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How to Install a Self-Watering Garden

Ask This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook shows a homeowner in Orlando how to plant a low-maintenance vegetable garden using hydroponics.


  1. Vegetables thrive in full sunlight, so choose a sunny location.
  2. Lay down a layer of weed barrier with landscape staples.
  3. Drive support rods into the ground one foot using the rubber mallet. Ensure they stay plumb with the torpedo level.
  4. Drive the support column into the ground over the support rods, sinking it 10” into the ground. Use a bolt to ensure the end of the column isn’t damaged.
  5. Slide the lower planter over the support column. Add two spacers, then the support for the next planter.
  6. Add the column extension to reach the final height of the system.
  7. Before planting in the upper planters, use a scrap piece of pipe to cover the holes.
  8. Fill the container ⅔ with perlite and ⅓ with coconut fiber.
  9. Add plants to the corners of the planters, covering with coconut fiber.
  10. Fill the lower planter with the same mix and plant with larger crops like broccoli.
  11. Drop each square planter onto the column, keeping each level at opposing angles.
  12. Add a small pot for the irrigation system to the top of the column, then a piece of black tubing, and finally a PVC tee fitting with a hole drilled in it for the spaghetti irrigation line. Hold the spaghetti line in place using the black tubing.
  13. Run a main irrigation line between all four planter columns.
  14. Drill a hole in the lid of the 32 gallon trash can. Slide the irrigation line into that hole and attach it to the submersible pump. Ensure the power line runs out of the trash can.
  15. Attach the line from the pump to the main irrigation line.
  16. Use a punch tool to pierce the main irrigation line and attach the spaghetti tubing to that line.
  17. Plug the timer into a wall outlet, then plug the pump into that. Set the pump to run a few times a day.
  18. Fill the trash can with water and add the nutrients as prescribed by the manufacturer.

Roger visited the Orange County Extension Education Center in Orlando, Florida to see some inspirational gardens.

Roger installed the VGK-16AGP vertical garden system, manufactured by Verti-Gro.