Bottom watering is an excellent way to water your houseplants and keep the root system evenly moist. This process allows plants to soak up the right amount of water they need without fearing overwatering and drowning the root system. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when they’re done taking in the water, so how long should you let them sit?
Plants should sit for about 10 to 20 minutes while bottom watering, depending on the soil dryness, pot size, and soil type. After 10 minutes, check the soil by pushing your finger in it near the edge of the pot. If it’s still dry once you’ve reached your second knuckle, it needs to soak longer.
This article will explore bottom watering, its pros and cons, and other tips to keep your plants happy and thrive in their potted environment.
How Bottom Watering Works
Bottom watering is a method that allows the plant to receive water from the soil by soaking it through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot up to the roots. This method enables the soil to absorb the water needed to moisten the root system uniformly.
The amount and frequency of water uptake from your plants depend on the plant itself, season, and the amount of sunlight available.
For this method to be effective, check the soil weekly instead of having a set routine. To do this, stick a finger in the soil up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, it needs to be watered, but if it’s moist, you can wait a few days and recheck it.
Since you’re checking the soil frequently, you’ll provide your plants with the water they need instead of accidentally over or under-watering them by using a routine for top watering.
When using this method, you’re also saving the nutrients contained in the soil. When you top water plants, the water trickles through the soil and flushes the nutrients to the bottom and out of the drainage holes. Bottom watering pulls the water into the soil, upward to the root system, keeping the nutrients in the soil.
However, you will need to periodically top water your plants to break up the concentration of nutrients that can occur from bottom watering.
Pros of Bottom Watering
Bottom watering has more pros than cons and is the preferred method of watering for many plant lovers because of its effectiveness. So, here are some pros:
- Your plants will have consistent watering, especially during the growing season or dormancy when the water uptake is greater or lessened, with bottom watering.
- Bottom watering is especially effective for very dry soil, providing uniform water distribution to the root system, and promoting healthy development and spread.
- Bottom watering prevents overwatering or underwatering that causes stress on your plants and plant roots. When you bottom water, it allows the soil to pull the water upward to the root system. Within 10 to 20 minutes, your plants should have soaked up the amount of water it needs, and you can remove it to drain the excess water.
- With bottom watering, there’s no risk of splashing water on the leaves of sensitive plants, such as African violets, causing them to burn.
- Bottom watering prevents potential damage to seedlings like top watering can cause.
- When bottom watering, you can still add fertilizer by mixing it in the water before submerging your pots.
- For root-bound plants, bottom watering will penetrate the entire root system, unlike top watering. However, rootbound plants will dry out faster since there’s an insufficient amount of soil to retain moisture. These plants need to be watered more frequently and can soak for longer since there’s little water retention.
- With bottom watering, you don’t have those awful, annoying fungus gnats or other pests playing in moist topsoil.
- Bottom watering is super easy, less messy, and you probably already have everything you need. You don’t need any fancy tools or supplies. You can use bowls, buckets, a sink, or anything else you can fill with water and set your plants in.
Cons of Bottom Watering
As with most things in life, you should consider the good with the bad, and bottom watering truly has very few cons for using this method. These cons include:
- With bottom watering, there’s a chance you can overwater your plants if you forget about them as they’re soaking in water.
- If the soil has become soggy at the bottom of the pot, you’ll risk damage to the root system if it sits in that condition for too long. If this happens, immediately remove your plants from the water and place them on a folded towel to draw out excess water. You can also gently pull your plants from the pot and wrap the towel around them to absorb more water faster.
- If the soil you use to bottom water isn’t the type your plant prefers, it can cause overwatering. An example is if you have a cactus or succulent that prefers aerated soil but have them potted in soil that retains water, you may find your poor plant suffering from root rot. This can also happen with top watering, so ensure you have the soil best suited for your plants.
- With bottom watering, the nutrients in the soil can build up over time, so the concentration should be flushed out of the bottom about once a month by top watering.
- Not all soil will effectively absorb the water to moisten the roots in a uniform fashion by bottom watering. Soil that’s compacted or has a higher ratio of clay in the mix will give you complications when bottom watering. It’s best to use soil with materials that aerate and provide sufficient drainage to protect the root system from suffering root rot.
Tips To Effectively Bottom Water Plants
While this is an easy technique to incorporate, having the right soil and pots for your plants will help prevent bottom watering problems.
Find the Right Soil Type
As mentioned above, your soil type should be suited for your plant. If you have the wrong mixture for a plant that requires well-drained soil, you can over-water your plant from bottom watering. Signs your soil isn’t draining properly for your plants’ preference will be limp or yellowing leaves. Additionally, a rotting odor is a sign your roots are suffering root rot.
Here are a couple of examples of soil types for specific plants:
- Cacti and succulents prefer soil that drains well and is aerated. They mostly thrive in dry climates, so they’re used to their soil being drier than plants such as African violets. They sell soil already mixed for these plants, or you can mix your own by adding sand and perlite to provide better drainage.
- Leafy vine plants like your pothos and philodendrons like their soil slightly moist with more organic matter for nutrients. Their soil should also include materials for aeration and proper drainage to prevent the dreaded root rot. You can mix materials like perlite directly in their soil to keep the roots happy and rot-free.
Find the Right Pot Size and Type
Plant pots come in different sizes and types, and they should all allow proper drainage flow with drainage holes.
The size of the pot matters because the larger the pot, the longer it takes to absorb enough water to moisten the root system, so it’s imperative to check the soil for moistness, as mentioned earlier.
If you have earthen planters, such as clay or wood, it’ll soak up the water and the soil and take less time to bottom water. Because they’re porous earthen pots will aid in the prevention of overwatering your plants. Plants in these pots may need to be watered more frequently than those in plastic pots.
Porous pots should have at least one drainage hole in the center of the bottom of the pot, and that’s typically sufficient for proper drainage, as the pot itself helps evaporate moisture in the soil.
Non-porous pots may need more drainage holes – one in the center and three or four around the center hole. You can make more holes if needed.
Use a Self Watering Planter
You can also purchase self watering planters that use the same bottom watering technique. There are different designs of this type of planter, with some being relatively cheap. But they all share the goal of allowing you to water a bottom tray or bowl to effectively bottom water your plants without having to gather them all up to place in a tray or sink.
Some of these bottom watering pots are plastic with a pop-off tray at the bottom. Some designs include a porous earth material pot that sits inside another pot you fill with water. Either of these choices will help you keep your plants evenly watered and happy, and you just have to choose which type is suitable for you and your plants.
Bottom watering your houseplants is one of the most effective methods, as it provides an even water distribution to the roots. This method typically takes about 10 to 20 minutes, and while there’s no set routine for watering utilizing this method, you should have a routine of checking the soil weekly to see if watering is needed.
You can water several plants at once by setting them in a tray, sink, or tub to soak up the water. However, always flush the soil about once a month by top watering to prevent nutrient concentrations that can burn your plants.
If you’d like a more in-depth guide about bottom watering, you could check this article out: How to Water Plants from the Bottom (Beginner’s Guide)