Bottle Drip Irrigation

Bottle Drip Irrigation

It’s time to water your plants frugally. You have two precious commodities. Water and your time.
I fill my bottle drippers with the garden hose. This is quick and saves time. It reduces water loss via evaporation from the leaves.

You can recycle plastic bottles.

The used bottles are buried between plants. They take seconds to fill.

All water gets to the roots of each plant unlike sprinklers which allow much of the water to be trapped in the foliage.

“One of the best ways to provide a steady water supply to your plants without your constant attention is the gradual watering system or drip irrigation.

“Through this method a device is employed that slowly delivers water into the soil directly around the roots.

“Commercial watering spikes can be purchased from you local garden centre however, using recycled materials you can make your own drip irrigation system for free.” 1

Select one of these topics below

How To Make It - Step-by-Step

I prefer to have the bottle standing right-way-up as I think it looks nicer and it keeps debris out of the bottle thus keeping the holes from blocking.

The materials:

* 2 litre plastic soft-drink bottle or water bottle * Sharp small screwdriver, pointed hole-maker or drill

This can be used in container gardening, raised bed gardens and open vegetable gardens.

Using your pocket knife, make 2 small slits in the bottom of your bottle. Make two more small slits half way up your bottle. Then fill your dripper bottle with water to test it. Does it drip slowly? Or empty too quickly?

Dig a hole next to your tomato plant. Place the bottle right-way-up in the hole. Fill the bottle with water from the hose. Add liquid fertilizer from time to time.

This will slowly deep-water your tomato plants and most other vegetable plants.

You can learn more about this on another website.

Only two very small holes are needed at the lowest place on the bottle.

I prefer to leave the lids off. This means I can fill them in a shorter time each day without removing the lids. If you replace the lid on the bottle after filling with water it will release the water more slowly. You might like to experiment with this.

Place bamboo stakes next to each bottle. As the plants overgrow the bottle, you will still find it by seeing the stake.

Here I am making another hole slightly higher up the bottle. If I screw the lid on, this hole acts as a breather. Water will not come out. Air will go in. Try this.

However, if I remove the lid, water will come out this hole as well as the holes in the base.

You can make larger holes, and partly fill the bottle with coarse-sand or soil to slow the flow.

Fast fill. Slow release.

Funnel Orientation

Some people like the bottles upside down, like a funnel. Here is the upside-down orientation for your consideration.

“Drill 4-8 small holes into the cap of the plastic bottle. If you want it to drip slower use less holes, faster use more holes. Don’t make holes that are too small, they will become clogged up by debris. Remove the bottom of the bottle by cutting across with a sharp knife. I find a serrated knife works well. Removing the bottom of the bottle creates a funnel for you to easily pour water into. The wide mouthed opening will also catch some water when it rains.” 1

“Dig a hole next to a plant or in between a grouping of plants that is deep enough to bury at least one third to one half of the bottle. If you position the bottle in amongst a grouping of plants it will be hidden from view. Place the bottle in the hole with the cap side down and secure it into the hole by pressing dirt around it. This will ensure that your bottle stays in place. Pour water into the bottle until it is full. You can add fertilizer to the bottle every few weeks so that your plants are fertilized right at the roots.” 1

I prefer to remove the plastic lid altogether and stuff a small rag stopper tightly in the lid hole. This prevents the holes blocking up.

“You will need to fill your bottle when it is empty, once a day or less depending on how much direct, hot sun your plants receive. Make several bottles to place in all your large containers or next to plants in your garden such as tomatoes that require a lot of water.” 1

How this plant dripper saves your time

This can reduce the time it takes to water your plants.

Just zip along the rows filling each bottle with water from your garden hose.

Also, you can water them in the hot sunlight because you will not get water on the leaves.

