Watering houseplants can be time-consuming and tricky. You need to make sure your indoor plants get the water they need, but water them too much and you can end up drowning them.
Houseplant care traditionally involves “top watering,” which is just what it sounds like: pouring water on your plant from the top. Bottom watering, also lovingly referred to as plants “butt-chugging,” is when you allow plants to suck up water from the bottom of their pot. Before deciding whether bottom watering will work for your houseplants, take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this method.
Benefits of Bottom Watering Plants
Keep pests away
Common indoor plant pests like fungus gnats and aphids are drawn to humid conditions caused by soggy soil. Bottom watering prevents plants from sitting in moisture, helping to prevent pests.
Prevent leaf or stem damage
Certain plants like the African violet will develop brown spots if their leaves get wet. Other plants like peperomia are susceptible to stem rot when water concentrates near the surface of the soil. Bottom watering lets your plant get the water it needs, without causing damage to the leaves or stem.
Develop a strong root system
When roots have to reach for water at the bottom of the pot, it encourages them to spread out and get stronger. This supports a strong root system, which helps plants take in the nutrients they need.
If the top of your plant soil is moist, it can attract mold growth. While mold itself usually doesn’t damage the plant, it can be an eyesore and lead to further issues down the road. Bottom watering helps to keep the top layer of soil dry, thereby preventing mold growth.
Distribute water evenly
Bottom watering ensures that moisture goes right to your indoor plant’s roots, and distributes evenly throughout.
Improve soil compaction
Watering your plants from the top can cause the soil to become compacted due to the weight of the water. Dense soil makes it harder for your plant’s roots to spread out, making it hard for your plant to get the water, air and nutrients it needs.
Prevent root rot
Root rot happens when plants sit in water for too long. Having roots sit in water invites pathogens to attack the roots, making it so that the plant can’t get the nutrients it needs. This leads to discolored leaves and wilting. Bottom watering helps prevent root rot because plants won’t be sitting in excess water, but rather will drink up the water they need and then be transferred to a dry area.
Avoid overwatering or underwatering
Most plants need to dry out in between waterings, in order to allow for oxygen to circulate through. When you overwater your plants, you’re essentially cutting off its oxygen supply. While a plant has a higher likelihood of surviving when it's underwatered, it can still of course die from thirst. Bottom watering is the perfect solution because the plant only takes up what it needs.
Drawbacks of Bottom Watering
Salt and mineral buildup in soil
When you top water your plant, salt and mineral deposits get flushed through. Salt buildup can lead to reduced growth, brown leaf tips, and wilting.
Can be inconvenient
Bottom watering involves placing your plant into a container of water and periodically checking its moisture level. This can be a pain to do, especially if you have a lot of plants or large plants.
How to Bottom Water Houseplants
Before you bottom water your plant, check to see that it needs to be watered. Push your finger into the soil until the second knuckle. If it doesn’t feel moist, it needs water.
In order to bottom water your plants, your plant needs to be in a pot with some sort of opening at the bottom for the water to come through. Many pots have a drainage hole, or if it’s a nursery pot it will have grates.
Find a container large enough to hold your planter. This can be a bucket, bowl, or, if you have a lot of plants, even a bathtub with a plug. Fill the container a few inches with distilled or filtered water. Place the planter in the container and leave it there for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, do the finger test again to see if the potting soil has absorbed enough water. If it’s still dry, keep the planter in the water for up to 20 minutes more until you feel moisture when you put your finger in until the second knuckle.
Once your plants have absorbed the water they need, discard the excess water. As I mentioned earlier, bottom watering doesn’t flush out salt and mineral buildup. Once a month, water your plants from the top so the salt and mineral deposits can drain out the bottom.
Which Plants are Best for Bottom Watering?
The short answer is: most plant types benefit from bottom watering. As long as you only bottom-water when the plant is actually thirsty, and if you don’t leave it in the basin for too long, any plant will be happy drinking water from their roots up. However, there are some moisture-craving plants that particularly thrive with bottom watering.
- African violets, begonias, geraniums, and anything with fuzzy leaves are susceptible to fungus and leaf rot, so bottom watering is the way to go for these plants
- Peperomia are susceptible to stem rot if too much water accumulates near the stem, so bottom watering is a great avenue for them.
- When cacti and succulents grow in nature, they get their moisture from stored groundwater. Bottom watering mimics this environment, and their roots will pull down to drink water.
Based on my own experience and feedback gathered from other plant parents, here are some other plants that have responded well to bottom watering:
- Peace lily
- Spider plant
- Money tree
The easiest way to bottom water your plant? Using one of our self-watering planters. Since it has a built-in wicking system, all you need to do is fill up the water reservoir and your plant can bottom-water automatically.