’t use
I *think* they’ve redesigned them, but the T4U Lechuza knockoffs are a big fail (they’re the ones on the right in the trio of pics above).
Here are my grievances:
- No inner pot (no good for leca)
- A hole in the bottom (no good for leca)
- The hole in the bottom is raised up on a little plinth (no good for soil)
- No way to get the water into the reservoir without soaking the substrate (no good for soil)
Like…what was the plan here, guys?
DISCLAIMER: there’s a very real chance I’m totally missing something very obvious that would make these work, but I have four of them (they come in a 4-pack, I’m not a masochist) and use only as cachepots, which they are crap at because they’re the wrong shape for most nursery pots.
They’d be fine if you didn’t have to use the base plate, but you need to due to the weird plinth with the hole in it.
Do not like.
Update on the Lechuza pots
So for the purposes of a video over on my YouTube channel, I bought a new Lechuza pot and now they too have a hole in the bottom BUT it’s also raised up on a little plinth so it can’t be used for decent flushing.
It does have a little plug though, so the hole is optional.
According to the instructions, the plug is to be removed for outside plants and kept in for inside plants.
I assume the thought process here was to stop pots being overwatered due to unsolicited watering (rain is a bastard for turning up unannounced and unasked for).
To be honest, I’ve never even considered keeping self-watering plant pots outside, but I guess it’s a thing. Just thought I’d keep everyone updated.
DIY self-watering plant pots
Please excuse the dirt, I just grabbed this off the windowsill so I could show you.
These Ikea plant pots are awesome to use as DIY self-watering pots. You see the little ridge/shelf at the bottom? You can sit a nursery pot on there (I can’t put measurements since there’s a few sizes, but if you’re in Ikea just grab a plant and try it until you find the right size and measure the pot).
Thread a cord or string through the holes of the nursery pot so it dangles into the bottom of the outer pot. Add some leca or pon. Add your soil. Add your plant. Done.
If you’re using 100% leca or pon you don’t even need to use the string, just raise your reservoir. But then, if you’re using leca you don’t need a pot with a little shelf – any pot will do.
I just wanted to point out that those Ikea pots are ace for the string-wicking method.
So, that’s a roundup of the best self-watering pots. If you have any faves you’d like to recommend to the class plz leave a comment below. Or if you want to defend a pot I’ve besmirched.