Sunday, March 10, 2013

Wine Bottle Hydroponic Planter Tutorial

For Christmas every year, we pick a hand-crafted gift to give to, friends, coworkers, the ladies at the sandwich shop...everyone.

Our Yuletide production line was cranking out a fun one this past year, Wine Bottle Hydroponic Planters. Follow these instructions to make your own!

1. Get the right type of bottle.

You are looking for bottles with high shoulders and straight(ish) sides. The wine term for this shape is Bordeaux. Fortunately, it is the most common shape and is used for wines like Cabernet, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Grigio, and Sauvignon Blanc. Stay away from the heavily tapered bottles, they will not work.

A high-shouldered "Bordeaux" shaped bottle.

2. Remove the Label.

We soak the bottle in water and scrape off the majority of the label with a hard plastic scraper
Scrape the label.

To remove that stubborn adhesive that inevitably lingers, use paint thinner or acetone on a paper towel or rag to scrub it off. These are nasty solvents, so do this in a well ventilated area, not the kitchen counter. Definitely not the kitchen counter.
Clean with solvent.

 3. Measure, Measure, Mark.

Measure from where the shoulder starts to taper in to the top of the bottle. Here it is about 4 inches.
Measure from shoulder to top.

Start the next measurement from the top of the punt, or kick-up, or thumb dimple...thing.

Measure from top of punt (thumb dimple).

Mark the bottle at the shoulder-to-top distance plus 1/8" (3mm). This extra bit is supposed to give some clearance for the water wick and also compensate for some measurement inaccuracies. Here it is marked at 4 1/8" from the top of the punt.
Mark with an extra 1/8" (3mm).

4. Score the Bottle.

Score the bottle around its circumference at the mark you just made. You can make the score line with a hand glass cutter, a commercial bottle cutter, or a goofy looking jig made out of wood scraps and a glass cutting head installed on a lever. 

Cutting jig. Maintain pressure toward base while rotating bottle.

Note there is a weight hanging from the end of the cutting arm to provide even pressure throughout the cut.
Lowering weighted cutting arm onto bottle.

Whatever you use to make the score, remember that you want a straight line, with firm and even pressure, AND ONLY CUT ONCE AROUND! Any more than that will increase the chances of a ragged cut or even breakage. Watch a demonstration...

A good score line.

5. Prepare the Water Channel.

Glass cutting is only controlled breakage. We will be heat stressing the score line with hot and cold water to break along the line. The bottle may break at any part of the glass that is heated and cooled repeatedly, so we want to limit the area that experiences thermal stress. Put hair ties on either side of the score line to create about a 1/4" (6mm) wide water channel.
Water channel made from two hair ties.

6. Cut the Bottle!

Eye protection is always a good idea.

Rinse the channel with cold water.
Cold water.

SLOWLY pour near boiling water down the channel as you turn the bottle. Ensure that you heat the entire circumference. You will hear a slight crackle as the glass starts to crack along the score line.
Near boiling water.

Thoroughly rinse with the cold water and repeat until the bottle breaks in half. My bottles usually come apart after 1.5 to 3 cycles through the cold/hot water. I do this process in the small bathroom sink after a couple bottles broke after dropping into the deep ceramic kitchen sink. The bottle will separate when you least expect it, so be ready. If you do end up with a stubborn bottle, apply slight pressure to both sides of the bottle while holding in both hands.

Watch the demonstration...

Clean cut!

7. Sand the Edges.

A very clean cut also leads to a razor-sharp edge. A light hand sanding will chamfer the edges. You do not have to sand a lot, just enough to get the bar-fighting edge off. Do not use a Dremel, it takes too much off and over-stresses the glass. Wear gloves and a dust mask as glass dust is very bad to inhale.
Use gloves and dust mask.

8. Prepare the Wick.

Cut a 9 by 3.5" piece of felt. Use wool felt, not acrylic. Acrylic will not wick up water well enough. Cotton will also work, but it will eventually rot and require replacement. I plan on making a few wicks out of torn up cotton t-shirts. The dimensions are not terribly critical, but it should be in this ballpark. We chose this size because it divided the large piece of felt that we bought well.
9x3.5" felt.

Fold the felt lengthwise (hot dog style!) and sew two to three seams along the length to create the wick.
Fold and Sew 2-3 rows.

Fold the wick again as you push it through the neck of the cut bottle. It should extend 1-1.5" past the neck top.
Wick inserted into planter cup.

Test fit the planter cup in the planter base. The wick should extend over the punt to the lowest point in the bottle.
Wick extends over punt to bottom of bottle.

9. Choose a Plant.

This is not a large planter, so pick an appropriately-sized plant. You want a smaller or at least slower growing plant. Mint is probably NOT a good option since it grows rapidly with an extensive root system that would quickly become root-bound in this planter. Here are some ideas:

  • Herbs - oregano, thyme, miniature basil, rosemary, etc.
  • Succulents - aloe, aeonium, agave, crassula, etc.
  • Air Cleaners - Dracaena, Spider Plant, etc.
Slightly oversized sage seedling.

I am using a sage plant for this demonstration that may be a little too big. So bear that in mind.

10. Remove the Dirt.

If you start with a seedling that was started in dirt, you have got to get rid of the dirt. After all, this is a hydroponic dirt allowed.

Removed from container.

Start by removing it from the container and pulling off as much dirt as possible. Then rinse off the dirt as you work out the larger sticks and pebbles with your fingers. This is easier the younger the plant. Be patient, you will get there. Do be careful to support the plant in your hand while you work; you do not want to snap the stem or the main root ball. If you loose some of the smaller roots or leaves, it is nothing to cry about.

Cleaned plant.

11. Plant the Plant.

Place the plant in the planter cup with the roots up against the wick.

Roots against wick.

Hold the plant in place while you fill the planter cup with your hydroponic growing medium of choice. Here I am using expanded clay pebbles. Be sure the plant is low enough for the pebbles to provide structural support.

Fill with growing medium.

12. Feed and Water.

The plant needs nutrients in order to grow without soil. I use liquid nutrients from General Hydroponics.

Hydroponic nutrients.

Follow the instructions on the nutrients to apply the appropriate amount to the planter base.

Add the nutrients.

Fill the base with water. Use rainwater or filtered water. Your tap water probably is not very good. Do not use distilled water, it has no minerals and the plant will not fare well without minerals.

Use good water.

The water should go to just below the base of the pebbles and roots. Maintain a relatively even water level. If the water gets too low, the plant will not only be poorly hydrated, but the nutrients will be concentrated to a potentially unhealthy level. Change out the water and nutrients every couple weeks.

Filled to just below pebbles and roots.

Congratulations! You just made something attractive and functional out of recycled materials. Go ahead, it is okay to pat yourself on the back.

Good work!


  1. Are there any ways to break the bottle without scoring it?

  2. You can buy a simple glass cutter tool at any hardware store for around 2-3 dollars! There is really no other way I tried with random objects in my home.

  3. Great tutorial. I live in a resort area and am constantly having to show up with hostess gifts. Bottles of wine get expensive and are so ho-hum. Wine BOTTLES as planters are super cool and should be more economical. I'm thinking of using hydroponic herbs from the produce section of my grocery store. Any thoughts?