How To Water Plants From the Bottom (Beginner’s Guide)

Have you ever watered your plants as best as you could just to come back later and realize that the soil is way drier than it should be? As many gardeners know, simply re-watering your pfeots isn’t an option, as doing so could lead to a plethora of problems, including root rot. If this sounds like you or if you’re just online trying to learn a better way to water your plants, then allow me to introduce you to the world of bottom watering.

Here’s how to water plants from the bottom:

  1. Check the soil for moisture.
  2. Use the right water.
  3. Prepare a perforated planter and a tray.
  4. Mix in fertilizer or other additives.
  5. Place the pot in the tray.
  6. Drain the excess.
  7. Top water frequently.

Bottom watering can be a bit challenging to get a handle on if you’ve never tried it. Luckily, in this article, I’ll be going through even the most miniscule details you’ll want to be aware of if you’re interested in partaking in the practice, so keep on reading. 

1. Check the Soil for Moisture

Regardless of your technique (bottom or otherwise), the first step you take should always be to check if your plant actually needs water! Plants love moisture, which is a crucial component of what keeps them alive; however, too much water will cause more harm than good. 

Excessive water in the soil can cause fungal problems like root rot, drown the roots, and lead to stunted plant growth. For this reason, you should always make sure that you’re not overwatering your plants. The best way to check for the moisture is using the simple “finger method”. 

Place your index finger into the soil up to the second knuckle. If you can’t feel any moisture, then it’s time to water your plants. If you can, then it’s best to wait a bit longer.

Another reason why you should always check your moisture using this method rather than assuming is that you can’t always perfectly time your watering sessions. Unless you keep your plants under an extremely controlled watch, environmental conditions can easily cause moisture changes in the soil.

For example, a change in the humidity can cause faster evaporation, leading to a depletion of the water content in the soil. The same thing can happen due to temperature changes

2. Use the Right Water

Once you’ve determined that it’s time to bottom water your plants, the next thing you’ll need to do is to choose your water supply. Like plants, not all water is created equal. Using the wrong kind of water can damage the soil, plant, and the mini-ecosystem thriving around it. 

Since watering is so essential, let’s take a look at a few of the most common water varieties you can use on your crop.

Hard Water

Hard water is water that has picked up calcium and magnesium salts. These salts can cause problems with nutrient uptake, scales on plant leaves, and wilting.

The main issue with hard water is that the dissolved salts in it will sink into your soil with time. The increase of these salts in the soil can alter pH with time, bringing all the problems that a pH imbalance can cause to the roots and beneficial microorganisms around them.


Greywater could be a potentially worse choice than hard water, depending on its source. If you’re not familiar with the term, greywater is water that has already been used in the house and collected for reuse.

Most times, you can use greywater in the short term with little-to-no issues, but you could run into a few problems depending on how it’s collected. 

For example, kitchen water has a good chance of containing grease, which can suffocate roots over time. Additionally, if you use non-biodegradable detergents, the increased chemicals in the soil from greywater can wreak havoc if not controlled.

Here’s a more thorough background on greywater and how to manage it: Can You Water Vegetables With Greywater?

Use Distilled or Filtered Water

Distilled water is the best choice for your plants. Distilled water is pure and pH neutral, so it’s guaranteed to not alter your soil significantly outside of giving plants the moisture they need.

Understandably, not everyone has the time or resources to buy distilled water whenever they want to water their plants. The best alternative is filtered water. It’s much easier to get your hands on than its distilled counterpart because you can simply install a filter at home and get your water straight from the tap.

A filter will remove the majority of the impurities in the water that can cause problems for your plants. Unfortunately, it won’t cure hardness, but a healthy top watering session every couple of weeks should flush accumulated compounds away.

3. Prepare a Perforated Planter and a Tray

Once you’ve picked the water variety of choice, you can gather your tools. The most important things you’ll need are a planter and a bowl or tray.


Not any old planter will do here. To properly bottom water your plants, you’ll need a planter with a drain hole at the bottom. The reason for this is that for the roots to take water from the bowl or tray you put the plant in, there has to be somewhere for the water to pass through.

