Self-Watering Seed Starter Pot

Morris-Jumel Mansion was built in 1765 as a summer home for the Morris family. At that time, New York City was much smaller, and the Mansion was located in the country. The Mansion’s food was grown by farmers, servants, and enslaved people on nearby farms and in the Morris family’s gardens. Many of these plants were used as food, medicine, or to season other foods.  

Food was prepared in the Mansion’s basement kitchen, and herbs were often hung to dry near the large fireplace before use. Today, you can grow many of the same types of flowers and vegetables that were used in colonial times, or grow different plants in your garden, as well as on your windowsill/fire escape, by creating a self-watering seed pot.

Suggested Grade/Age level:

Grade 2 and up.

Curriculum Connections:

Visual Arts: Cr1.1.4 a. Brainstorm multiple artmaking approaches to a creative art or design problem. 

Social Studies: 4.3b Colonial New York became home to many different peoples, including European immigrants, and free and enslaved Africans. Colonists developed different lifestyles.

Science: 5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

Materials Needed:

  • Plastic bottle with cap (1liter) 
  • Cotton string or shoelace 
  • Potting soil* 
  • Cuts from our garden basil, and scallions (companion)
  • Water
  • Safety scissors 
  • Tape (to hold the bottle cap down while punching the hole) 
  • You will also need a screwdriver and hammer to make a hole in the bottle cap*** (Please have an adult to help you use these.)

Substitute Materials:

*Make your own potting soil alternatives: Compost, Peat Moss, Sand

**If you do not have a packet of seeds, you can also use a vegetable in your refrigerator like a cucumber or green pepper, and cut it open to remove the seeds. Dry the seeds before you plant them.

***A sturdy shoe with a heel and a nail may also be used.

Activity Instructions:

  1. Clean your recycled bottle and remove any labels. Set the plastic cap aside.
  2. Using your safety scissors, cut the bottle in half. (You may want to ask an adult to help you with this part.)
  3. NOTE: To be safe, please ask an adult to help you with this next step.
    Use a Phillips-head screwdriver and a hammer to punch a hole in the center of the bottle can. Or, you can also use a nail in place of the screwdriver and the heel of a shoe in place of a hammer. To make sure that the cap doesn’t move while you are doing this, you can tape the cap to a wooden surface for better grip.
  4. Cut a length of cotton string (about 1.5’ long), fold it in half,  and tie a loop at one end. 
  5. Run the string through the hole in the bottle cap and tie a knot on the inside of the cap. The string serves as a wick (like you would see inside of a candle). Because the string is cotton, it will draw the water up from the planter’s base below (bottom part of the bottle) into the soil. This is known as sub-irrigation, which is the process of watering plants from below, instead of above the plant.
  6. Screw the cap back on the top half of the bottle and place it inside the base of the bottle. The string is now between both pieces of the bottle connected through the cap.
  7. Fill the bottom half of the bottle with water. This will be the reservoir, or large water supply, for the plant. The plant will only take what it needs, and the soil will stay moist.  Since this part of the planter is clear, you can easily check the water level and refill the base when the water source is low for your plant. 
  8. Next, fill the top of the bottle with soil.  Add your seeds and make sure that they are covered with dirt.
  9. Place your self watering pot by the window for some sunshine and watch it grow!
  10. You can also use markers, paint, stickers, and more to decorate your planting pot.

Learn More:

Video Instructions: