Upcycled Cooler into Self Watering Planter

Lets create a self watering planter!  For the past couple of weeks I was on a diet that delivered my food on a weekly  basis.  The orders always arrived in Styrofoam coolers and were taking us space in my garage.  I felt bad tossing them out and decided to upcycle the coolers that weren’t broke or cracked.

One empty food cooler, Empty food cooler left over from eDiets food delivery

Here’s what you will need:

  • Styrofoam cooler
  • field lines (unused)
  • weed cloth
  • 1″ to 2″ tubing about 14 inches long
  • scissors and/or sharp knife
  • potting soil

Cut and notch field lines and wrap with weed cloth

Measure the inside of the cooler to get its length.  Cut the field lines so that they fit nicely into the bottom of the cooler.  I had to half one of mine so that they would fit properly.  Notch each end of the field lines so that there will be a space in each corner.  Wrap the field lines with the weed cloth so that dirt will not enter the open ends.

Place wrapped field lines in the cooler. Make sure corners have gaps and ends are sealed with weed cloth.

Place them into the cooler so that the corners have gaps.

Empty corners will be filled with soil and act like a wick for the water.

Place a fill tube in one of the corners. I made the notch smaller on the fill tube corner.

Cut a piece of heavy duty bubble wrap so that it covers the field lines in the bottom of the cooler.  Also cut a piece of tubing to place in the corner so that you can add water to your planter.  Notch the bottom end of the tube so that the water can enter the cavity.

Cut and notch the bubble wrap. One corner is notched smaller to fit around the fill tube.

       Before placing the bubble wrap into the cooler, notch each corner so that potting soil can be pushed into the corners.  This soil will act as a wick to water your plants.

Add bubble wrap to your cooler.

Weed wrap will keep soil from filling field lines. Bubble wrap will keep your soil from going down into the field lines. It will also keep your plants feet from sitting in the water.

Place your planter in a sunny level spot where you want your plants to grow.  Once filled with water and soil the planter is heavy and will break if you try to move it.  Fill with potting soil and make sure to push soil into the open three corners.  The soil in the corners will pull the water up to your plants by acting like wicks.    Plant your seeds or plants and go!  Now you will only have to water it every couple of days and not daily.

Upcycled cooler into a Self Watering Planter! Total time.. about 30 minutes to make.

**UPDATE** – Looks like I have a leak.  Even though the cooler was not cracked there is a small hole somewhere that is slowly seeping water.  Once it dries I’ll try to seal it.  I’m going to make a second planter today, but this time I’m going to line the cooler with a heavy duty trash bag.  This will contain the water and prevent the water from seeping out the bottom.  Well…that’s the plan.

Update! Now there are two! 

I’ve added a second self watering planter. This one was lined with a plastic bag to help prevent leaking. Even though the first one leaks, after three days it still has about two inches of water in the bottom.

**2021 UPDATE** – Last summer I created another self watering planter by using an 18 gallon tote. The concept is the same and holds up better to sun exposure than the Styrofoam cooler. A hole was drilled close to the bottom and a piece of PVC pipe was sealed in place using a heavy flexible silicone sealer. Perforated field line pipe lined the bottom and that was covered with weed cloth. I added a fill tube by inserting a larger diameter PVC pipe down though the weed cloth and zip tied it to the side of the planter. The bottom end of the fill pipe was cut at an angle so water could enter the bottom when needed since the end would not be touching the bottom of the tote. I filled it with a good potting soil mix and planted my herbs. Note: this will be heavy so it is advised to place it where you want it before adding water. To move mine indoors last year for the winter I had to wait until it dried out a bit and it took two of us to move it. Plants are loving it and my herbs are still going strong from 2020.


**Update: July 2021** – One planter is still going good!  I’m surprised it has lasted this long.  One of the original planters failed when I attempted to move it and it broke.  Here is a photo of the remaining planter from 2012.