How To Make A Wicking Tub For Container Gardening (Video)

Save water and reuse old containers with Leon Sloan's wicking tub container garden method. It's easy, inexpensive and efficient—and it really works!

Many gardeners believe there is nothing new under the sun (literally) for gardening techniques, just new takes on old tricks. However, Leon Sloan from Kingston, Oklahoma, has a unique container gardening method debunking most gardening beliefs.

Sloan shares his 13-year-old concept of wicking water up through a pipe to get healthier plants that maintain moisture 24/7.

Waste Not, Want Not

Meeting Leon you quickly learn he conserves everything he can to make the most out of what he uses. He believes in protecting the oceans and environment through recycling and upcycling. And he always aims to save the most money possible.

At his greenhouse store, he sells fertilizers and plant supplements in ziplocks and recycled pop bottles. This responsible and intentional mentality is part of his wicking tub method. The concept of the tub is simple and reflects his way of living—waste not want not. 

Read more: Thinking about starting a medicinal herb container garden? Check out these 6 plants!

About the Wicking Tubs

Wicking Tubs are made of recycled 25-gallon feed tubs, one PVC pipe and 8-gallon milk jugs. These are all simple supplies most people can access.

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On larger scales the milk jugs can be supplemented for French Drain Pipes when making multiple wicking tubs without needing so many jugs. You can also substitute the feed tubs for 5-gallon buckets, your favorite decorated containers or raised garden beds.

Sloan’s universal rule is to cover 80 to 85 percent of the bottom surface of your container with the supply holding the oxygen (i.e. french drain pipes or empty gallon jugs). This, he refers to as a “false floor.”

Soil will take up the remaining 15 to 20 percent of the bottom of the container to wick the moisture up to the roots of the plant.

A Different Approach

Common Container Garden practices encourage using old soil or organic matter “fillers” in the bottom 25 to 50 percent of the containers, and to drill holes at the bottom of the container.

Sloan’s wicking tub method teaches that the oxygen at the bottom is pertinent to wick the water up. And holes only allow water to pass through and out of the container leading to dry soil. The wicking tubs make even drip irrigation seem wasteful.

“Without a way to hold water in and keep soil continuously and evenly moist, you are just running water through the soil and out the bottom,” Sloan explains. Sloan does drill a hole 4 inches from the bottom on the side and as an indicator of when you have watered the plant enough.

“Just pour your water down the PVC pipe until it comes out of the side hole,” he explains.

Read more: Collect rainwater to save money and water. Here’s how to start.


To assemble the 25-gallon tub with gallon jugs, follow these steps.

  1. Pre-drill 3/16-inch holes around the top and bottom of the gallon jugs.
  2. Drill one hole in the side of the tub 4 inches from the bottom. 
  3. Pack the jugs in as tight as you can, covering 80 to 85 percent of bottom.
  4. Open one of the jug lids and insert the PVC pipe. The pipe must be cut at an angle for the part going inside of the jug. And it must be long enough to stick out of the container.
  5. Add potting mix and supplements, ensuring 15 to 20 percent of the soil reaches the bottom of the container.
  6. Plant either seedlings or seeds.
  7. Water through the PVC pipe until it trickles out of the hole in the side of the tub.

Leon shares these wicking tub tips and more on his YouTube Channel, Gardening with Leon. In the video above, he demonstrates his method by assembling a fig tree using the French drain pipe.

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