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Botanically Yours: Gardening Tips

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Botanically Yours

A column by Jim Beard, Certified Organic Landscape Architect and Horticulture Instructor at Fox Valley Technical College.

His column is also featured quarterly in Saving Green magazine.

Reverse-Watering Plant Systems

A low-cost method to optimizing root moisture, reverse-watering plant systems also reduce fungal diseases and the need to water on a daily basis.

The easiest way to make your own reverse-watering plant system is with two, five-gallon buckets. The buckets also serve as your plant station in this instance, ideal for radishes, tomatoes, peppers, and similar plants.

Materials Needed:

• Two, five-gallon plastic buckets with handles (the buckets will serve as one plant station as they will form a stack)
• One, 3” PVC pipe cut (or you can purchase to custom size) 4” long in the form of a hollow ring (to be used as a soil cup to pack in soil)
• Organic soil

Easy Steps to Make Your System:

• Remember, the finished system will have one bucket sitting inside the other (an upper bucket that will reside inside a lower bucket).

• Upper Bucket: Drill a 2” hole in the center of the bottom of the bucket. Then drill 12, quarter-inch holes at the bottom of the bucket, randomly around the larger center hole described in the preceding step (see illustration).

• Separate Piece: Either purchase or make a 3” PVC hollow ring, about 4” long. This piece will serve as a soil cup (see above under materials). Drill about 10 small random holes around the exterior of this soil cup.

• Lower Bucket: Drill a 1 and 1/8” hole on the side of the bucket’s exterior, about 6 inches from the bottom of the bucket. This will serve as a drain hole.

• Place a full soil cup in the middle and at the bottom of the lower bucket.

• Fill the lower bucket with water to just under the level of the drain hole.

• Fill the upper bucket two-thirds full with organic soil.

• Plant your foliage of preference in the upper bucket.

• Place the upper bucket inside the lower bucket so the hole fits over the top of the soil cup below. NOTE: Water should drain out of the drain hole to keep the level at a consistent height.

Check water level once a week. Slowly, the water will reverse upward through the root system for optimum growing.

To add water, simply remove the upper bucket and fill the lower bucket to the same level just below the drain hole.

In less than a week, you’ll notice the top soil is always moist! It’s amazing!

Questions? Contact Jim at 920-996-2962 or email