Problems With Self Watering Pots

Problems With Self Watering Pots Image

Self-watering pots are becoming more and more popular among plant enthusiasts and gardeners. They offer a convenient way to keep plants hydrated with little effort.

However, while they may seem like the perfect solution to watering woes, they are not without their problems.

From potential leaks and malfunctions to insect infestations, self-watering pots can present a variety of challenges for plants.

Let’s explore the most common problems with self-watering pots and how to fix them.

Read on to learn;

  • What are self watering pots?
  • Do self watering pots work?
  • How does a self watering pot work?
  • Cons of self watering pots plus the solution for each

Problems with Self Watering Pots

  • Mosquitoes breeding ground
  • Prone to Algae and fungus gnats attack
  • May not be suitable for certain types of plants
  • Risk of malfunction or leakage
  • Higher cost compared to traditional pot
  • Requires periodic maintenance and cleaning
  • Build-up of minerals in the reservoir
  • Root rot
  • Uneven distribution of water to different parts of the soil
  • Some are not recommended for outdoor use

What Does a Self Watering Planter Mean?

Self-watering pots use the sub-irrigation method to deliver water to your plant’s roots. The good thing is that they do so without guesswork. At the bases of the self-watering pots, there lies a water reservoir. 

This moisture reservoir lets your plants drink at their pace. Apart from that, this reservoir visually shows when your plants need moisture. Also, the self-watering containers help maintain the plant’s moist soil. 

The science behind self-watering flower pots and sub-irrigation boils down to basic botany. In this case, your plants absorb moisture via osmosis, then move it via the plant.

They do so through water potential differences and capillary action through the process of transpiration.

When the plant roots have less contact with moisture, they draw less water. That means the plant growth will decline since it won’t maintain its rigidity. 

Because of that, your favorite Peace Lily will droop when it gets extra dry.

How Does A Self Watering Pot Work For Plants?

The potting soil draws moisture from the outer self-watering pot via the wick. The soil does so through the capillary system. But that happens provided the pot’s reservoir has enough moisture.

Among self-watering pots, flooding through the overflow hole is a rare problem. I say that since these self-watering planters have several drainage holes. 

The drain holes help drain excess moisture from the soil of your self-watering plants. Subsequently, excess water collects within the reservoir of your self-watering planter. 

In other self-watering pots, you’ll find an overflow hose. This hose ensures moisture never swamps the platform. Importantly, leaving the potting mix and the container to dry is wrong. 

That’s so because the wick won’t draw moisture, causing death from withering. 

Problems With Self Watering Pots

Self-watering pots can be a convenient way to ensure that your plants receive the right amount of water. But they are not without their problems.

Here are some common issues and problems with sub-irrigation planters.

1. Mosquitoes breeding ground

Mosquitoes breeding ground

Self-watering pots can create an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, particularly the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a known carrier of dengue, Zika, and chikungunya viruses.

These mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, and the plant pots with water reservoirs can provide a perfect environment for their breeding.

The female mosquito lays her eggs on the surface of the water, and they hatch into larvae in 28 hours.

The larvae then develop into pupae, and after a few days, they emerge as adult mosquitoes.


  • Ensure that the pot has proper drainage and an overflow mechanism.
  • The water in the reservoir should be changed regularly to prevent stagnant water from accumulating.

2. May not be suitable for certain types of plants

Plant pots with water reservoir may not be suitable for certain types of plants because different plants have varying water requirements and root structures.

For example, plants that prefer dry soil, such as cacti and succulents, may not do well in self-watering pots, which can lead to overwatering and root rot.

Similarly, plants with deep tap roots, such as tomatoes and carrots, may not thrive in self-watering pots that have a shallow water reservoir. These plants need a deeper soil profile to allow for proper root growth and development.

To determine if a plant is suitable for a self-watering pot, it is important to research its water and root requirements and choose a pot that can accommodate them.

Alternatively, a regular pot with proper drainage and manual watering may be a better option for certain plants. Here are some plants that do well in self watering pots.


If a self-watering pot is still desired, a solution may be to use a pot that has adjustable watering settings or to modify the pot to meet the plant’s needs.

For example, a deeper reservoir can be added for plants with deep roots, or the watering frequency can be adjusted for plants that prefer drier soil.

3. Unsuitable for large plants

Self-watering pots may not be ideal for large plants as they may not provide enough water to sustain the plant’s growth.

