How to build a Self-Watering Garden or Wicking Bed in 9 Simple Steps

sub-irrigated garden diagram

Self-Watering Gardens are a game changer for anyone building gardens in urban environments. You'll enjoy reducing water consumption by as much as 80% while reducing maintenance from a daily requirement to a simple routine of weekly reservoir fills.

Designed to mimic the natural water tables found in all the most bountiful environments, self-watering gardens (also known a wicking beds) function on the principle of sub-irrigation; Water from the bottom up. This creates an even and consistent moisture level that is perfect for plants to thrive. Without any complication, automation, or electrical requirements. It's watering how Nature intended.

Building a Self-watering Garden with GardenWells is a simple, intuitive and straightforward process. Follow these 9 Steps for professional Self-Watering results.

Step 1: Preparing the Location

Key Take Away: Make it level and free from obstructions.

Picture of inside a self-watering gardenSub-irrigation relies upon the reservoir at the bottom of your garden. Water naturally self-levels, so your main challenge is to make sure your reservoir is level! If it is not, either your reservoir will not fill evenly, or the water from the reservoir will flood up into the soil, drowning the roots and creating anaerobic rot - which isn't good!

      Leveling the site can be done by digging down or building up. During this process consider what your garden will be resting on. Ensure that whatever surface you choose, it’s free from obstructions or anything that could puncture the liner.
        For placing reservoir liner directly on grade, ideal surfaces are:
          • Pavers
            • Decks
              • Concrete/Patios
                • Rounded river rock or pea gravel
                  • Outdoor tile

                  Compressed earth, wood chips and grass are okay.

                  Crushed rock and gravel with sharp edges is to be avoided. These can cause the liner to become punctured over time.

                  If leveling the site itself is difficult, framing in a bottom to your garden is an excellent option. This allows you far more flexibility in leveling, by either elevating your garden on legs, or by building foundational frames that can be scribed to site.

                  Step 2: Building the Box

                  Key Take Away: Build a garden with an interior free from obstructions. Put any structural framing on the outside - make it easy to fold in your liner and install the GardenWells.


                  Building a SIP gardenClick here to download Raised Bed woodwork plans for most popular sizes.

                  GardenWells are designed for building gardens to the full square foot. Each GardenWell is 12"x12" and clips together to form a grid of any size. They can be trimmed with a saw if necessary, but building the garden to suit tends to be easier. When you're building the raised bed, use a design that has all the structure on the outside. It's ideal to build the interior dimensions of your garden to the full foot, with no interior obstructions. This will make folding in the waterproof liner much easier.

                  Step 3: Drilling the Hole for the OverFlow

                  Key Take Away: Center the overflow hole at 3" up from the bottom of the INSIDE of your garden. Correlate the overflow hole with the top of the GardenWells
                  Drilling overflow for self-watering gardenClick here to shop most popular GardenWell - SIP Kits
                  The overflow valve is very important. It ensures your garden never floods, and allows you to control the drainage to wherever you want it to flow. It also sets the maximum height/capacity of your reservoir, and allows aeration between water and soil.
                    Be conscious of where you drill the Overflow hole as this is where ALL of the excess water will be directed.

                    Step 4: Installing the Liner

                    Key Take Away: DO NOT puncture the liner! Make sure all liner folds are folded UP to the top of the garden.

                    • Step A: Place your pre-folded liner into your garden. Make sure it’s tucked nicely into the corners.  Over time, water pressure will push it into the corners anyway.
                    • Step B: Begin by folding the flaps UP. All folds should end up at the top of the garden… think about how water travels and make sure you’re creating a sealed unit.
                    • Step C: Dry fit your liner so that you’ve got a nice, tight fit. The next step is stapling, so do any adjustments now.
                    • Step D: Staple the liner into place along the top of your garden. Try not to go below 1” from the top of your garden. If you’re going for a nice professional finish, consider the aesthetics of the staple pattern, or plan for a trim piece or cap for a nice, clean finish.
                    • Step E: Trim excess liner - once the top of the liner is stapled, take a utility knife and trim off any extra liner above to top rim.

                    Step 5: Installing the OverFlow

                    Key Take Away: Take your time. The OverFlow should be the only hole in the liner.

                    Installing overflow for self-watering gardenClick here to shop most popular GardenWells SIP Kits

                    • Step A: Find the hole you drilled in the box for your OverFlow. Use your finger and press around on the inside of your garden to find the pre-drilled hole.
                    • Step B: Use your utility knife to cut a small X in the center. You want the X just a bit smaller than the size of the hole. Consider the size of the rubber washer and be careful not to cut an "X" larger than the gasket can cover.
                    • Step C: Insert OverFlow valve and tighten. Ensure that it is fastened snugly, and the rubber gasket is compressed to form a watertight seal.

                    Step 6: Click your GardenWell tiles and install your GardenWell grid

                    Key Take Away: Use the logo on the GardenWells to help you orient them in the same direction so they clip together properly. Identify the one GardenWell with the hole cut in it - this is where your WaterStem will go - and position this GardenWell in the grid where it will be the most convenient to water your garden.

                    SIPs sub-irrigated planter system being installedClick here to shop most popular GardenWell - SIPkits

                    Click the GardenWells together to form the grid size ideal for your garden. If the GardenWells prove difficult to clip together, turn them upside down an press down firmly. Your GardenWell grid should fit snugly inside your garden.

                    Step 7: Insert the WaterStem

                    Key Take Away: If you don't have a GardenWell tile with a hole for the WaterStem, remove your GardenWells from your garden before cutting the hole. IT IS NOT worth risking a cut into your liner – it will ruin your day. The WaterStem requires a 2" hole saw.
                    WaterStem for SIPs self-watering gardenClick here to shop most popular GardenWell - SIPkits
                      When inserting the WaterStem into the pre-drilled hole in your GardenWell grid, it should be nice and snug as you insert the tube all the way to the bottom of the reservoir, resting lightly on the liner.

                      Step 8: Fill Your GardenWell SIP Garden with Soil and get Planted!

                      Key Take Away: Use the right soil! To create ideal growing conditions, an organic container blend is what you're looking for.
                      Click here to learn how to find the right soil for your GardenWell SIP Garden
                      Selecting the right soil for your self-watering gardenClick here to shop most popular GardenWell SIP Kits

                      Step 9: Water your Garden and Get Growing!

                      Key Take Away: The WaterStem allows you to water directly to the reservoir. It's also doubles as a float gauge, indicating the water level in your garden. If in doubt - simply fill the reservoir until water begins coming out of the OverFlow.

                      Filling up a self-watering garden


                      Beyond water conservation and maintenance reduction, Self-Watering Gardens built with GardenWells have a number of benefits for the home gardener and professional alike. GardenWells are a perfect application for anywhere watering is difficult, drainage control is essential, or gaining garden confidence is key!