Auto-fill Drip Irrigation System

Until now, I’ve been filling my drip irrigation bottles by hand. To save time, today I tried to auto-fill them using connectors and a feeder hose. I made a hole in the lid. I used a drill. Placed the lid on a wood bench. Drilled the hole. Inserted a feed hose connector (from garden centre). Then I pushed on a short length of feeder hose. These 3 litre bottles are my preference. The other end of the feeder hose attaches to a push-in feed hose connector on our black alkathine hose. This comes from the garden tap. I joined the dripper bottles to the thin-wall alkathine using 4mm Offtakes, by Plassay, Yates, obtained from a garden center. Connects 4mm feeder tubing to 13mm water line. Water comes from the tap, through a tap-timer ($NZ 24) along the 13mm garden alkathene hose (thin walled hose) then into the thin feed hose. This enters the top of the bottle. Close-up of 4mm Offtakes, by Plassay, Yates, obtained from a garden center. As the bottle fills with water, air escapes around the connector in the lid. This is necessary so pressure does not build up until the bottle is filled with water. Water drips out two small holes in the base of the plastic bottle. The bottle is mostly buried. I set the timer for 20 minutes. The tap-timer turns off the water after 20 minutes and my drippers keep irrigating the garden under the surface in the heat of the day. Turn on and I walk away! Let me know if you have an improvement on this.

Alternative method using PVC

You may also like this alternative design which uses PVC pipes from the recycle center. Instead of bottles, you can recycle PVC pipes and save yourself a lot of time and water. More…

irrigation 2

Which irrigation method show you use?
potsI use recycled PVC piped or plastic pots in which plants are sold, or plastic bottles.

Pots are great as the large opening is easier to fill, especially when I use a bucket of liquid compost water. I use the plastic pots rather than bottles for liquid fertilizer. PVC pipes for long gardens. I use bottles for short gardens and pot plants.

More small garden irrigation plans

Read more here. Here is another post about irrigation using PVC piping.

References and Photo Credits

1 Trail, Gayla. Make Your Own Pop Bottle Drip Irrigation System, Growgirl.

2. Photo of orange dewdrops by Neil Fowler http://www.flickr.com/photos/31878512@N06/4666821126/

3. Photo on hose and water by Beth Harper http://www.flickr.com/photos/beth-harper/2585531028/in/faves-50830261@N05/.

4. Photo of water drop by Photo by Axel Bührmann, http://www.flickr.com/photos/snapeverything/837315316/in/faves-50830261@N05/

57 Comments

  1. If I leave the lids off, I can not make the holes higher up the bottle, correct?

    Reply
    • Yes you can. I leave the lids off, make large holes, and bury the container until all the holes are under ground.

      Reply
      • I would have never thought of this, but I’m going to do this today because I’ve been working with my soil for 2 years now I’ve been composting, now if I do this I don’t have to worry about my soil drying up so quickly, this is really going to make a big difference in my garden. THANK YOU

        Reply
  2. Could this be adapted using gallon sizes bottles for really big pots? I was getting ready to convert my pots into self watering containers but this seems as effective and a lot less costly :$

    Reply
    • Sure it can. Beware of overflowing if your pots are kept indoors.

      Reply
  3. This is a great idea. I plan on using this in my large pots and raised beds

    Reply
  4. Will this work on my indoor plants?

    Reply
    • What about the overflow when you give more water to your plant than it can receive? Be sure you do not overflow your hanging pot plants and flood your furniture.

      Reply
  5. Hey,

    Just wanted to say that we love this idea. We always recommend it to people for their planters.
    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  6. For all you novice gardeners, like myself. This is NOT a case of more is better!! My first go round I put 8 holes in my bottles. Yeah, the water just gushed right on out of the bottle, almost faster than I could fill it. Whoops!!! I’ve redone it, and am hoping my plants can survive on the one bottle I’m going to give them before I leave for 2 weeks. Luckily they had a nice day long drenching 2 days ago.

    Reply
    • I overcame this by burying my bottle so that the holes are all below the ground. Even large holes take a long time to drain this way.

      Reply
  7. Great tip and will SO be using this idea this summer! I live in Texas and we get very hot and very dry summers!

    Reply
    • Best part is using liquid fertilizer rather than just plain water.

      Reply
  8. Love this idea!

    If using in a raised bed (4×8), what kind of spacing should each bottle have?

    Reply
    • One bottle between two plants. The space is not used anyway and you’ll not have to weed there.

      Reply
  9. Thanks for the tip! Even though, I don’t live in a super hot area, this is still plenty useful. I appreciate the post!

