Bottom watering is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to top watering your plants. Although it’s been a watering technique for decades, many people are now discovering it thanks to social media platforms like TikTok. With so many people now bottom watering their plants, a common consideration has been whether bottom watering and fertilizing can go together.
You can fertilize plants while bottom watering. Bottom watering is a great way to introduce nutrients from fertilizer into the soil. Because water moves into the soil rather than you pouring water over the top, nutrients are distributed more evenly.
This article will discuss the process of fertilizing while bottom watering your plants. If you’d like to incorporate this unique fertilizing process into your plant care routine, this guide has you covered.
How To Fertilize a Plant While Bottom Watering
Fertilization is extremely important, even in bottom watering. Even though fertilization is a fairly straightforward process, you still have to follow the proper steps to ensure that the nutrients you’re planning to introduce are properly distributed into the soil.
Here’s how to properly fertilize your plants while bottom watering:
- Check for dryness.
- Prepare a wide-bottom tray, watering can, and fertilizer.
- Mix the required amount of fertilizer with water.
- Place the plant in the water.
1. Check for Dryness
Most people get started with fertilizing and watering by gathering what they need. However, it’s extremely important to check to see if your plants even need water in the first place.
Doing this avoids the overwatering and underwatering problem. Adding more water than needed to your pots will waterlog the soil, making it difficult for oxygen to permeate the roots. This limitation makes it hard for your plants to breathe. As a result, your plants will eventually start to decay.
Distinguish Between Overwatering and Under-Fertilizing
The lack of oxygen and root decay that accompanies overwatering also limits the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil. In turn, the plant will start to show signs of nutrient deficiency. Because of this, it’s easy to confuse the symptoms of overwatering with nutrient deficiency.
Underwatering Limits Photosynthesis
On the other hand, underwatering causes problems too. Since there is not enough water in the soil to support plant growth, the plant goes into a “survival” mode. From this point, it closes its stomata which normally allows it to exchange carbon dioxide and water with its surroundings for conserving water.
However, since the plant’s stomata controls carbon dioxide and water intake. These functions are both key to photosynthesis. As a result, the ability of the plant to produce energy becomes very limited, and it slowly starts to die.
On the bright side, underwatering is a lot easier to fix than overwatering because since the roots are not as involved in the damage here, adding enough water will, with time, fix the problem. However, it’s best not to get to this point in the first place.
Use the Finger Technique To Check for Dry Soil
To avoid the negative effects of underwatering, consistently check if your plant needs water before you water it. The finger technique is a good way to do this.
Put your index finger into the soil about a knuckle deep into the pot. If your finger comes out dry, you need to water your plant. However, if the soil is still moist to the touch, then you should hold off on watering until it gets a bit drier.
Different plants have different water requirements, and differing conditions can change these requirements even more. Because of this, using the finger technique is a lot better than guessing the plants’ water needs or even watering on a schedule.
2. Prepare a Wide-Bottom Tray, Planter, and Fertilizer
Before you start the fertilization process, you will need to gather a few essential items:
- Wide-Bottom Tray
Each of these items plays an important role in the bottom watering and fertilization technique. Below I will explain some key factors to look for as you prepare these items for your fertilization setup.
Choose a Tray With Sufficient Width and Depth
A wide bottom tray is essential for bottom watering. In fact, it’s very difficult to bottom water without such a tray. The tray holds the water you’ll need throughout the process.
There are two factors to look out for in your choice of a watering tray: width and depth. You’ll want a deep tray that can hold quite a bit of water for your plants. Plants can use a surprising amount of water, and it’s best to account for that.
Use a Planter With Drainage Holes
The planter you use must be perforated beneath to allow water to pass through it. Bottom watering works based on the ability of the root and soil to absorb water from their surroundings. As a result, there has to be a way for the water to pass through.
Choose the Right Fertilizer for Your Plants
Your choice of fertilizer is dependent on quite a few things. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally best to use a balanced fertilizer that supplies all the essential nutrients. However, there are some exceptions to this.
One exception is in a situation where your plant is severely lacking in one nutrient. There are a lot of factors to account for when it comes to fertilization. Issues like overfertilization and high saline content can easily cause nutrient imbalances that need to be corrected.