You can opt for a ready-made planter that comes with a drainage hole. Alternatively, you can perforate your planter yourself with a drill. Just be careful not to make the hole too wide or crack your planter.


The tray is where the water you’re going to be using will go. For this reason, it’s best to use something wide enough to fit your planter. 

Your bowl/tray should also be deep enough that it can hold at least half a gallon (1.89 liters) of water. Depth is also essential here because once you put the pot into the bowl, it will displace some of the water, and if your bowl is too full, you’ll have a pretty annoying spill.

4. Mix in Fertilizer or Other Additives

One of the best things about bottom watering is how easy it makes applying fertilizers or boosters to your soil. Simply mix in the amount of fertilizer you want with the water and proceed as you usually would. As long as you mix evenly, the fertilizer will also distribute evenly throughout the soil as the water is taken up.

However, don’t forget to be sparing when it comes to fertilizer. Although the soil needs nutrients to keep the plants healthy, overfeeding can sometimes be as bad as underfeeding.

When you fertilize the soil too often, the nutrient imbalance can make it difficult for the roots to take up what they need. Another potential issue with overfeeding is that the increased salt content from fertilizers or boosters can stop the roots from absorbing as much water as they need, making them wilt.

If you’d like a more in-depth guide about how to properly fertilize while bottom-watering, you could check this article out: Can You Fertilize a Plant While Bottom Watering?

5. Place the Pot in the Tray

Finally, you can put the pot in the bowl or tray and watch the magic happen. The curious types can also set up a camera nearby and record the process. Once you’re done, a time-lapse of the video will give you a nice visual of what the bottom watering process looks like. 

Aside from how satisfying the video you’ll end up recording might look, another benefit of recording or at least timing how long the process takes is to get familiar with how much water your plant needs and how long it takes until it has its fill.

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How Bottom Watering Works

Different soils absorb water differently, not to mention bigger pots will require more time for the water to penetrate through the copious amounts of soil. For this reason, the amount of time it would take your plant to get all the water it needs would differ from someone else’s.

Ideally, you’ll want to stop before the water soaks the top of the soil completely. You can use the finger method I mentioned earlier here too. Simply check if the soil at the second knuckle of your index finger is moist. Ideally, this usually takes about 30 minutes to an hour, but as I said, your timing may be different.

You could just allow the water to reach the surface, of course, but one thing to remember is that insects like fungus gnats love wet topsoil. With bottom watering, you can water your plants completely and still stop the top few inches of the soil from getting wet while keeping your plant roots hydrated.

6. Drain the Excess

Once you’ve checked that the soil is as moist as it should be, you can start draining the excess water. To do so, simply take the pot out of the bowl you’ve been using and put it in an empty bowl or outdoors, then leave it for an hour.

It’s crucial not to leave your plant in the water bowl for too long and allow it to drain properly after. Otherwise, your plant’s roots will become waterlogged.

7. Top Water Frequently

I briefly mentioned this previously, but top watering from time to time is important enough that it deserves its own section. Bottom watering is an excellent technique, and there are very few alternatives to it that distribute water as evenly into the soil, but you can’t rely on it alone.

Top watering is still important because it’s the best way to flush the soil periodically. A good top watering session will soak into the soil and take away most of the excess minerals and salts from daily watering and fertilizing. Doing this periodically is essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy soil and keeping your plants happy.

Is Bottom Watering Worth It?

Considering all the steps involved, especially compared to top watering, you might be wondering if bottom watering is worth it. After all, top watering your plants seems a lot more straightforward and gives you ‘the same results.’

Bottom watering is worth it. Top watering can leave parts of your soil dry while causing  others to become too wet. On the other hand, bottom watering distributes water evenly throughout the soil and is great for plants like the African Violet that do not like water on their leaves.

Even though bottom watering is extremely beneficial, it needs to be done right, so closely following the steps I’ve talked about is crucial. While it can provide a wide range of benefits, doing it the wrong way leaves you with horribly waterlogged soil and weak roots.

