If you’re like most houseplant owners, when you think of watering your plants, you probably picture watering from the top with a watering can. With this method, you add water to the top of the soil and let it drain out the bottom. Also known as “top watering,” this is a pretty standard, traditional method in potted plant care.
But have you heard of bottom watering?
This is a popular method with a lot of indoor plant parents, especially those who have struggled with overwatering in the past. There are a lot of benefits to this style of watering, so it might be something you want to try if you’re a chronic overwaterer and tend to love your plants to death, resulting in yellowing leaves and root rot!
In this article, we’ll explain the benefits and risks of bottom watering plants, as well as how to do it properly if you want to give this method a try!
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What Is Bottom Watering?
Bottom watering is exactly what it sounds like: watering your plants from the bottom, or placing your plant’s pot in water so the soil can absorb water from below, much like a sponge.
This method can take a bit more work, but a lot of plant parents like it because most of the work is hands-off. You can also water several plants at a time this way if you place several in the same sink, tub, or container.
Why Water Houseplants From the Bottom?
There are pros and cons to this method, but most of the cons can be easily mitigated. Let’s walk through them so you can determine whether bottom watering might be right for you and your beloved houseplants!
Benefits of Bottom Watering Pot Plants
The main advantage of bottom watering is that it lessens the risk of overwatering. After all, the soil can only absorb so much. And with this method, you can’t flood your pot with more water than the soil can absorb, which is easy to do with top watering (especially if your pot and/or soil don’t drain well!). This is why bottom watering might be a good option if you’re a habitual overwaterer.
Bottom watering is also beneficial for your plant’s roots because it encourages them to grow downward toward the water source instead of outward or around in a circle to become root- wrapped. This makes for longer, stronger roots that support the plant well and readily absorb nutrients and water.
When you water from the bottom, you’ll also avoid getting water on your plant’s leaves, which can prevent water spots, mineral buildup, and even the spread of fungus and other pathogens that can harm your plant.
Risks of Bottom Watering
As great as bottom watering can be, it’s not without its risks! Luckily, the risks are few and pretty easy to work around.
The main drawback of bottom watering is potentially overfertilizing your plant. Because the soil isn’t getting flushed from the top, minerals may build up in the soil, which can cause symptoms of nutrient excess or even chemical burn to the roots.
If you do choose to bottom water, make sure to water from the top for every third or fourth watering so your soil gets a good flushing. Watch for signs of overfertilization like discolored leaves or white, crusty buildup on the soil’s surface to make sure excess salts aren’t building up in the potting mix.
Can You Bottom Water All Plants? | Bottom Watering Plants
The short answer is yes; all types of plants can do well with bottom watering as long as they are potted in the proper soil that will readily absorb and release water.
However, from our anecdotal evidence, some individual plants seem to prefer top watering for no reason at all. We’ve heard of houseplant owners bottom watering two plants of the same species and the same type of pot and soil, but one plant languishes while the other thrives!
As with any new care technique or environmental factor, watch your plant carefully for signs of stress. If your plant doesn’t seem to be happy with bottom watering, switch back to top watering exclusively.
How to Bottom Water Your Plants
Bottom watering plants is simple.
First, it’s important to make sure your plant is actually ready to be watered. For most plants, the top few inches of soil should feel dry to the touch, and a soil meter should read 3-4. (Here’s the moisture meter we like and how to use it!)
Make sure to do your research on your particular plant to see when it likes to be watered. Some plants, such as ferns, will need to be watered more often, like when the top inch is dry. Drought-resistant plants like succulents may like to dry out completely before they get a good soaking.
Next, fill a sink, bathtub, wide tray, or tote container halfway with room-temperature water. If you’re using tap water and have the time, it’s not a bad idea to let the water sit out overnight so chlorine and other chemicals can evaporate. Some plants don’t do well with these in their water (e.g., dracaenas).
Then place your plant, pot and all, in the water. The water should only rise to about halfway up the side of the pot, and should NEVER spill over the top—that would flood your plant and defeat the whole purpose of bottom watering!
Let your plant sit in the water and check it every 10 minutes or so. When the surface of the soil just feels damp, it’s done! If you want to be really sure your plant is thoroughly watered, you can use a moisture meter to test the moisture level of the soil. At this point, the meter should read 7-8.
