Tomato Self-Watering Planter – Back to the Roots

Tomato Self-Watering Planter



Product components - What comes in my Self-Watering Planter?
Placement - Where will my tomatoes grow best?
Planting - How do I start my Self-Watering Planter?

Ongoing Care

Watering - How much and how often?
Thinning - How and why do I do this?
Fertilizing and Pollinating - What should I know here?
Harvest - What and when can I expect this?

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    Any other questions you may have!



    Product components


    Why does it come in a glass jar?

    • We use clear glass because it lets you watch the roots of the plant develop and see how moist your soil is for assessing your plant’s watering needs. The jar is also fully reusable and recyclable; after your final harvest you can compost the soil, wash the jar and use it for something else!

    Can my tomato plant really grow in such a small container?

    • Yes it can! We created the Self-Watering Planter with the optimal seeds and soil blend to grow in this environment. Make sure to put your planter in a space with ample sunlight – one of the most important aspects for your plant to thrive!



    What is your soil made of?

    • Our soil is a custom formulated blend of nutrient-rich ingredients such as up-cycled agricultural byproducts like coconut coir.

    Is your soil organic?

    • Yes! Our soil blend is made of 100% organic materials certified for use in organic gardening by OMRI, sourced from and blended in the United States.

    What are the white specs in the soil?

    • The white chunks are called perlite and they help to aerate the soil by creating air pockets where good microbe life can live and breathe.

    What is Biochar?

    • Biochar is made of wood scrap that’s been burned in a zero oxygen environment to create a stable, carbon-rich soil amendment. Biochar is a great purifier and can hold lots of water, due to its microscopic holes.
    • Biochar degrades slowly in soil and as it degrades, it releases its stored carbon which acts as a source of nutrients for the plants. The gradual-release of nutrients allows a plant to grow fuller in a shorter amount of time.
    • It also helps retain carbon dioxide in soil, which is great for your plants and even better for the atmosphere! A study conducted in 2009 by the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Other Natural Resources at the University of Washington concluded that “for every pound of biochar put in the soil, almost three pounds of carbon dioxide are kept from the atmosphere.” 


    Seed packet

    Are these seeds organic?

    Are these seeds Non-GMO?

    • Yes, all of our seeds are Non-GMO.

    I think you gave me too many seeds.

    • Those are our gift to you! Be sure to save them for a second planting or use them in another container to grow more tomatoes.

    What kind of tomatoes are these?

    • They’re a smaller “dwarf” variety of the cherry tomato plant, making it perfect for growing indoors.

    What's the seed packet made of?

    • It’s made of paper and can be recycled after you finish your seeds.


    Fertilizer spikes

    What are these for?

    • Your planter comes with two fertilizer spikes to give your plant extra nutrients at important stages of plant growth. Insert your first fertilizer spike into the soil when you see flowers on your plant, and your second when you see your first fruit. Refer to the Fertilizing FAQ section for more information.

    Are they Organic?

    • Absolutely! 100% organic.



    What’s an olla?

    • An olla (pronounced oy-yah) is a porous terracotta clay pot that slowly seeps out water when filled, making it perfect for gradual watering of your plant. The clay pot is fired at a low temperature to give it its porous character. This technology is thousands of years old, but is still used around the world today to help irrigate lands.

    How often do I fill my olla?

    • Your olla needs to be filled roughly once a week in the first month after planting. As your plant grows, you’ll notice your olla emptying more quickly because your plant starts to need more water. Be ready to start filling your olla twice or even three times a week as your plant grows, flowers, and fruits!

    What’s the rubber stopper for?

    • The rubber stopper on top of your olla keeps plant and soil debris from falling into your olla. You should only remove the rubber stopper when you need to refill the olla.



    Where in my home should I put my Self-Watering Planter?

    • Your Self-Watering Planter will do best in a south-facing window with full sun (8 hours per day). If you don’t have a window that gets lots of light, it may be best to use a grow light (available for purchase here).

    What’s the best temperature for my Self-Watering Planter to grow in?

    • Your planter will grow well in normal room temperature (70-75 °F). Keep in mind that in higher temperatures, your planter will need more water to keep growing. Additionally, if temperatures are below 60 degrees most of the day, your seeds may be slow to germinate.



    Watch this quick video tutorial on setting up your planter!

    Should I water my soil first or plant my seeds first?

    • First step is to dampen your soil with 1 cup of water before you begin planting you seeds. If you mixed up the steps, don’t worry! Just be sure that your seeds are covered in soil after the water has soaked in. Moving forward, your planter will rely on its olla for consistent watering.

    How many seeds do I need to plant?

    • We recommend planting 4-6 seeds spaced evenly around the jar opening. If you planted the whole packet already, no problem. You may just have a few more seedlings to trim in the next couple of weeks.

    My seed packet has more than 6 seeds - what do I do with them?

