Saturday, August 01, 2015

DIY: Self-Watering Kitty Litter Containers

Guest  blog by Gaby Galvin

Linda Olson enrolled in the Howard County Master Gardener Program in January. The more she read and thought about it, Olson realized commercial self-watering systems, popular with container and small space gardeners, were extremely expensive and didn’t always work well. She did find a DIY self-watering system developed by the HGIC (UMD extension), but found it to be too costly and difficult to be practical. She decided to research a lower-cost method, and after much trial-and-error, came up with the kitty litter bucket self-watering system with her husband, John.

She has three different designs: Design 1 is water-conserving, Design 2 has a waster reserve bottle filling the container so you don’t have to, and Design 3 is the most visually appealing because it does not have tubes and milk cartons attached and mimics some of the more expensive products she found in her research. Olson’s personal favorite is Design 1. She doesn’t sell the buckets, but they are easy to make – the materials cost less than $5, and if that isn’t enough, Olson is willing to visit garden clubs and groups to do a bucket-making demonstration. She can be contacted at

·        Drill with ¼” and 5/8” drill bits (a spade bit works better)
·        Small, pointed knife

·         Two empty 17 lb kitty litter buckets (one will stack inside the other) - This is for a deep rooted plant. For shallow rooted plants, use smaller buckets. Make certain that your plastic container is FOOD SAFE.
·         One gallon clean, empty milk jug with cap
·         One Nylon Hose Barb to MIP Elbow PL-361  3/8” x 3/8” (made by Watts Item #17100361  and SKY #0 48643 16466 6) -  Price each: $2.19. Typically located with plumbing parts and supplies.
·         Plastic tubing with 3/8” INSIDE diameter – 6 to 12 inches (purchase length desired for your location)
·         Two rubber washers at 45 cents each

1.      Drill one hole in side of the bucket with the 5/8” drill bit. Hole should be located two inches from the bottom of the bucket. DOUBLE CHECK FOR PLACEMENT OF HOLE BEFORE DRILLING. Hold the interior bucket up against the exterior bucket and verify that the bottom of the interior bucket is ABOVE where you want to put your hole.
2.      Put one rubber washer on the threaded end of the Hose Barb elbow. Then work this piece into the hole just drilled so the rubber washer presses against the bucket side. It will be a TIGHT FIT. From the inside of the bucket, stretch the other rubber washer over the threaded end of the elbow joint. Make certain this is tight against the side of the bucket. The rubber washers create a waterproof seal.
3.      Attach the plastic tubing to the outside hose barb elbow tip.
4.      TEST YOUR BUCKET:  Fill with water to just above the rubber washer. Look for leaks. 
a.       Leak repair:  Check to make certain that washers are tightly pressed against bucket. If it still leaks, place a bead of silicone caulk around edge or purchase a smaller rubber washer. 

5.      Drill 25 holes in the bottom of the interior bucket with the ¼” inch drill bit.
6.      Cut an “X” into the shoulder of a 1-gallon milk jug.  Insert the end of the tubing into the milk jug and raise the kitty litter bucket by 8 inches.  You can set the bucket on a plant stand, cinder block, brick or a step.
7.      Use an organic soil-less mix, Leafgro soil conditioner, or combination of the two for container plants.

Decorating the kitty litter container:
·         For those who are not opposed to aerosol cans: Krylon and Rust-o-leum have paint and primers in one specifically made for plastics.
·         For those who will do more than one bucket, XIM primer is sold by the can and will need to be painted with a brush or small roller. It is about $19.99/can. It is specifically formulated for plastics. Cheaper brands can be used on PVC plastic, but the hardware store staff could not guarantee results of the cheaper ones especially if the item is to be placed out in the direct sun.
a.       Sand surface area to be painted.  Wipe ALL traces of dust. Some web sites advocate a final wipe down with rubbing alcohol.
a.       Once properly primed, any latex paint can be used.
b.      Have fun with painter’s tape and stencils.
c.       Spray or paint a clear matte finish on your bucket to protect the paint.
d.      Just remember, this is NOT fine art. Imperfections are okay. The bucket will be seen from a distance.  If it really doesn’t work out, put more holes in the bottom and it is now an insert instead of an outer container. Try again!

“I am having the time of my life playing with these buckets,” Olson said. “I am constantly trying to make them work better and be more attractive!”

About the author:
Gaby Galvin is a Washington Gardener Magazine summer 2015 intern who is studying multiplatform journalism at the University of Maryland. She does some gardening at home in Davidsonville, MD, with her mother and grandparents. 
This is the first in a 5-part series on DIY projects for the home gardener. Look for the next installments in this DIY blog series on the 1st of each month (through December 2015) here at"

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fenton Friday: Dig Dug Dag!

I set out today in the noon-time heat to dig up what I thought would be a handful of potatoes. These are the German Butterballs that I planted in Spring 2014 and then never bothered to dig up last year. They sent out new foliage this spring and that had died back a few weeks ago, so I figured it was time to see what was underneath the small mound of soil. I put my garden fork in and was surprised to see how many potatoes I uncovered -- lots of golden yellow orbs -- some big, some tiny. Then I dug in again and again. I put them all in a bucket and brought them home to weigh them -- 7 pounds total. Not too shabby for basically zero work on my part!

Also happening in my plot (aside from the ongoing cherry tomato explosion) is the first Okra harvest -- all two of them. I only put three plants so only expect to get a few at a time. This first harvest now kicks off what I call the keep-up-with-Okra time of year in the garden, which is simply to make sure to get over to my plot at least for a few minutes every day to pluck off the newest tender Okra before it gets too big and woody to handle. (Hey, get your minds out of the gutter!)

So how is your edible garden growing this week?