Drain the sink or remove the plant from the water and let it drain for an hour or two before replacing it in its drainage tray.
Keep a close eye on your plant for a few days to make sure it doesn’t have any adverse reactions to this new style of watering.
Fertilizing From the Bottom
It is possible to fertilize your plants when bottom watering!
If you want to fertilize your plant when watering from the bottom, you can add some Indoor Plant Food or other gentle liquid fertilizer to the water. Make sure to read the dilution instructions so you don’t accidentally overfertilize your plant, though.
How Often to Bottom Water Plants
You should bottom water your plant when your plant needs to be watered. Obviously, this varies wildly from plant to plant and can also depend on the time of year, your plant’s light conditions, and environmental humidity levels. It’s important to research your plant’s individual watering needs and monitor the moisture levels of the soil to determine how often to water it.
Read our care guides on these popular houseplants to get an idea of how often to water:
We also recommend top watering every once in a while to make sure minerals from fertilizer are getting flushed out of the soil regularly. Your plant might do well being top watered every other watering, or with every third or fourth watering. Experiment to see what your plant prefers!
If you aren’t currently fertilizing because you just repotted your plant or because you’re taking the winter off, you should be fine with bottom watering most of the time.
If you notice signs of overfertilization, try bottom watering less often so your soil gets flushed out regularly. (If you accidentally overfertilize your plant, don’t worry! It’s reversible if you catch it early. Here’s what to do.)
How Much Water to Use
The amount of water to use depends on your container size. As long as the water doesn’t reach the top of your plant’s pot, you’re golden. Aim to allow the water to reach about halfway up the side of the pot. Err on the shallow side if you’re worried and add more water if necessary. You could also put the plant in the container first and then fill it, but make sure the water is room temperature and free of any chemicals that could bother your plant.
Keep in mind that it’s harder to mix fertilizer this way. But doing this once should give you a good idea of how much water to use, so you’ll know for future reference.
Can You Overwater by Bottom Watering?
For the most part…no. That’s the beauty of it! As long as your soil is well aerated, the soil will just absorb what it can and that’s it. You won’t be dumping a bunch of water in the soil that it can’t absorb.
But if your soil is compacted, it might not absorb water readily, which can be an issue. This could lead to overwatering unless you leave the pot in the water for long enough. But then the soil might have a hard time draining, which can mean your plant is sitting in soggy soil for too long. Not good!
With a well-draining pot and aerated soil, overwatering shouldn’t be an issue when bottom watering.
If you find that your soil isn’t draining or absorbing well, you might want to consider repotting your plant into fresh potting mix that drains well. We recommend our Premium Monstera Potting Soil for monsteras and other aroids, and Premium Fiddle Leaf Fig Potting Soil for fiddles and other ficus varieties. (These mixes are both high-quality and have a neutral pH, so you could probably pot just about any tropical houseplant in them and see excellent results!)
If you notice serious signs of overwatering or root rot like dark-brown spots or squishy stems, consider using a Root Supplement to help the roots heal and ward off further infections.
Self-Watering Pot for Houseplants: Is it a Good Idea?
Bottom watering is also the basic principle for many self-watering pots, which can be a good option for some plants. The idea for most of these pots is that you fill the bottom reservoir and the plant absorbs water from the bottom as needed. This is a little less messy than bottom watering in a sink or container and is a bit more convenient than top watering.
If you tend to be gone a lot or forget to water, you might want to look into self-watering pots! We suggest trying them out when you can be around to closely observe your plants. Watch how quickly (or slowly) your plants absorb the water and how they react to the new pot. Make sure to use fast-draining soil, and it’s a good idea to just try it out on one or two plants at a time.
To be extra safe, do a little research to see how your variety of houseplant typically does in self-watering pots. Read reviews or check houseplant groups on Reddit and Facebook! Not all self-watering pots are created equal, so it’s best to gather a little background info before you invest.
Proper Watering Is the Least and Most You Can Do for Your Houseplants
Watering potted plants is one of the most basic (and somehow one of the most complex) parts of providing proper care.
Read these articles for more tips on watering your houseplants properly!
Knowing when and how to water your potted plants takes some practice and patience, but soon you’ll be a pro! Don’t give up!