    • Our seed packets always come with extra seeds for you to save for another planter of yours!

    Why push the seeds ¼” into the soil?

    • Your seeds need a warm, moist environment to germinate, and the light ¼” blanket of soil is perfect for that. If left uncovered, the seeds may not be moist enough to sprout, but push them too far into the soil and they may never have the chance to peek their heads up. We’ve found that ¼” is the goldilocks of depths – not too shallow, not too deep, but just right!

    How long is ¼”?

    • Use the width of your pinky nail as an estimate for ¼”.

    What will happen to my seeds when they germinate?

    • The germination process is the very beginning of your seeds turning into full plants. From Day 7 to Day 14 of growing you should start to see small seedlings appearing from underneath the soil and begin turning into sprouts.

    My seeds are taking longer than 2 weeks to germinate

    • Our seed packets state that seeds should germinate within 2 weeks. If that’s not the case for you it may be due to non ideal environmental conditions. If temperatures are below 60 degrees for most of the day or if your jar isn’t getting much light, your seeds may germinate slowly or not at all. This is why we’ve given you extra seeds! Try planting the leftover seeds for better luck. If none of these tips work for you, just give us a call; we’ll replace your seeds, or even your whole planter if needed, at no charge: (510) 922-9758.

    Do I need to transplant my tomato plant into a larger container?

    • No transplanting is necessary. Your tomato plant will have plenty of room to grow inside the jar. We actually recommend not transplanting your plant, as the roots may get damaged in the process.


    Ongoing care:


    How much water does my Self-Watering Planter need?

    • When you first start your Self-Watering Planter, add 1 cup of water to the soil to moisten. Moving forward, your planter will rely on its olla for consistent watering.

    How often do I fill up my olla?

    • Your olla will need to be filled up roughly once a week during the first month after planting. As your plant grows, you’ll notice your olla emptying more quickly – this is because your plant needs more water to continue growing. Be ready to start filling your olla twice or even three times a week as your plant grows, flowers, and fruits!

    When I initially watered my soil for set up, the water didn’t sink into the soil right away and there were lots of bubbles. Should I be concerned?

    • Sometimes this happens because of air pockets throughout the soil or when soil gets dry in drier conditions. You can poke the top 1-2” of the soil with a fork to help get the water to soak through faster.



    How do I thin my plant?

    • When 3" tall, plants should be thinned to 3 stems. First add a bit of water to the soil to soften. Next, carefully pull out stems by the part of the stem closest to the soil, being cautious to avoid disturbing other plants. When plants reach 5" tall, repeat the same process to thin to 1-2 plants. Watch the gif below!
    Self Watering Planter Thinning Tutorial
    • Another method you can use is to cut the excess stems with scissors as close to the soil as possible. With this method, you may need to continually trim these stems to prevent them from regrowing – keep an eye out!

    Will thinning hurt my plant?

    • Nope! It helps the plant by reducing the competition between germinating sprouts for nutrients and soil space in the planter.

    Why is thinning necessary?

    • In order to have enough space for the roots to grow, and for the plant to grow into a healthy, mature plant to continually harvest from.

    What happens if I forgot to thin my plants?

    • You can still remove excess plants by trimming using the method mentioned above.


    Fertilizing and Pollinating

    What are the fertilizer spikes?

    • The spikes are made of organic growing material and provide extra nutrients for your plant in critical growth stages: flowering stage and fruiting stage. Learn more about the spikes from our partner, Jobe’s Organics.

    When do I use the fertilizer spikes?

    • We provide two for your Self-Watering Planter. The first one should be inserted when flower blossoms have opened, and the second when fruits begin to appear. Insert them into the surface of the soil away from the main stem of the plant, about an inch deep.

    What if I forgot to fertilize my plant right as it flowered?

    • The exact timing of adding your fertilizer is not critical – just add the spike as instructed and your fruit should show up shortly!

    When is my plant ready to pollinate?

    • When yellow or white flowers bud on your plant, your plant is ready to self-pollinate!

    How do I help my plant to self-pollinate?

    • After your plant’s flowers have opened, gently tap the base of your plant stems for 30 seconds to encourage self-pollination. To ensure pollination, do this at least twice on different days.

    What is self-pollination?

    • Certain plants, like your tomatoes, have the ability to self-pollinate. So instead of relying on bees or other pollinators to move pollen from flowers and promote fruit growth, the seed variety we provide grows flower blossoms that have both male and female parts. That’s why it’s important to tap the base of your plant stems, which will gently agitate the plant to move pollen where it needs to go to spur fruit!


    Harvesting & Handling 

    When should I harvest the fruits of my labor?

    • Harvest times vary based on growing conditions, but around three months into growing is when cherry tomatoes will start to appear. At first they’ll be green and quite tough so don’t harvest yet! Add your 2nd fertilizer spike at this time and wait for the fruits to turn almost completely red. Fruits may ripen at different times on the same plant, so be patient and wait for that color change before picking. If you’re looking to eat the tomato right away, make sure you pick a fully-red one!

