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Self watering plant trays DIY

Posted by mikedahms London Ontario (My Page) on
Sun, Jul 12, 09 at 22:35

I finally got around to gathering all the materials I needed to put together some self watering plant trays. I plan on using the trays to keep my plants watered while I am away on vacation for a couple of weeks. The trays will also hopefully make a great place to start seeds in flats as well come spring. I made sure to get trays that will fit on my light stands so the plants can remain in the same position as they normally grow in.

I have two weeks to work the kinks out of the design but I think I will still have someone drop by just in case the trays need topping up with water or the capillary matting needs to be saturated again.

Here is one of the plastic trays with the lid removed and 4" clay pots placed as supports for the plastic light diffuser.

Tray and 4

Here the light diffuser is in place. You can easily cut the light diffuser to size using a pair of needle nosed pliers.

egg crate diffuser panel

Here the capillary matting is in place with a sheet of plastic film placed between the matting and the light diffuser to prevent water loss. Notice the last few inches of the tub are not covered by light diffuser and that the matting hangs down into the tray/water reservoir.

Tray with capilliary matting over plastic film

Here are a few plants in place. The matting has not been saturated with water yet. I am hoping this system works but I expect to have some problems until I get it all figured out. I am afraid of keeping the plants too wet or having them dry out for some reason. I also picked up some gravity fed drip irrigation systems so I may use one of those in conjunction with the self watering trays.

You could probably rig up an aeroponic rooting chamber quite easily as well if you kept the lid and inserted pots into it and got some Hydrotron. Maybe a self watering system for semi-hydro grown Hoyas for extended vacations?

dry matting with plants

Wish me luck.

Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Here is where I got the idea.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Hey Mike, that's a pretty slick setup!

The only problem I see is with plants like the orchid that do not have any soil to make contact with the mat and wick the moisture from the capillary matting. And that may be one of the plants that you're going to use the drip system on and that should work out great!

I was gone for a week in June and didn't have anyone come to water and most everything was OK. I lost a few plants that were outside, but that was to be expected and they were just annuals in pots so it's not a big deal.

Please keep us updated on how your system progresses and good luck!
(the other) Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Do I see non-hoyas in there??!! Do the hoyas know that you are cheating on them??! Other than that, it looks great. Keep us posted and please post pics of the finished product before and after! You know, if you don't go on vacation you will have more money for hoyas...I'm just sayin!

Johanna


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike,

I love your parrot plant!!! I have two. One's not doing so well and the other is just still small . . . any suggestions on these guys? I have no idea how to care for them!!!

Thanks,

Carolyn


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Thank you for posting your set up, Mike. Going on vacation is always a problems for the "children" left at home. I like your system. Please let us know if it works well for you. There are a lot of us that can profit by your ingenuity.

I'm facing the same vacation thing, and since most of my hoyas are in hydroton, I'm just setting them in a sweater tote with about 2" of water. Fingers are crossed this will be ok.

Best of luck with your matting system!

Sande


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike I am not sure if my Phalaenopsis mannii is going to sit on in the tray or not. I am planning on putting my Bulbophyllums in one of the trays because they like it constantly moist, some of the Hoyas should do OK as well. I am going to make wicks for some pots so that I can be sure they will take up the water. I definitely have some experimenting to do. I can already tell you that a drip irrigation system can be a huge pain in the butt when the end cap keeps coming loose and allowing all the water to drain away.

Johanna yes I do have many non-Hoyas including orchids and Hoya relatives the Stapeliads. This Stapelia schnizii just finished blooming, it was a little stinker.

Stapelia schinzii

Carolyn I grow the Impatiens niamniamensis constantly moist and in bright light. If the light is too bright the leaves get small and the plant carries less leaves and starts to look like a coconut palm with leaves just at the top. I am trying to find just the right amount of light. There is an Inpatiens book out by Raymond Morgan published by Timber Press that is a must have if you like Impatiens species. I have tried several others and find the epiphytic species to be difficult to grow. Last year while on vacation I lost several of my Impatiens because they dried out.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

That's great Mike! I hope it works for you, and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product. Thanks for sharing...and have fun on your vacay! BTW I'm also going away for 2 weeks (leaving this saturday), and I am having someone look after my plants but I am nervous! Wish I could've come up with something like that. Great job!

Gabi


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike, that looks like a great set-up! Going on vacations is definitely nerve racking for us when it comes to who and how we are going to care for our plants when we're away.