About Fenton Friday:
Every Friday during the growing season, I'll be giving you an update on my community garden plot at the Fenton Street Community Garden just across the street from my house. I'm plot #16. It is a 10 ft x 20 ft space and this is our 4th year in the garden. (It opened in May 2011.) 

Thursday, July 30, 2015


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   • Deep local resources for turning more residents into gardeners.
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Why Gardens (and Gardening) Matter
The Washington, DC, area is blessed with fabulous gardens that are open to the public, most of them free. Sadly, many are largely unknown and lack the funds to get the word out. If people could just see what they look like throughout the year, more would visit, and that matters because:

    • Gardens bring visitors close to plants and to all of nature, which benefits them
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    • Turning people on to gardening results in more beauty for all of us to enjoy and
     better stewardship of our land — without nagging.

Every Thursday on the Washington Gardener Magazine Facebook page, Blog, and Yahoo list we feature a current advertiser from our monthly digital magazine. To advertise with us, contact today.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Win RESCUE!® Fly Traps in Washington Gardener Magazine Reader Contest

For our July 2015 Washington Gardener Reader Contest, Washington Gardener Magazine is giving away the RESCUE!® POP! Fly Trap and the RESCUE!® Disposable Fly Trap (prize value: $12).

   The RESCUE! POP! Fly Trap catches common nuisance or filth flies around the home and in agricultural settings. This trap is formulated to lure hundreds of the most prevalent fly species, including house flies, false stable flies, blow flies, blue and green bottle flies, flesh flies, face flies, and many others. The RESCUE! POP! Fly Trap comes with one packet of water-soluble attractant packaged inside a foil pouch. Once lured inside, the flies cannot escape and drown in the water inside the trap. Find out more at

   To enter to win the RESCUE! Fly Trap duo, send an email to by 5:00pm on Friday, July 31, with “Fly Trap” in the subject line and in the body of the email. Tell us which was your favorite article in this July 2015 issue of the magazine and why. Please also include your full name and mailing address. The fly trap winner will be announced and notified on August 1.

UPDATE: Our winner, chosen at random from the submitted entries is Alison Mrohs of Rockville, MD. Congratulations!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fenton Friday: Stew Fixin's?

This week at my community garden plot, the heat broke and the humidity left. That made gardening do-able again! The downside of that cool front moving is that we are dry-dry-dry and no real rain in sight this coming week either. So looks like we are back to our usual July-August drought period with most of my precious gardening time being allotted to watering enough just to keep things alive and not getting much else done. I did participate in one communal weeding session of our shared pathways earlier this week - no big surprise that only one other gardener showed up for it...

In my own plot, the Okra are quite short (due to planting them so late), but putting on flowers and buds. Also, I pulled out a handful of small Carrots -- they are surprisingly still sweet and tasty. Finally, I think it is time for me to dig up my Potatoes. When I do that, between these three ingredients I could theoretically make one tiny bowl of stew. Ha! As if I would attempt it even! No, instead I'll eat the Carrots and Okra raw as a snack, then see what the Potato dig unearths -- IF there is more than a handful, I may save them for county fair competition.

About Fenton Friday:
Every Friday during the growing season, I'll be giving you an update on my community garden plot at the Fenton Street Community Garden just across the street from my house. I'm plot #16. It is a 10 ft x 20 ft space and this is our 4th year in the garden. (It opened in May 2011.) 

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Carex Tours
Experience contemporary and classic gardens with a professional garden designer as your host. Our thoughtfully arranged tours present an opportunity to experience the work of the world’s most influential designers through an impressive variety of public and private gardens. Tours are planned to provide a leisurely pace in the spirited company of other garden enthusiasts.

Piet Oudolf & Dutch Wave Gardens

September 17 – 24, 2015

This tour explores the gardens of the highly respected designers and plantsman who contributed to the Dutch Wave movement. These experimental designers favored tough perennials and grasses arranged naturalistically. A visit to Piet Oudolf’s personal garden is a tour highlight introducing us to his artful approach to planting design. More tour info:

Every Thursday on the Washington Gardener Magazine Facebook page, Blog, and Yahoo list we feature a current advertiser from our monthly digital magazine. To advertise with us, contact today.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Video Wednesday: Garden Photo Show 2015

Here is a short video from the 9th annual Washington Gardener Photo Contest at an art show opening reception at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, VA. In the video, 9 of the 11 winning photographers describe how and where they took their winning images. All 17 stunning photos were taken in DC-area gardens. Both inspirational and educational, this show represents the best of garden photography in the greater DC metropolitan region. You may come by and view the photos any time during the normal Meadowlark Visitor Center's lobby hours (10am-7pm daily). The photo show runs through September 1.

Washington Gardener Magazine is already announcing a 10th Annual Washington Gardener Photo Contest. Start gathering your images now and throughout this year. Most all of the entry rules will remain the same as this year’s contest. We will again accept the entries during the first three weeks of January.

Washington Gardener magazine ( is the gardening publication specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs. Washington Gardener Magazine’s basic mission is to help DC area gardens grow better. The magazine is written entirely by and for local area gardeners.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens ( is a park of beauty, conservation, education and discovery. Throughout the year at this 95-acre complex are large ornamental display gardens and unique native plant collections. Walking trails, lakes, more than 20 varieties of cherry trees, irises, peonies, an extensive shade garden, native wildflowers, gazebos, birds, butterflies, seasonal blooms and foliage create a sanctuary of beauty and nature. Meadowlark is part of Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

    • Capital Photography Center, LLC
    • DODGE-CHROME, Inc.
    • Timber Press
    • Washington Gardener Magazine


• Katherine Lambert (
• Patty Hankins (