    How big are my tomatoes supposed to be?

    • They grow to the size of grapes and will taste sweet!

    Can I eat my tomatoes right away?

    • If you harvest your cherry tomatoes when they're fully red, they’re ready to eat! If you pick them while they have a slight orange hue, wait an extra day or so for the tomatoes to ripen to a bright red. Make sure to wash them before you eat!

    How long will my tomatoes last after picking?

    • After your harvest, we suggest eating your tomatoes within a week. Store them in a cool place on your counter - not the fridge!

    What kind of meals can I create with these tomatoes?

    • Cherry tomatoes are a great addition to any mixed green salad, or you can eat them alone as a healthy snack. If you’re feeling ambitious, check out this Lemon Garlic Chicken or Roasted Salmon recipes that incorporate cherry tomatoes!


    Grow One Give One:

    So what is this Grow One Give One thing?

    • At Back to the Roots, we're a small, passionate team on a mission to reconnect families back to where food comes from. As part of that mission, for every Indoor Gardening Kit product you post a photo with, we'll donate the same product & a custom curriculum to an elementary school classroom of your choice! Learn more about this program at



    The leaves on my plant are yellowing

    • If this happens as the plants are producing fruit, it’s a sign that the soil’s nutrients are being redirected to the tomatoes for ripening. Feel free to snap off the yellow leaves from the plant.
    Image of Yellowing Tomato Leaves
    • Leaves yellow for a variety of reasons, but in the Self-Watering Planter the most common reason is the amount of water the plant is getting. It seems confusing, but yellowing can be a result of too much or too little water! Check how damp your soil is and adjust your watering schedule so that the soil remains dark but doesn’t become waterlogged. If soil is a very light brown color and the leaves of your plant are droopy, it’s probably too dry. If your soil is very dark and wet looking, it’s probably too wet. Feel free to send us a picture and we’ll have our plant doctors will do your best to help you diagnose the problem!  

    The leaves on my plant are droopy

    • This indicates that the plant is being under watered, and would appreciate a nice drink of water. You can sprinkle water directly onto the soil surface along with refilling the olla. A few hours after watering, you should notice that the leaves are perked back up.

    My plant is small and hasn’t grown much since it first sprouted

    • After the initial germination, the plant takes a while to grow to a full plant from which fruits can be harvested. This process can range from 2-3 months! Be patient and continue to ensure that its daily sunlight and water needs are met. Remember that your tomatoes like to be warmer – 70 to 75 °F during the day, with plenty of sun. Little sprouts don’t need too much water early on so unless they look particularly droopy and aren’t standing up straight, stay on the recommended watering schedule.

    I have many little plants, but none that are growing very big

    • You should thin to 2 plants so nutrients are concentrated and so that they can grow tall and strong. If you’ve already thinned your plant, just be patient! You may want to try changing the location of your Self-Watering Planter so that it gets more sunlight.

    What is the green stuff appearing in my soil, around the shoulders of the jar and the sides? 

    • The green stuff is algae, which thrives in moist environments while also having lots of direct sunlight. This isn’t detrimental to plant growth but if you want to reduce algal growth, place your Self-Watering Planter where it can receive indirect sunlight for a few days or reduce watering to allow algae to recede.

    I think I overwatered, what should I do?

    • The best visual indicator of overwatering is when you tilt the jar to its side and see lots of water sloshing around the biochar layer. You can carefully invert the jar to help drain the water from the soil, and wait until the soil appears to be dry, a few days, before refilling the olla. If that’s the case, try filling the olla less frequently (it may even be at 10 day intervals instead of 7 while plants are small).

    There are small flies around my planter, how do I get rid of them?

    • Soil gnats and fruit flies are common indoors when moisture is present, for example when a cup of water left uncovered or in your case, with damp soil. We recommend: 1) watering less frequently so that the soil is less moist and 2) aiming more accurately when filling the olla so that less water spills onto the surface of the soil. 
    • Alternatively, you can create a diluted soapy solution to spray the base of your plants with. Don’t worry – this won’t harm your plant. Here’s a link to our favorite homemade recipe.

    Why does my jar lid have holes?

    • It has holes to let the soil blend breathe before you use it. Plants love soil that contains air pockets, so the lid helps keep the soil ready to go while it’s waiting to become your garden.

    What do I do with the lid after opening?

    • The lid is made of aluminum and can easily be recycled just like a soda can, or can be upcycled into a dish or something else useful.

    Can I replant something else in this jar?

    • The soil in our planters contain just enough nutrients to provide one full growth cycle for your tomatoes, so we do not recommend replanting in the original soil. What you can do is empty the soil that’s leftover into a garden or compost bin, and reuse the jar and the olla with new soil and new seeds for a new plant!