Keep us posted and thanks for sharing your great invention with all of us!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike thanks for the photos. Seeing things is so much easier for me to under stand.
Let us know how the plants do while you are away.
Do you grow many stapeliads? I have tired to find some but no luck. My dad uesed to grow these when I was little and some smelled like a dead animal that has been sitting the sun,but I still would like try to grow them one day.
Have a good time on your vacation.

Cindy


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Hey Mike,
That's a bummer regarding the drip system problem. Having all the water drain away too soon is not good. I hope you can find a solution before you leave!

Beautiful stapelia flower. I've grown a few stapeliads and they are such cool plants. Actually, there are a lot of cool plants in the Apocynaceae family/asclepiad sub-family.

I really need to win the lottery so I can afford a nice big greenhouse or 10. I'd love to plant hoyas in the ground in a greenhouse and see how large they get.
Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Cindy I have just under 60 species of succulent Stapeliads including Ceropegia, Stapelia, Orbea, Orbeaopsis, Caralluma, Duvalia, Echindnopsis, Hoodia, Huernia, Piaranthus, Pseudolithos, Rhytidocaulon, Sarcostemma and Stapelianthus. I love these plants for their oddness and am willing to put up with the stench of the flowers although some do not smell and a few even smell good.

I am a member of the International Asclepiad Society so I have access to the seed bank and many rare species. This years batch of seeds did not do well so far little germination. Paul Shirley Succulents is a great source for these plants and Hoyas as well.

Mike I ordered some more dripper parts and have made some end caps by plugging some tubing with silicon, hope it works but I am sure I can figure it out before i have to go.

Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Some Stapeliad photos


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Great pics, Mike! Not only do you grow superb plants, you are an excellent photographer, as well!

Do you grow in a greenhouse? I don't grow many of the stapeliads any longer because I have found that most don't grow well under fluorescent lights; either the light is not intense enough (even when the plant is grown very close to the tubes) or the light produces abnormal, distorted growth. The plants in your photos have such perfect growth that it leads me to believe they are growing in very intense, natural light i.e. a greenhouse.

If you are growing under fluorescent lights, what kind of bulbs do you use?
Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Johanna, where do you see plants? lol..Toni


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike and Gabi, Have fun on vacation!!! I'll make sure I stop by and steal, um...er...ahhh...I mean check on your plants while you are away! LOL

Mike I love the stapelia (I have a little one that's supposed to get purple flowers) Nice photo.

Also, don't be afraid to post vacation pics (unless anyone on the forum objects) I would love to see them!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Thanks Johanna :)

And you are more than welcome to sneak in a pair of scissors if you take care of my plants!! Luckily I'm going on this trip solo (it's one of those trekker trips with a group of people from around the country, and most go solo), so my S.O. will stay home and TRY to take care of my plants (oy vey).

I'll be sure to post a link to my online picture album when I get back. It's a 2 week camping trip throughout Alaska, so I should have some awesome pics! But no chance in finding hoya growing in the Alaskan wild...shoulda picked Thailand!

Gabi


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike, I hope the tray work for you.
Love your stepeliads. Great photos!!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike thanks for the compliments. I grow almost all of my plants on stands or adjustable racks about a foot back from large south facing windows. I am in an apartment on the 14th floor so I get very bright light. The Stapeliads are grown on the window ledge and on a stand, those plants do not get any supplemental light. I do use fluorescents lights for the Hoyas and orchids though and they are a mixture of one cool white and one warm white bulb or daylight bulbs depending on what I pick up at the time. Because I have good natural light the florescents just help to lengthen the days during winter and to provide light to the plants on the lower levels of the racks. I have recently started buying LED light panels but I am still new to them so I can not really recommend them yet.
I should have some more interesting Stapeliad photo soon if I don't miss the flowers while I am away.

Johanna I will add the photos to my Flickr page. There are some photos up there from last years trip to Temagami, will be a different part of Temagami this year but same geographical area. I just organized my Flickr account so should be easier to find things.

Gabi have fun on your trip! I always find interesting plants to photograph on my canoe trips so I am sure you will have a similar experience in Alaska. Going to another climactic zone where the plants and geography are new to you is always exciting.

Thanks Jan :) I have a thing for the plants in this family and it just so happens that Hoyas and Stapeliads are some of the most unusual and beautiful.

Here is another relative Asclepias viridis a Milkweed species.

Asclepias viridis

Well the tray has been empty of plants but full of water and it is working very well. I think that this was a good idea, fingers crossed that I don't cause root rot.

Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Photos from Temagami Northern Ontario Boreal forest 2008


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Thanks for the info, Mike. I am so envious of folks that have large south windows for growing plants. I have two small south windows and that's it, unfortunately.

