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As a houseplant owner, you’ve probably heard of bottom watering plants at some point and wondered if it’s something you should do. In this post, I’m going to review everything you need to know about bottom watering plants.
What is bottom watering?
Bottom watering plants is exactly what it sounds like! It means to water your plants from the bottom by allowing them to sit in a container of water for a period of time and soak up the water. Meanwhile, top watering is watering from the top using a watering can, faucet, etc.
Bottom watering is very effective and can be one of the best ways to water plants, although completely replacing top watering with bottom watering isn’t usually recommended (you’ll learn why further down in this post). That said, using bottom watering as an additional method can be beneficial.
(After you’re done learning about bottom watering, check out this post on how often to water houseplants and more general watering tips.)
How to bottom water your plants
- First, in order for this to work, your pot must have a drainage hole so your plant can actually suck up the water. Make sure your plant’s soil is not compacted, otherwise, it will have trouble soaking up the water.
- Find a bowl or container large enough for your plant to sit in. Fill it up a few inches to halfway with water, depending on the size of your plant. Put your plant in the water.
- With your finger, check the plant after about ten minutes to see if the moisture is just under or just at the soil’s surface.
- Note: I like to take my plants out when they’re moist just under the surface because, for me, it’s an easy indicator of when to stop. Sometimes you can’t tell how much water the plant has actually soaked up if the whole surface is wet. (I hope that’s not confusing!)
- If it’s still dry or if the plant has soaked up all the water very quickly—let the plant soak a little longer. Remember, only long enough so that the moisture comes just at or just below the soil’s surface. Letting it soak too long can lead to overwatering and root rot.
- Get rid of the excess water in the tray when your plant is done soaking. Do not pour it back into your plant. If your plant hasn’t soaked it up, then it doesn’t need it.
Note: If you bottom water your plants most of the time, periodically top water them to flush out any salt and mineral build up, once a month or so. Salt and mineral build up is a problem you need to watch out for with bottom watering.
Is it good to water plants from the bottom?
For most plants, bottom watering is beneficial.
Pros of bottom watering plants include:
- Plants have more control over their water intake because we’re allowing them to soak up what they need, rather than us sometimes aimlessly pouring water into the top of the soil.
- You won’t be accidentally pouring water over the leaves, which can lead to water sitting in leaf/stem crevices causing rot. Some plants are extra sensitive to this.
- Bottom watering waters plants more evenly.
- It effectively gives super dry plants a healthy drink.
- Roots get stronger as they grow down towards the water source.
- It reduces your chances of overwatering (it’s still possible though).
- It can reduce the chances of attracting pests if the soil’s surface is not sopping wet.
- I wouldn’t say the risk goes down THAT much, but if you have a problem with attracting pests, try switching to bottom watering for a little and see what happens.
Cons of bottom watering plants include:
- It doesn’t flush out excess salt and minerals like top watering does. You need to top water your plants in order to flush them out, once a month or so, but some plants are extra sensitive to this. Research if your plant is sensitive to salt or minerals. If it is, you might want to avoid bottom watering altogether.
- It takes longer. To be honest, this is the number-one reason why I don’t bottom water my plants that often.
- Depending on your tendency to forget things, you’ll need to set a timer to remember to check on your plants. This is my number-two reason why I don’t bottom water my plants that often!
Can you bottom water all plants?
Yes, the mechanism is the same. Plants will soak up the water through the bottom of the pot with their roots, just as long as there is a drainage hole and the soil is not too compacted.
However, as I mentioned above, there are some plants that won’t do well with bottom watering because they are extra sensitive to salt and mineral build up. Make sure to check if your plant is one of them.
Meanwhile, some plants will LOVE bottom watering because they are extremely sensitive to getting their foliage wet. African violets are notorious for this and bottom watering is the standard watering method many people use for them. You will still need to (carefully) flush them out periodically, though.
How long should I bottom water my plants?
Exactly how long you let your plant sit in water depends on their size and how dry they are. Smaller plants will be done faster. Always check your plant’s soil after about ten minutes to gauge the situation.
If they are still pretty dry when you stick your finger in the soil, let them sit for another ten minutes. Let them sit until they are moist either just at or just under the soil’s surface. (In case you skipped down to this section—I like to take my plants out when they’re moist just under the surface because it’s an easy indicator of when to stop. If the whole surface is already wet, sometimes you can’t tell how much water the plant has actually soaked up.)
Whatever you do, do not leave plants in the water permanently. Set a timer if you need to so you won’t forget about them.
Can you over water by bottom watering?
Yes, if the plant is sitting in water too long, you can still overwater your plant through bottom watering. However, bottom watering is a more controlled method of watering your plants. By remembering to check your plant every ten minutes or so while it’s sitting in water, you can significantly reduce your chances of overwatering and causing root rot.