Saturday, August 01, 2015

DIY: Self-Watering Kitty Litter Containers

Guest  blog by Gaby Galvin

Linda Olson enrolled in the Howard County Master Gardener Program in January. The more she read and thought about it, Olson realized commercial self-watering systems, popular with container and small space gardeners, were extremely expensive and didn’t always work well. She did find a DIY self-watering system developed by the HGIC (UMD extension), but found it to be too costly and difficult to be practical. She decided to research a lower-cost method, and after much trial-and-error, came up with the kitty litter bucket self-watering system with her husband, John.

She has three different designs: Design 1 is water-conserving, Design 2 has a waster reserve bottle filling the container so you don’t have to, and Design 3 is the most visually appealing because it does not have tubes and milk cartons attached and mimics some of the more expensive products she found in her research. Olson’s personal favorite is Design 1. She doesn’t sell the buckets, but they are easy to make – the materials cost less than $5, and if that isn’t enough, Olson is willing to visit garden clubs and groups to do a bucket-making demonstration. She can be contacted at

·        Drill with ¼” and 5/8” drill bits (a spade bit works better)
·        Small, pointed knife

·         Two empty 17 lb kitty litter buckets (one will stack inside the other) - This is for a deep rooted plant. For shallow rooted plants, use smaller buckets. Make certain that your plastic container is FOOD SAFE.
·         One gallon clean, empty milk jug with cap
·         One Nylon Hose Barb to MIP Elbow PL-361  3/8” x 3/8” (made by Watts Item #17100361  and SKY #0 48643 16466 6) -  Price each: $2.19. Typically located with plumbing parts and supplies.
·         Plastic tubing with 3/8” INSIDE diameter – 6 to 12 inches (purchase length desired for your location)
·         Two rubber washers at 45 cents each

1.      Drill one hole in side of the bucket with the 5/8” drill bit. Hole should be located two inches from the bottom of the bucket. DOUBLE CHECK FOR PLACEMENT OF HOLE BEFORE DRILLING. Hold the interior bucket up against the exterior bucket and verify that the bottom of the interior bucket is ABOVE where you want to put your hole.
2.      Put one rubber washer on the threaded end of the Hose Barb elbow. Then work this piece into the hole just drilled so the rubber washer presses against the bucket side. It will be a TIGHT FIT. From the inside of the bucket, stretch the other rubber washer over the threaded end of the elbow joint. Make certain this is tight against the side of the bucket. The rubber washers create a waterproof seal.
3.      Attach the plastic tubing to the outside hose barb elbow tip.
4.      TEST YOUR BUCKET:  Fill with water to just above the rubber washer. Look for leaks. 
a.       Leak repair:  Check to make certain that washers are tightly pressed against bucket. If it still leaks, place a bead of silicone caulk around edge or purchase a smaller rubber washer. 

5.      Drill 25 holes in the bottom of the interior bucket with the ¼” inch drill bit.
6.      Cut an “X” into the shoulder of a 1-gallon milk jug.  Insert the end of the tubing into the milk jug and raise the kitty litter bucket by 8 inches.  You can set the bucket on a plant stand, cinder block, brick or a step.
7.      Use an organic soil-less mix, Leafgro soil conditioner, or combination of the two for container plants.

Decorating the kitty litter container:
·         For those who are not opposed to aerosol cans: Krylon and Rust-o-leum have paint and primers in one specifically made for plastics.
·         For those who will do more than one bucket, XIM primer is sold by the can and will need to be painted with a brush or small roller. It is about $19.99/can. It is specifically formulated for plastics. Cheaper brands can be used on PVC plastic, but the hardware store staff could not guarantee results of the cheaper ones especially if the item is to be placed out in the direct sun.
a.       Sand surface area to be painted.  Wipe ALL traces of dust. Some web sites advocate a final wipe down with rubbing alcohol.
a.       Once properly primed, any latex paint can be used.
b.      Have fun with painter’s tape and stencils.
c.       Spray or paint a clear matte finish on your bucket to protect the paint.
d.      Just remember, this is NOT fine art. Imperfections are okay. The bucket will be seen from a distance.  If it really doesn’t work out, put more holes in the bottom and it is now an insert instead of an outer container. Try again!

“I am having the time of my life playing with these buckets,” Olson said. “I am constantly trying to make them work better and be more attractive!”

About the author:
Gaby Galvin is a Washington Gardener Magazine summer 2015 intern who is studying multiplatform journalism at the University of Maryland. She does some gardening at home in Davidsonville, MD, with her mother and grandparents. 
This is the first in a 5-part series on DIY projects for the home gardener. Look for the next installments in this DIY blog series on the 1st of each month (through December 2015) here at"

1 comment:

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