Bottom Watering vs. Top Watering

Top watering is more convenient and popular but is that enough to rule out bottom watering your plants from your gardening routine? 

Some Plant Leaves Can’t Handle Top Watering

African Violets (Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia) are a group of flowering plants with distinctive, beautiful, purple flowers. Although they make an excellent addition to any home due to their aesthetic, they’re very hard to upkeep.

African violets have sensitive leaves that bleach on contact with cold water. For this reason, many people find them to be more trouble than they’re worth. 

However, imagine if there was a way to water your plants and keep the leaves dry. Plants like these seem like they were made to be bottom watered! 

Since water never comes anywhere close to the plant’s leaves, you will rarely ever have to worry about getting the leaves wet and bleaching them. The African Violet is just one of the plants characterized by this behavior, but there are many others like Cape Primrose and Orchids.

Even Watering

While top watering, you usually don’t get the water distribution to be completely even. This problem can sometimes leave you with dry soil patches, and if the dryness starts to become too much for the roots, your plant could start to show symptoms of underwatering.

With bottom watering, this usually is not a problem. When bottom watering, the water goes directly from the bottom to the top of the soil, and since it’s moving under forces that attract it evenly, it distributes evenly, leaving no dry spots. 

Nutrient Accumulation

One area you’ll need to be careful about is nutrient accumulation. Minerals from watering, fertilizing, and organic matter breakdown in the soil increase over time with bottom watering since water drains out of it much slower than it otherwise would. 

With time, these minerals and salts from your watering and fertilizing routines will reach a point where they start to negatively affect the plant and cause problems. To avoid this, you’ll need to flush your soil frequently. 

Here’s how you can flush potted soil:

  1. Place the planter (with a drainage hole) in a sink or tub.
  2. Run water through the soil in the planter using a bowl or tap. Ideally, you’ll want to pour water that’s about four times the volume of the planter. Additionally, make sure to circle the stream of water as it passes through to make sure that the entire soil is flushed.
  3. Allow the pot drain for 2-3 hours to reduce the moisture in the soil and avoid a mess when you take the plant indoors. Afterward, place the pot in a saucer or tray to catch any runoff still dripping from the bottom of the plant.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are a particularly nasty breed of insect that thrives in moist soil. Although the adults are usually seen flying around, the larval and pupal stages are where they spend most of their lives. These stages are also promoted by wet topsoil, so it’s clear how bottom watering can help here.

Water doesn’t explicitly have to reach the top when bottom watering. Therefore, the practice can be an excellent way to protect your plants from fungus gnats while providing them with enough moisture to live.

Root Rot

Root rot is a symptom of waterlogged soil. As the soil around the roots increases in moisture, it eventually gets to a point where it suffocates the roots around it by making it difficult to take up enough oxygen. If the problem isn’t fixed, the roots eventually die, and the rot can spread to other plants in the soil.

Alternatives To Bottom Watering

If you’re still not sold on bottom watering, then there are still a few options you can look into. Each has its benefits and downsides, so your choice will likely come down to preference.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation is one of the most water-efficient ways of watering your plants. This method involves using a drip tape and attached emitters to drip water onto your plants over time.

Since water is introduced slowly, this method can save resources and reduce the nutrient build-up in the soil. You can learn more regarding drip irrigation here.


While misting isn’t explicitly its own method, it is a great way to supplement whatever watering method you already use. Misting is an approach of watering your plants using a spray bottle. It’s a great way to make sure the leaves get enough water but also, it’s excellent for tropical plants that are used to higher humidity levels. 

Since bottom watering will not water your leaves or increase humidity no matter how long you leave the plant in water, misting is a great way to supplement it. Just remember that not all plants like water on their leaves, so do your research before you try to bust out your spray bottle.


Bottom watering could be a great approach if you constantly get dry, unevenly watered soil. Although it’s less straightforward than top watering, it only requires following a few quick steps that are easy to repeat once you get the hang of it. 

If you decide to try your hand at bottom watering, always remember to flush out the soil a few times a month to prevent nutrient build-up.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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