Self-watering container basket on deck rail with flowers

Save Your Sanity With Self-Watering Containers

You can find self-watering containers for every part of your gardening world, from outside on a fence to indoors on your windowsill. Image courtesy of Lechuza.

I love the easy-care pleasures of gardening in containers. It only takes a few minutes to set up a pot, and then you’re good for the rest of the year. All you have to do is water. Ah yes, watering the containers – easy when it’s just once a week.

But when summer hits with searing temperatures, planters often need to be checked daily to avoid plants drying out. That’s where I run into trouble. At least once every year I get distracted and miss my water check, only to discover later the dried-out remains of my once lush container garden. I hate that and I’ll bet you do too.

Try a Self-watering Container

So what’s a Southwestern gardener to do? Get some self-watering containers. This might sound like a mythical product (like a self-cleaning house) but these containers really do exist – and often are found in fashionable designs and colors.

gray, white, brown, blue containers with plants
Here’s a lovely collection of self-watering containers by Crescent. These feature a TruDrop system that tells you when it’s time to add water.

All self-watering containers work by having a reservoir of water at the bottom of the pot. The reservoir is set up so that the water comes in contact with the bottom of the potting soil and is slowly wicked up into the soil, preventing it from drying out. Somewhere on the pot there is an opening to the reservoir where the gardener adds water periodically – it doesn’t get there by magic, after all. Some even have a dip-stick or some other mechanism that will tell you how full the reservoir is to help you keep it in good working order.

I recently saw several brands of self-watering containers at a garden trade show. I made a note of those available in Southwest nurseries and home improvement stores. In addition to the colorful Crescent containers above, here’s a short review of what’s out there:

Self-watering Containers in Local Stores

earthbox junior kit, self watering kit
The popular Earthbox gardening system uses a screen insert and a vertical watering tube to provide moisture into the bottom reservoir. Originally sold only in terracotta, these kits now come in several other colors, including this trendy green. Image courtesy of Earthbox.
Growing plants in a hanging basket is nearly impossible for many Southwest gardeners. They quickly heat up and dry out unless you have a self-watering basket like this one from Lucca. Image courtesy of Lucca.
Those with a preference for contemporary design will enjoy this asymmetrically rimmed planter from Mayne. Image courtesy of Mayne Modesto Planters.
This self-watering hanging basket is called “The Weekender,” produced by H2O LaborSaver. SWG’s partner Noelle Johnson tested it in her Phoenix with excellent results.

This is just a quick sample of the shapes and sizes for self-watering containers. From cranberry red to slate gray and long window boxes to tall tower shapes, there’s a container to suit your taste and help you keep your sanity this summer as you enjoy your plants despite the heat. Try some out and let us know how it goes.

Ann McCormick, Southwest Gardening contributor

If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20 years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. Ann is a feature writer for The Dallas Morning News.The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a speaker and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 35 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at

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  • Ann McCormick

    Liz, you’ve hit upon the one exception to the rule. Succulents and cacti do not do well with steadily moist potting soil. We do not recommend self-watering containers for these plants.