Since the reservoir in self-watering pots is usually limited in size, it may not be able to hold enough water to meet the demands of a larger plant.

This can result in the soil becoming too dry, which can stress the plant’s roots and inhibit its growth.

Additionally, the small size of self-watering pots may not allow for enough space for the plant’s root system to grow and spread out. This can further limit the plant’s access to water and nutrients, leading to stunted growth or even death.


Choose a larger pot with good drainage and manually water the plant as needed.

Large plants may also benefit from a watering system that can provide consistent and adequate moisture to the soil.

4. Prone to Algae and fungus gnats attack

Algae and fungus gnats attack

Algae can grow in the reservoir of the pot, especially if it is exposed to light, and can clog the watering system or create an unpleasant odor.

Fungus gnats, on the other hand, are attracted to the moist conditions in the potting mix and can lay eggs in the soil. Their larvae then feed on the plant’s roots, leading to damage and potentially killing the plant.


  • Regularly inspect the pot for signs of algae or fungus gnats and take action to address the issue. This may involve cleaning the pot regularly and covering the reservoir to prevent exposure to light.
  • Using a well-draining potting mix and avoiding overwatering can also help deter fungus gnats.
  • Natural remedies such as neem oil or sticky traps can help control these pests

5. Some are not recommended for outdoor use

Self-watering pots without an overflow opening are not ideal for outdoor use because they can lead to waterlogging and root rot.

In outdoor environments, plants are exposed to natural rainfall, which can easily fill the reservoir of a self-watering pot beyond capacity.

Without an overflow opening, excess water has nowhere to go, and the potting mix becomes saturated, leading to poor drainage and lack of oxygen to the roots.

This can lead to root rot and other diseases, which can ultimately damage or kill the plant.


  • Choose a self-watering pot with a properly designed overflow opening that allows excess water to escape.
  • Place the pot in a location where excess water can drain away from the pot and the plant’s roots.
  • If using a self-watering pot without an overflow opening outdoors, manually monitor the water level and adjust as needed to prevent waterlogging.

6. Risk of malfunction or leakage

Self-watering pots can be prone to malfunctions and leakage, which can damage your plants or the surrounding area.

This can happen if the pot’s components are not properly designed or if they become clogged with debris.


  • Carefully inspect the pot and its parts regularly, and promptly address any issues that arise.
  • Use self-watering pots in areas that can tolerate water exposure, and avoid placing them on delicate surfaces.

7. Build-up of minerals in the reservoir

Illustrating plant minerals

Mineral buildup in the reservoir of self watering pots can be harmful to plant roots.

This can lead to nutrient imbalances, changes in soil pH, and an environment favorable for bacteria and fungi.


  • Flush the reservoir regularly with fresh water.
  • Use a potting mix designed for self-watering pots.
  • Avoid overfertilizing, high-salt waters, or time-release fertilizers. 

8. Uneven distribution of water to different parts of the soil

Uneven distribution of water to different parts of the soil can be a problem with self-watering pots.

Since these pots rely on a reservoir of water to gradually feed the plant, the water may not reach all areas of the soil equally.

This can lead to some areas of the soil being too dry while others may be too wet, which can stress the plant’s roots and affect its growth.


  • Choose a self-watering pot that has a well-designed watering system with good drainage and even distribution of water.
  • Periodically check the soil moisture level throughout the pot and adjust the watering frequency or amount as needed.
  • Some plants may also benefit from occasional manual watering to ensure even distribution of water throughout the soil.

9. Higher cost compared to traditional pot

Self-watering pots require additional materials and engineering to create the self-watering mechanism. The self-watering reservoir and wicking system increases production costs.

Besides, self-watering pots may be made from higher-quality materials, such as ceramic or durable acrylic-coated plastic.

However, the benefits of self-watering pots can offset their higher cost in the long run.

For example, self-watering pots can help save time and reduce water usage. This makes them a more sustainable and eco-friendly choice for gardening.


If cost is a concern, there are alternatives to self-watering pots, such as traditional pots with saucers or trays, which can also help retain moisture and reduce watering frequency.

DIY self-watering pots can be made using a plastic container, a cotton wick, and a water-filled reservoir, which can be a more affordable option for those on a budget.

