This long weekend's extended blast of sunshine will be bringing out the guerilla gardener in a lot of us. 

Self-watering systems have been around for awhile but have been gaining in popularity of late. They make it easier for people with hectic lives or brown thumbs to grow their own herbs and vegetables.

"We've already sold out of a new product," said Nel Grond from Lee Valley Tools in Vancouver. "It's a self-watering raised planter. It's great for people who would rather not bend down. It's a treat."

Self-watering containers solve the problems many balcony gardeners face: trudging heavy watering cans back and forth from the kitchen sink, with angry neighbors complaining about the run-off of water onto their balconies.

How do they work?

The concept is straightforward enough: water is held in the bottom reservoir and is wicked up into the soil via capillary action, allowing the roots to take in the amount of moisture they need to thrive.

Laura Doheny of Hunters Garden Centre in Vancouver says that aside from annuals, there's one plant in particular that thrives in self-watering containers.

raised planter

The self-watering container wicks moisture up into the soil by capillary action (Lee Valley Tools)

"Tomatoes. Tomatoes are very greedy and usually, by the time they get into mid-summer have made such a large root mass that they are constantly sucking water."

They're also a good option if you plan on going away for a weekend or longer, because the reservoirs can hold enough water to keep most plants happy for up to a week.

"The biggest mistake people make is over-watering or under-watering. And self-watering doesn't mean no watering. You have to keep monitoring your containers to keep plants happy and healthy," said Grond.

But these wunderkinds don't come cheap. Lee Valley's self-watering raised planter sells for $89.50, with a non-raised planter costing $79.50.

There are also many online options. The Earthbox says it 'has been the pioneer in container gardening systems.' It sells for between $32.95 and $66.95 US. Lechuza, manufactured by the same company as PLAYMOBIL, has a range of options and prices.

And that can add up quickly, especially if you plan on having more than a few containers.

Grow your own salad

There's a DIY solution if you're up for it. 

diagram of diy self watering pot

The DIY system can turn any kind of pot into a self-watering container (Jesse Lemieux/Pacific Permaculture)

Jesse Lemieux with Pacific Permaculture says you can basically convert any pot into a wicking style bed. His step-by-step video lays it all out.

"Just about anybody, everywhere can grow some herbs and vegetables for themselves," he said.

"They are really the best way, if not the only way, to supply the water demands of vegetables in a container."

Make sure there's an overflow valve

Jason Vandermey from West Coast Gardens in Surrey believes people should make sure their containers have overflow valves, just below the water line in the reservoir, because that will drain excess water — making sure plants don't end up in soil soup after a downpour.

But Vandermey says the most important thing to consider when doing self-watering container gardening is patience.

"Until the plant material is mature and has developed really good roots you'll have to water from the top and into the soil. Once the roots are fully established then let the reservoir underneath do the watering."