    Reply
  10. I was wondering if you have any advice for using this bottle method on a raised bed for square foot gardening? Specifically, I wonder if the bottle would take up too much space or be too close to some plants. All of my beds are 3X6′

    Reply
    • The space between young plants needs to be weeded anyway. As plants grow, the bottles become hidden under the leaves and vegetation.

      Reply
  11. I use these screw on ,funnel shaped that have holes all the way up and at the tip. They attach to 2Lt pop bottles and work great and are stuck in the ground beside the plant , but you have to pull them out and screw off the top and refill bottles. They’re great in pots where I’m not always there to give a steady watering to eg. tomatoes at the cottage or seasonal camping trailer park, or just hot areas that need lots of water. Plastic coffee cans dug in with fine holes in and around feed your tomatoes and plants that like to be watered at the roots. Dome have plastic lids you can put on and if you slice a slot or hole in top you get let debree and it keeps the small rodents away from what they think is their private watering hole. Used these both for a few years and they work great,especially in the hot season and you don’t have to fill or water constantly or be there to water. Yours is a great idea for in the city where you have running water, we haul so this is best. Keep the ideas coming….

    Reply
  12. Great idea save water and reuse plastic bottles. Wish I had seen it before this summer’s planting. Won’t forget for next though.

    Reply
  13. Very good idea we will have to try this in our garden even in Wisconsin it can get dry. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  14. I do the same, but rather than ugly plastic bottles I use old glass bottles and you can buy a good set if small drill bits most any place like Home Depo or Lowes for under $15!

    I even use some of my antique glazed moonshine looking jugs! They hold almost a gallon and do a great job and look nice too!

    I really hope the different states will come up with some kind of recycling for plastic bottles, it’s really a shame that there not doing it in the US everywhere:(

    Reply
    • I have not used glass. I did not know you could drill a hole in glass.

      Reply
    • Hi Greg,
      I really love the idea of using glass bottles.
      I am concerned that chemicals from the plastic bottle may eventually leach
      into the soil.
      I love glass too. So much prettier than plastic.
      What the tricks to drilling the tiny holes into the glass please.
      Thank you so much.
      Christina
      From the sunny Central Coast of NSW ( 2 hrs outside Sydney)

      Reply
  15. This is an incredible idea. We live in the hot desert and so watering is vital but watering the leaves we run the risk of burning them from the sun. This will work great for our needs. Thanks for the fantastic idea!

    Reply
    • Thank you. Let us know how this goes for you.

      Reply
  16. How do you keep the dirt from clogging the holes?

    Reply
    • I put a scoop of sand, soil or compost in each pot.

      Reply
  17. I prefer the plastic bottles for watering and the large pots in the corner of the beds for worm composting.

    Reply
    • Debbie, can you please explain further about the large pots for worm composting? Don’t the worms just escape? What sort of worms do you use? Cheers.

      Reply
      • I use wrigglers. I do not buy them. They are under logs on the farm. They find the food scaps if I bury them. Then, I put my scraps in a plastic drum and cover with soil. The worms cannot escape. They are multiplying. Works for me.

        Reply
  18. Explain the pots version? Can’t seem to grasp the how to

    Reply
    • Use old plant pots instead of bottles. You can fill them fast with a bucket. You can use liquid compost tea.

      Reply
  19. In response to your reply about clogged holes, I don’t understand your sand/soil/compost method. You add it into each bottle prior to adding water? Also, would shredded newspaper mulch be a good addition to this irrigation?

    Reply
    • Yes. Add sand to plant pots as they have large holes in the base. The water exits slower.

      Reply
  20. So now that you are using plant pots do you just plant the pot and fill with water? Any type of lid/top? Most ingenious idea love it. Thank you.

    Reply
    • No lid is needed. If organic material like leaves fall inside the pot then it will not be a problem.

      Reply
      • I think I’ll try the bottle method, it seems a really good idea! Problem with plant pots to hold the water: even the little ones have larger holes in the bottom – doesn’t this mean the water drains out too fast? I see your point about organic material like leaves falling in and that won’t matter but might it be a death trap for beneficial insects, earwigs, spiders, bees etc.?
        (Great website and layout is really clear, thank you!)

        Reply
        • Good for including compost tea in with the water for plant nutrients.