10. Requires periodic monitoring and maintenance

Self-watering pots are not a set-and-forget system, meaning they still require some monitoring and maintenance.

While these pots can help reduce the frequency of manual watering, it is still important to periodically check the water levels in the reservoir and adjust as needed.

Additionally, the pots may need to be cleaned and inspected for malfunctions or damage that may affect their performance.

Finally, different plants may have different watering requirements, so it is important to understand your specific plant’s needs and adjust your watering approach accordingly.

11. May Lead To Root Rot

Illustrating the Problems With Self Watering Pots-Poor growth of roots

Self-watering pots can lead to poor growth of roots if they are not designed or maintained properly.

One common problem is overwatering, which can occur if the reservoir is too large or if the pot is not draining properly.

This can suffocate the roots and cause them to rot, leading to stunted growth or even death of the plant.

Another issue is that self-watering pots may not provide sufficient aeration to the roots. This can be especially problematic if the potting mix is heavy and does not allow for good air flow.

Over time, this can lead to compacted soil, which can inhibit root growth and nutrient uptake.

To avoid these problems, choose a self-watering pot with good drainage and aeration, and use a well-draining potting mix.

Monitor the moisture level in the soil and adjust the watering frequency and amount as needed to prevent overwatering.

Finally, periodically inspect the roots for signs of rot or poor growth, and address any issues promptly.

How To Use Self Watering Pots?

  • Use a mulch to cover the soil’s top if you’ve got a sizeable self-watering pot.
  • Moisture-retentive potting mixes help decrease the refilling frequency.
  • Potting soil for a self-watering planter should be crispy, well-drained, and light. Otherwise, it’ll discourage tremendous growth. 
  • Never leave your self-watering planter outdoors after extreme frost. If you do so, the moisture pot at the bottom may freeze or expand. Thus, making the pot chamber break.

If putting your self-watering planter outdoors during winter is a must, then ensure you drain the bottom completely.

Do self watering pots work?

Yes, self-watering pots do work by providing a reservoir of water that gradually feeds the plant’s roots, reducing the need for constant watering.

These pots are designed to prevent overwatering, which can be a common problem with traditional pots.

With proper care, self-watering pots can be an effective way to keep plants healthy and hydrated.


What are the negatives of using a self wicking watering system?

Self-wicking watering systems aren’t suitable for all thirsty plants. The sophisticated bottom-up watering system is among the cons of these self-watering pots. Moreover, self-watering plants never soak thirsty aquatic plants properly.

Such thirsty aquatic plants include fiber-optic and umbrella palms.

Where to buy wick and grow pots?

You can buy wick or grow pots at local garden centers or stores. But online stores like Walmart and Amazon are preferred. That’s so because the delivery of your wick and grow planters is faster.

Do self-watering planters cause root rot?

It’s almost impossible for self-watering containers to cause root rot. Root rot only happens when something overwaters your plants, causing moisture to stagnate. The stagnation can occur at the pot’s bottom, away from the plant roots. Or via drain holes.

Can you overwater with self-watering pots?

Self-watering planters for indoor plants. Your plants can’t overwater themselves. So, you only need to fill the pot reservoir with moisture between 2-4 weeks. That’ll boost your plants’ growth.

What plants are not suitable for self-watering pots?

Succulents and cacti need well-drained potting soil. Then again, you can’t grow these plant types in self-watering pots. That’s because a constant water supply to the potting soil puts your succulents/cacti in danger. 

Moreover, the dangers originate from overwatering. Elsewhere, desert succulents must dry between watering sessions. That’s so because they adapt to arid environments. 

Are self watering pots good? 

Self-watering pots are the best way of growing some plant types like vegetables. Further, self-watering planters can increase your plant’s yield and health. That’s because they offer a consistent moisture level.

Are self watering pots good for herbs?

Yes, self-watering pots can be a good option for growing herbs. Herbs often prefer well-draining soil and consistent moisture levels, which self-watering pots can provide.

With the added benefit of reduced watering frequency and potential for overwatering, self-watering pots can be a convenient and effective way to grow herbs indoors or outdoors.


While self-watering pots have the potential to make our lives much easier, they, unfortunately, come with a few downfalls.

However, if we are aware of these issues and take measures to prevent them, we can greatly reduce the frequency and severity of problems.

With a little bit of care, your self-watering pot can help keep your plants healthy and happy for years.

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