The Temagami Boreal Forest is incredible! What a beautiful place! I bet it's very relaxing and peaceful to go canoing/camping there. It looks like it's a nice place to "get away from it all". I'm looking forward to seeing the photos you take on your trip this year. You really have an eye for photography.
Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike and Gabi, have a wonderful and FUN vacation!

Gabi, yes definitely your next one should be in "Thailand",lol. Lots of hoyas while your trekking!

Looking forward to pictures!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

I finally got around to getting some of the plants on to their trays. I made wicks out of the capillary matting to help the pots take up moisture because many of my Bulbophyllums don't like to dry out. There are six small Hoyas hidden in there but the second rack mostly holds Hoyas and just a few orchids, still working on that side. The bottom shelf in the Hoya rooting area filled with cuttings from David Liddle. I am planning on leaving the cuttings in the aquarium while away even tough they are well rooted because they will stand the best chance of not drying out.

Right side plant room

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Looks awesome Mike...Have a great vacation! Looks like your plants will do just fine with your new set-up!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike has it been a week in use? Does it look like its going to keep your plants a live while you are away? I so need something while I go away next year, because this year I lost 4 plants and had to restart 3 others.

Cindy


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Cindy I just put the plants in the trays yesterday but I did test a tray without plants for close to a week and it worked perfectly. I have noticed that the surface the capillary matting is on needs to be flat, any sagging from the weight of pots causes dry spots so I had to add more supports.

I always loose or have damaged plants when I return from vacation so I felt I had to come up with something. Still waiting on some more capillary matting so I can finish the Hoya trays. I will update again and after I get back.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

The answer I seek is probably in here somewhere... Mike, is there anything in the pot to assist with the upward water motion (anything wicking) or is it just the contact with the bottom of the container that causes sufficient capillary action?


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Johanna the capillary matting is what wicks and holds the water but you have to keep the water level fairly high to have the water wick properly. The capillary matting is a wool blend and it hold a huge amount of water.
I am still a little concerned with root rot so I have taken some of the plants off the trays and will not put them back on until I leave.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Very cool, Mike. I know folks in the gesneriad and African Violet societies use acrylic blankets cut to fit their trays since acrylic blankets are quite cheap and work just as well as cap. matting made specifically for watering plants. Getting a dark color blanket also helps keep the algae down, too.

Have a great vacation! Please let us know how everything worked out while you were gone.
Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

I finished the gravity fed drip irrigation system for the larger Hoyas. This system is very simple and although I have not quite got the drippers and their flow rates perfect I am opting to have a friend come by and fill the reservoir after the first week as this will be the simplest way to water the plants and keep them happy while I am away.

This is the water reservoir with bulkhead and an on/off valve I picked up from another supplier after realizing that my outdoor drip system is overkill if it rains.

gravity fed drip irrigation

Here is a photo of the adjustable flow drip heads.

Hoyas showing adjustable drip heads

The drip line making it's way through the potted Hoyas. There are trays to catch any overflow that are similar to the other ones I built minus the capillary matting.

Hoyas with drip line

Here is a photo of the entire group. Normally these Hoyas are spread out between several rooms but for now they are grouped together because they are too tall to fit on the capillary matting trays. I like the way this has worked out and may keep some version of it in permanent use. The rest of the plants in the photo up on the window ledge are a few of my Stapeliads. The LED light panel I am trying out is also visible above the Hoyas, so far the plants seem to be growing well under it but they do get a good amount of sun from the window.

Larger Hoyas

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

GREAT Set-up Mike...very well done!! All your hoyas will do wonderful while your gone, no worries!!

Thanks for the pictures!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike,
Very impressive plans!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

WOW, I AM a bad hoya mom!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Johanna you don't neglect your Hoyas do you??? LOL
After returning from Holidays last year to find a bunch of dead plants I vowed to never again leave my favorite plants to fend for themselves. It kinda feels like Macgyver with plants and not as much action but I feel confident that this last one will work out well. I still have yet to figure out just what to do with the mounted orchids, always hate leaving them because they usually get watered every day. I think I will just have to break down in the future and buy a misting system to put on a digital timer.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

This is also a project I need to work on. I have an orchid case that I built, and all but one of the orchids within are mounted. They pretty much need to be watered every day or every other day, and that limits how long I can be away from home, obviously. So I've been seriously considering a misting system, or a cycled drip system, meaning that there would be a drip system similar in concept to what you've set up, but a water feature at the bottom that would be filtered and cycle the water back using a pump, to use the water again to hydrate the orchids. I would probably opt for the misting system for the case I'm talking about, but use a cycled drip system for the new terrarium I'm planning. This is all still in the theoretical planning stage, so no solid details as of yet.