The best way to correct unique soil issues is to use single-nutrient fertilizers. In line with their name, single-nutrient fertilizers are different from other fertilizers because they only provide a single nutrient to the plants. Although this isn’t a good option for long-term use, it’s great if you start to see signs that your plant is deficient in one nutrient.
You might be wondering why you can’t just use regular multi-nutrient fertilizer like NPK. The problem with this is it can lead to overexposure to nutrients. While one nutrient might be present in low amounts, adding equal amounts of each could increase one of the nutrients beyond acceptable limits.
As a result, fertilizing must be done in moderation; excess nutrients can have negative effects on your plants, similar to nutrient deficiencies.
3. Mix the Required Amount of Fertilizer and Water
Once you’re done preparing your setup, you can start mixing fertilizer with the water. The solubility of the fertilizer you use here is an extremely important factor to consider.
Use a Water-Soluble Fertilizer for Bottom Watering
For bottom watering, it’s best to either go with a water-soluble fertilizer. Since the fertilizer is mixed with the water, it has to dissolve in it properly to make its way to the plant’s roots. Without this, it would likely sit in the watering tray, and only the unmixed water would go through.
Because solubility is a big deal with bottom watering, you should consider using liquid fertilizers. It’s a lot easier to dissolve them in water than solid fertilizers.
Avoid Over-Fertilizing While Bottom Watering
A common mistake with houseplants, especially when bottom watering, is using far too much fertilizer. Although plants use nutrients to thrive, they do not need them in particularly large amounts.
The nature of bottom watering and the way fertilizer passes into the soil makes it such that you need significantly less fertilizer than you would typically need. Here, a good rule of thumb is to use half of the specified amount on the fertilizer’s packaging.
This amount gives the plant root enough nutrients without overfeeding.
4. Place the Plant in the Water
Once the tray is set up, place the plant gently into the water, ensuring that the planter’s holes are in direct contact with the liquid. Leave the plant in the water for thirty minutes to an hour. With time, the pot will gain weight as it takes on water.
You’ll know the watering is done when the top of the pot shows some moisture. If you’re not completely sure the soil has absorbed enough moisture, you can use the finger technique to test it.
Once the plant is properly watered, you’ll need to empty the tray and place the pot back in it to allow the water to drain for a while.
Benefits of Bottom Watering
Bottom watering is far more than just a gimmick or trend. The bottom watering process comes with many unique benefits. Each benefit is significant enough that you could change your watering sessions almost entirely to bottom watering and see an array of positive results with your plants.
Here are some of the benefits of bottom watering:
- Plants gain stronger roots. Since the roots have to grow downwards towards the water, the root structure can become much stronger as it anchors itself better into the soil.
- It promotes even watering and nutrient distribution. When watering from the top, it’s a lot easier to miss a few spots or under water your plants. However, water is evenly distributed with bottom watering. Provided the fertilizer is evenly mixed, the moisture also distributes evenly.
- Plant leaves are protected from water damage. Some plants react very poorly to top watering as it can damage their leaves. This problem is avoided with bottom watering since the water gets into the soil from the bottom, completely bypassing the leaves.
- Reducing moisture-loving insects like fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are notorious for laying their eggs in the topsoil after watering. Bottom watering is a great way to avoid them or reduce their presence.
- It prevents overwatering. Since the water gets absorbed into the soil rather than you pouring it on yourself, bottom watering makes it a lot easier to avoid overwatering your plants. However, if you leave the plant for too long in water or do not allow it to drain properly, overwatering is still possible as the soil can become waterlogged, leading to problems like root rot.
Don’t Use Bottom Watering Exclusively
There is one major downside of bottom watering to consider. Since water comes from the bottom to the top, dissolved salt and nutrients can accumulate over time and, if not taken care of periodically, can cause significant problems.
To avoid this, you’ll need to top-water your soil at least once a month to flush the excess from the soil.
Bottom watering is a great way to water your plants. Although it’s a lot less popular than top watering, it comes with various benefits that make it hard to ignore.
Fertilizing while bottom watering is easy and only adds one extra step to your watering process. However, while fertilizing in this way, make sure that you only use half the usual amount to avoid excess salts in the soil.