What is bottom watering?

by Suzi Tehan

As a houseplant owner, you've probably heard of bottom watering plants at some point and wondered if it's something you should do.

What is bottom watering?

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 or tap.

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.

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 the soil's surface.
  • If it's still dry or if the plant has soaked up all the water very quickly—let the plant soak a little longer, up to 30 minutes.
  • 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.

Is it good to water plants from the bottom?

For most plants, bottom watering is beneficial, especially as it encourages roots to grow stronger as they reach downward.

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, which can leave sections unwatered.
  • You also 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.
  • 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.
  • If your dish is a little shallow, you'll I'll probably end up filling it up more than once.

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. You will however still need to (carefully) flush them out periodically, though.

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