Complete Guide for Bottom Watering Terracotta Pots

QUESTION: Should you be bottom watering terracotta pots?

ANSWER: Yes, you should absolutely use the bottom-watering technique with terracotta pots. It is an effective way to retain a consistent moisture level in your potting mix. It also encourages plants to develop a robust root system and prevents overwatering. There are, however, some precautions you should take when bottom watering terracotta pots – more on that later in this article, so stick around.

Welcome to today’s feature article at the Garden Bench Top. We’ll be exploring:

  • the benefits of using the bottom watering technique with terracotta pots,
  • the disadvantages of using terracotta versus other materials, and
  • some advice specific to terracotta pots that you should consider before potting your beautiful plants.
Bottom Watering Terracotta Pots

However, before we get into terracotta pots, let’s understand the bottom watering technique.

A Bit About Bottom Watering

If there were one thing that we wish we knew when we started our plant journey, it would be the bottom watering technique.

We are sorry to admit that we didn’t come across this revolutionary method of watering until after the demise of many an unfortunate indoor plant. That’s all in the past and has helped shape the skilled gardeners that we are today…at least that’s what we tell ourselves!

credit: tenor

How to Bottom Water Your Indoor Plants

The process of bottom watering is to allow the soil in your houseplants to wick (soak) up the water via the pot’s drainage holes. In short, the steps to bottom watering are:

  1. Fill a waterproof container halfway with distilled water
  2. Place your pots into the water for 20 minutes
  3. Test the moisture levels of the topsoil using the soil finger test
  4. If still dry, top up the water in the container and leave for 15 minutes or until the soil is sufficiently moist.

You can read about the complete process in our instructional guide HERE.

Benefits of Bottom Watering Your Indoor Plants

The reason why we had learned about bottom watering earlier is the benefits that it delivers to our houseplants. Such as:

  1. Stronger Root Structure – we mentioned this initially but didn’t explain how it occurs. Roots tend to grow towards sources of moisture. If you use the traditional method of watering from above, the topsoil is the water source, and roots will grow at the pot’s surface. By watering from below, the roots will grow deeper into the container, creating a strong and even root structure. This can potentially lead to drainage problems.
  2. Prevent Overwatering – it is improbable that you will overwater your plants with the bottom watering technique. Simply due to the fact that the soil wicking system will only absorb what it needs, and no more.
  3. Prevents Pests and Disease – a common symptom of overwatered plants is wet, soggy soil. Water-logged soil attracts pests like fungus gnats. Moist environments also cultivate diseases such as root rot and other harmful bacteria.
terracotta pot in process of bottom watering
credit: reddit

Why You Should Be Bottom Watering Terracotta Pots

As you may already be aware, terracotta is a porous material that can absorb water. That is why the instructions on terracotta pots recommend soaking them before use.

Terracotta pots will absorb moisture from your pot plants’ soil, accelerating the rate at which your soil dries out. Unfortunately, this often means you have to increase the frequency of your watering schedule, or your plant suffers from underwatering or dehydration.

However, when you bottom water a terracotta pot, it is in contact with the water. This allows the terracotta to become saturated and reduces the moisture it extracts from the soil.

Other Benefits of Terracotta Pots

The porous properties of terracotta pots also deliver other benefits to your indoor plants. Oxygen is an essential element that roots require to process the water and nutrients from the soil. Porous materials are filled with small spaces that allow air to flow through and reach your soil.

Due to the terracotta pots’ ability to draw water from the soil, the material is perfect for indoor plants that prefer dry environments, like succulents and cacti.

Terracotta is also an inexpensive material that is light and versatile. It is widely available, which makes it perfect for setting up a beautiful Tuscan feel in your home or on your porch.

Disadvantages of Using Terracotta Pots

However, not everything about terracotta pots is all fun and fairy floss. They do have some disadvantages.

Unfortunately, porous materials are not known for their strength and durability. And this is true for terracotta pots, which can break easily. Especially when there are sudden changes in ambient temperature, terracotta pots are known to become brittle in cold temperatures and can easily crack when moving around the garden.

As porous pots, they will dry out the soil quickly, which can mean they are unsuitable for plants that prefer moist environments, like tropical plants.

various terracotta pots

Terracotta Pots: Common Mistakes

As great as terracotta pots are, there are a few things you should be aware of before you house your beloved plant babies in one.

Water Leakages

Often, when you purchase a terracotta pot, it comes with a matching terracotta pot saucer for the pot to sit on. The saucer intends to catch any excess water that may drain while you are watering your plants.

Now, even though matching sets can complete that Tuscan look you were going for, it can lead to some accidental water leakages.

Terracotta water catchers may appear like a great idea. However, like their matching pot, it is made from a porous material. They allow water to pass through! And what have we learned about porous materials?

That’s right – if water is allowed to sit in the terracotta saucers long enough, it will eventually soak through onto the surfaces beneath.

Water Stains

Since terracotta pots can absorb water, they are susceptible to developing water stains.

Fertilizer chemicals and traces in the water can build up on your pot, resulting in a stained pot. This can create a “patina-like” look on the exterior of your planter, which is a discoloration of the pot that makes it look aged and exposed.

Some gardeners love this look because it gives the pot a timeless look that appears to have been around for ages.

While others detest the appearance of stains on the pot, potentially disrupting their flawless and clean decor in the home.

Whichever camp you sit in, it is something you need to be aware of when using terracotta pots for planters.

Bottom Watering Terracotta Pots – Common Questions

How long do you need to soak your terracotta pots?

When you first purchase a terracotta pot, it is recommended that you completely submerge the pot in water for 24 hours. This will allow the porous terracotta material to become saturated enough to prevent it from extracting moisture from your potting mix.

How Long Should Plants Bottom Water?

Placing your plants in the water containers for 15-20 minutes is the usual practice for bottom watering. Before removing the planter, check if the soil has soaked up enough water after the 20-minute mark.

If you feel the soil is too dry, leave the plant to soak for a further 5 minutes.

Can you over-water by bottom watering?

This is a great question, and the answer is YES. Leaving your plants in the water too long will result in your plants’ soil becoming water-logged. However, it is less likely to happen when you practice bottom watering regularly.

Overwatering occurs during bottom watering because people get distracted and forget that they left the plant in the water container. We find the best way to overcome this issue is to set a timer each time you begin the process. This way, you are less likely to forget and reduce the chance of overwatering your houseplants.