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Image by David Ballew

Water Wise Container Gardening

at Jacob's Well.

Water wise containers or wicking tubs are a great way to enhance yield from a small space and minimize water use at the same time. Our volunteers water our demonstration and container gardens at Jacob’s Well by hand, so finding a way to retain as much water in our tubs was critical.  If you want to try your hand at these eco-friendly containers, here’s how we did it.


Each tub will need the following:

  • Soil Mix – (See below)

  • Compost – We used mushroom compost, but any good compost will work

  • Tub (These instructions will work for a 20 or 30-gallon tub). We used plastic, but corrugated metals tubs work just as well.

  • Corrugated plastic perforated drainpipe 4.5-inch round (Approx. 45 inches for each tub)

  • White PVC pipe and cap (1 inch Round – approx. 24 inches tall)

  • 1 dowel a ½ inch in diameter and approx. 30 in. long to fit in PVC pipe

  • Commercial grade landscape fabric, 4’ x 4’ for each tub

  • ½ cup Sustane Fertilizer 4-6-4

  • 1/8 cup Epsom Salt

  • 1/8 cup Lime

  • 1/8 cup Gypsum

  • 1 tsp. Nature’s Choice liquid fertilizer

  • ¼ cup Leon’s Sea Minerals (optional, see below for the source)

  • Gallon Jugs

  • funnel

  • Sharpie or permanent marker


  • Container Soil Mix – It’s very important that you use a soil mix and not just premixed container soil from the garden center. The soil mix we made here has additional sphagnum peat or coir fiber to insure proper drainage and aeration. An acceptable soil-based mix can be made by using one part garden soil, one part peat moss or coconut coir and one part perlite or coarse builder’s sand. Don't use fine beach sand or play sand. Miracle Grow sells a Potting Mix almost as well if you can’t mix your own.

Step 1

Cut corrugated pipe into 3 pieces. One to fit in the middle and one on each side and lay in bottom of tub.

Step 2

Using a ¾ inch circle drill bit drill a hole in the side of the tub just below the top of the corrugated drainpipe. So, if you are using a 4.5-inch drainpipe then position the top of the circle drill bit at 4.5 inches on the outside of the tub so once the hole is drilled it will allow water to come out of the top portion of the corrugated pipe.

Step 3

Place a 4’ x 4’ piece of commercial grade landscape fabric in bottom of tub and do not cover ends of corrugated pipe but tuck down carefully along the sides as these will be the main wicking wells. You may need to use to multiple pieces of fabric, depending on the size of your tub, because fabric must be able to cover the sides of the tub. Place the PVC pipe so it is angled “side down” between the fabric and the tub. We placed ours on the side of the container opposite the hole, but you can place it next to the hole, as long as it is not blocking the opening of the corrugated pipe. Cap the PVC pipe to keep debris out.

Step 4

Fill 3/4 of the tub with the potting mix.

Step 5

Mix together the Sustane Fertilizer, lime, Epsom salt, gypsum and Leon’s Sea minerals (if using) and spread evenly on top of soil.

Step 6

Fill up the tub the rest of the way with compost being careful not to get any behind the landscape fabric.

Step 7

Plant seeds/transplants.

Step 8

Pour 1 gallon of water at a time into the PVC pipe then place dowel in and mark each gallon on the dowel so when you check water level you will have an idea how much water you need to add if you want to keep track. One gallon of the water should be mixed with 1 tsp. of Natures Choice Fertilizer. Add Nature’s Choice once a week when you water until you begin to see sprouts/buds.

Step 9

Once plants are established mulch to help retain water.



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