          Reply
  21. Hi, I live in India, Temperature in my area is around 40 Degrees Centigrade. Is it possible to adopt this kind of Bottle Irrigation method to large plants like Coconut, Mango, Lemon etc.. Also it would be better if you publish the list of Plants that can be grown with this method on a Large / Commercial scale (With respect to farming i.e on a Land are of 5 to 10 Acres.)

    Reply
  22. We use old vinegar bottles in our big raised gardens. They’re tougher than soda bottles and the mouth is big enough to fit your hose end right down in. That way you are hands free for a few minutes of weeding. ;)

    Reply
  23. This is a great idea and similar to one my husband came up with a couple of summers ago when the Midwest was in an extreme drought situation. Our concern was our trees and shrubs and how to get water to the roots as we realized that surface watering wouldn’t do the trick. He found a root feeder in the garage that we had used to fertilize when we planted the trees and used it to deliver water to the deep roots. As the ground softened from being watered he gradually pushed the root feeder deeper until it got as deep as it would go. We would never have been able to water that deeply and get water to those roots by watering on the surface.

    Reply
  24. If you fill a 2 liter bottle to the top, how long does it normally take to become empty? I realize this will probably depend on a few variables…I just wanted a general idea please.

    Reply
    • The size of the hole makes a big difference. If you drill the hole it will be a known size. You could trial it in the sink.

      Reply
  25. Doesnt the plastic leach chemicals into the soil?

    Reply
    • Probably. In other countries the use an earthenware pottery container. That might be better for you.

      Reply
  26. Hello there my kids and I are new at this. So please bare with us.. OK our questions are.. First ?? Is the cap needed for slow irrigation?? 2nd ? How How will we control how much water is released for the watering bottle??

    Reply
    • 1. I do not use a cap any more.
      2. The size of the hole controls the amount of water released.

      Reply
  27. I did this with some heavier plastic water bottles. I cut small slits with razor blades, thus the water drains very slowly. Not the easiest way to go using razor blades, it dulls/breaks them pretty fast, but it’s effective. Would be helpful if I had used one with a handle! It’s a great idea for recycling these bottles.

    I cut off the bottoms of other bottles and have put them over planted seeds to use as mini greenhouses.

    Loved the additional tips given, like liquid fertilizer! Had’nt thought of doing that!

    Thanks! !!

    Reply
    • On the subject of mini greenhouses: I cut off the bottoms of plastic milk cartons, then cut the bottles into rings, about 4 to a 2L bottle. These I place aound newly planted seedlings, or bulbs like garlic. It marks their place in my crowded garden, and contains the water for a little while when I hose them. It could act as a deterrent for cutworm too, but not sure, though no seedlings have ever been nipped off when using this method. The plastic rings can be used for a few years, and I store them on a string. With some of the smaller rings I cut them vertically in one place so they can be ‘stretched’ around a plant. They’re easier to remove too, especially when the plant puts on some top growth. The rings only stay on until the plant is established and more visible amongst all the others. I mulch around the rings with spoiled lucerne to conserve water and deter weeds. I have used this method for many years and it has always been successful in protecting vulnerable seedlings. I plant garlic bulbs throughout the flowers and herbs as they don’t take up much horizontal space, and the strappy leaves look attractive.

      Reply
  28. I poked 4-5 very small holes on the bottom of a plastic bottle like you had described. And I buried it in the ground. I filled the bottle and within a min or two, the water emptied out completely. Now, I figured the water had to go underground somewhere as the water didn’t gush back up on top. So, I am assuming, the water will keep the underground moist anyways and the roots will eventually get the water. Is that a good assumptuon?

    Reply
  29. Do you know where in the USA I can purchase the 4mm Plassay Offtakes by Yates? I am in the process of setting up my raised beds and really need to get a hold of them as soon as possible. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Can anyone else help?

      Reply
  30. It a very useful idea for save plants in summer like INDIA. and good use of emty bottals.

    Reply
  31. love these ideas for drip release watering,(we are just getting started on our planting to provide food supply in our small yard) will try for our new fruit trees….thks

    Reply
  32. If you live in an area with mosquitoes, you need to put fine screen or lids on the watering containers. I’ve solved the suction problem by drilling a small hole or 2 close to the neck of the bottle above the water fill line. Make sure those holes stay above the soil.

    Reply

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