To make this slightly more Hoya related, I have some notions of putting one or two smaller growing Hoyas in the new terrarium, as it is rather large and would benefit from an attractive focal plant like a Hoya : )

Seriously though, overall this is a great topic, as I do not have any plant buddies to care for my plants should I go on a trip. In particular, I think my lacunosas and my linearis cuttings would hate me for leaving them for any extended period of time, in addition to my mounted orchids. I could always convert my African violets to a wick watering system, but I really hadn't considered a similar system for any other plants. I will have to keep my eye on this thread to see how things go.


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

You know I did get some tiny little 2L/hour drip heads but as I suspected they are not gravity fed but require a pump to operate. If I had more time I would go find a pump that would work with 1/4" tubing but I have a feeling I would need to buy some adapters and that is just not possible in the short amount of time I have left. Next time it's a Mist King system because with that I can run misters and drippers all on the same unit and cover all the bases.

It has been raining here for a week straight so maybe I will get lucky and the plants will dry slowly and not need as much attention. I just might move more outside to fend for themselves in hopes of a little rain while I am away.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike,
The downside to moving the plants outside is that you could have a very warm, windy period and that would dry the plants faster than if they were in the house.

I know people that have left mounted plants leaning against the sides of their bathtubs and then add enough water to the bottom of the tub to keep the mounted plants moist (this works best for those mounts that have sphagnum moss against the mount so the moss can wick the water to the plant). Having the mounted plant sitting in water constantly is usually not a big deal since the plant is not actually "in" the water itself.

There usually isn't much light in a bathtub, but that is usually of less concern than the mounted plants drying out too much.

You could also use those plastic pans you're using for the plants on capillary matting and just lean the mounted plants against the sides of the pan and keep water in the bottom of the pan. That way the plants could stay under the lights while you're gone.
My .02
Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Well I am back and the self watering plant trays worked perfectly with all my indoor plants looking great. The Hoya drip system also worked perfectly and there was some significant new growth on a few plants while I was gone, must have been happy. I am seriously considering keeping a few Hoyas on a smaller self watering tray because they seem to have grown much better than usual. My Hoya caudata added another leaf and peduncle while on the tray and Hoya patella and blashernazii have started growing much faster than usual.

The only problem that occurred was a cracked line on the outdoor drip system so I did loose a couple plants but mostly just some annuals I grow from the hummingbirds. I will have to pick up some more flexible tubing from the pet store to fix the outdoor system.

Mike I rigged up a large storage tub complete with timed light, a pump and spray bar to keep the humidity up for my mounted plants. All the plants did very well including my Brassavola nodosa which continued maturing it's buds.

Over the next week or so I will be working on the photos I took while on vacation and will have them on my Flickr site.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Welcome home Mike.So happy this set up worked for you. Now I have an idea what to do while I go away next year.

Cindy

P.S Mike our group dead line is Aug 15th if you are still ordering.


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Wow, an inspiration. Also to find someone entranced with Ceropegiums. I have an ampliata that I've been trying to clone to get two plants blooming at the same time. Single plants open one bloom at a time, disallowing any type of pollentation.

I'm afraid with this years growth, it is on it's last legs. I easily get cuttings started or split out pots but these never make it through winter!!!

Golly, another Ceropegia fan!!!

Great job on the Plant Minder system, Mike. YOu are an inspiration!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike,

Here's a silly question . . . what's the name of the Hoya in the butter tub?

Carolyn


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Thanks Cena, yeah I have seven or eight Ceropegias and they are all pretty interesting plants. I have only flowered four so far, still working on the others.

Here is the last one to bloom other than Ceropegia linearis but that one is not nearly as impressive.

Ceropegia aristolochia x denticulata

Carolyn do you mean the one in the brown pot with writing on it, the one with the patterned leaves? That plant is Hoya meredithii GPS 3576 20033 from Paul Shirley's collection, there is the possibly that it is a misnamed Hoya callistophylla.

Mike


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike, yes, that's the one! Sorry, it looked just like a Country Crock margarine tub . . . hehehe I love the pattern on the leaves. Next on my list!

Carolyn


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Mike, Welcome back...so glad to hear all is well with your Plants. That is one interesting looking plant you got there. Very Cool!!


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RE: Self watering plant trays DIY

Thanks Pug. I grow a lot of Hoya relatives, the whole Asclepiadaceae group is pretty darn cool. Being able to grow hardy Milkweeds is a plus as well, cool Hoya like flowers and fragrance. The Stapeliads are another fun group of plants to grow.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asclepiadoideae

Mike

Here is a link that might be useful: Ceropegia Journal


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