DIY Self-Watering System for Houseplants

Happy Monday! Did anyone notice I was absent last week? The bad news is I had bronchitis for a few weeks there, but the good news is that I’m feeling better! Philly is in full-blown spring mode, and I can’t get enough of it. My parents visited me and Anne this weekend, and we had a great picnic at the Japanese Gardens in Fairmount Park. The cherry blossoms were out of control!

As the warmer weather begins to take us out of hibernation, it quickly becomes the season to travel more. Day trips, weekend excursions, and longer vacations. All of this traveling means that those houseplants you so carefully take care of are soon left to fend for themselves.

When Anne and I took our road trip through the south last spring, we devised a self-watering wicking system to keep our houseplants happy and healthy while we were away for a week. I pride myself on my level of care for our houseplants, but let me say this: our plants have never looked better than that week they were watering themselves.

Here’s why a self-watering wicking system works so well:

  1. By using a wicking system, the plants only absorb the amount of water that they need. They will never sit in an excess of water.
  2. Different plants require different amounts of water. With this setup, you can keep all of your plants hydrated with one system.
  3. You don’t need to do a damn thing! This system will water itself and leave your plants feeling great.

Oh, and another tip: If you’re new to houseplants, or aren’t sure how much to water them, use this system even when you’re home. You can reap the benefits of keeping houseplants, but your black thumb won’t get in the way!

Are you convinced? Do you want to use this system the next time you’re away from home? The setup process takes about 30 minutes, and should be done the day before you leave in order to minimize stress and confirm the system is working. I’ll walk you through the steps to making your own at home.

DIY Self-Watering System for Houseplants


  • 100% cotton string
  • Scissors
  • Paper clips
  • Pasta pot
  • Short stool

Step 1: Gather your houseplants in a location near where they usually reside. Cut the cotton string into two-feet segments (cut as many as you have plants). If you do not have cotton string on hand, take an old 100% cotton t-shirt and cut it into long, thin strips.

Step 2: Tie a paper clip to one end of each piece of string.

Step 3: Fill a pasta pot with water, about 4 quarts. Place the pot on a stool to elevate the water above the level of the plants. (Gravity will work with you to pull the water down the string.) Gather the plants around the pot of water.

Step 4: Place the paper clip end of the string in the pasta pot. (The paper clips will ensure that the string stays in the water.) Take the other end of the string and, using your finger, bury it about one or two inches into the soil of each plant. Press firmly on the soil to hold the string in place.

Step 5: When you have placed the string into each plant, make sure that there are no “dips” in the string. The line of string from the pasta pot to the plant needs to be a fully downward slope. If the string dips below the planter, water will not travel back up the string and into the soil. To avoid this, gently pull the extra string into the pasta pot.



That is how to create your very own DIY self-watering wicking system! In about an hour, you will notice your plant beginning to receive water.

Depending on how long you are away, there will most likely be water still in the pasta pot when you return home. Gently disassemble the string from the plant, and go back to your usual houseplant routine in about ten minutes.

Or, don’t! There are other, more subtle ways to continue this system while you’re home. Keep your plants where you usually have them, and place smaller bowls of water–on a stack of books, say–near your plants. You can refill the water bowls and know that your plants are receiving just the right amount of water at all times.

Note: Our orchid and fiddle leaf fig are getting their own self-watering setups when Anne and I travel to Greece this summer. They are quite particular plants, so I will keep them right where they are elsewhere in our apartment.

Are you going anywhere this spring or summer? Tell me where you’re traveling in the comments!


32 thoughts on “DIY Self-Watering System for Houseplants

  1. this is genius!!!! Truly. I will be using this on all future road trips and vacations! Wish there was a method that worked for pets too! 😉 thank you!!!

  2. I have been absent from the blogging world, too. I started a new position purchasing wine for a little shop in town, and I am still somming at the restaurant. Combine that with a couple of freelance gigs, and I have NO time for the blog. 😦 I hope you are feeling better this week. Those photos are GORGEOUS, by the way. So happy y’all got to see some cherry blossoms; I still have yet to see some “in real life.”

    I don’t know if I mentioned that your photos for your muffins were amazing. I will definitely be trying this technique when Steve and I make a (much-deserved!!!) vacation in May to Napa. I’m kind of already there… Have an superb weekend!

    • Thanks, Jayme! I’m feeling a lot better this week. A vacation to Napa sounds incredible! I hope you find some relaxing blogging time soon. I’m sure you are busy in your garden now, too! I can’t wait to have a small outdoor garden someday. I dreamt the other night that we met in real life and it was great — maybe some day!

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  4. This is going to solve all of my plant-watering problems, thanks! Going to try it out this long weekend while we’re away… now to find enough string for my 30+ plants.


    • We tried this for a three-week vacation last summer. Make sure to find a very large pot for water — ours was dry when we returned, and it looked like our plants hadn’t had water in about a week. You can also hook up fewer plants to a water pot, and use more pots!

  5. Hello, thats good idea thank you so much, may i write this idea for my facebook timeline. And i translate my home language (mongolian). Of course i write your name and blogs link.

    Also i have a question. May i use this idea for my orchids plants.

    Thank you

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  7. Hi I have a money plant which is to the wall amd we are going for vacation for two months. How i should do the watering now? Can you please guide me

  8. Hello! I tried this on my baby plant that’s in a small pot. I didn’t have string so I cut a strip of cotton cloth 0.5 cm wide instead. It transferred water fine, too much in fact that it over-saturated the soil with water which then leaked out of the pot’s drain holes and overflowed off the pot plate at the end of one day! Any ideas where I went wrong? What controls the amount of water drawn– is it the diameter of the wick or the soil’s water saturation? Thanks!

    • Hi there! The thickness of the string will determine how much water is transported from the water pot to the plant. The thinner the string, the less water is transported. Since it sounds like you had an overflow of water, try this same system with a significantly thinner string, even 1mm. That will probably do the trick!

      • Ok, I thought it was soil moisture. Experimented with spinning 6 and 3 thread strands into a wick. The 6-strand left a little pooling, but significantly less than before. The 4-strand wick, though REALLY flimsy, was best with zero pooling.

        My pot is as small as the second smallest in your picture above, but your string is way thicker than this 4-strand. You even used it to water the biggest pot. Guess I’m a little stumped why yours didn’t overflow.

  9. btw, check your paper bags; some of them have string on them that seem pretty cotton-like and was white (in case it may dye the water). i used the retail store, Aritzia, in canada, that felt pretty decent

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  13. thanks for this idea. Have a pothos plant that is always thirsty. I ran a stiff wire alongside and stitched in place to keep from drooping. Looks like it will work fine.

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  15. Pingback: Best indoor plant watering systems when going on holiday - PlantMaid

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