How to Bottom Water Plants (the Proper Way)

Watering from the bottom up is the new black in the gardening space, and there is a good reason why. Bottom up watering:

  • promotes stronger plants through healthier root systems,
  • provides a more efficient method of watering your indoor plants, and
  • helps to reduce common houseplant pests like gnats.
how to bottom water plants

Welcome to today’s article where we are going to explore watering your plants through an innovative new approach called bottom watering.

We will be explaining how the concept works to improve your plants’ strength and vitality, while also saving you time and energy. We will take you through the process of how to bottom water plants the proper way. As well as exploring the benefits, the cons and tips for mastering the technique.

So if you are ready to add a new tool to your gardening belt, grab a coffee and let’s get into it.

What is Bottom Watering?

The concept of bottom watering your indoor plants is simple.

It is the practice of watering your plants from the bottom, rather than the traditional method of watering from the top down with a watering can. It is easy to see why some people refer to the bottom up watering technique as the reverse watering method.

bottom watering is the process of watering your plants from the bottom up.

It may seem like a strange concept to hydrate a plant from the bottom, but there are many benefits to bottom watering, like growing a healthier root system for your plants and resolving pest issues.

However, before we get into all the benefits of this trending method of watering, let’s understand the steps involved for how to bottom water plants.

How to Bottom Water (Instruction Guide)

Here is how to construct your own Bottom Watering set up for your houseplants:

Step 1 – Find a Container

Find a waterproof container (like a tray or bowl) that is wide enough to comfortably fit the bottom of your planter. Ensure it is a minimum of 2 inches deep to account for any increase in water level.

materials for bottom watering

Step 2 – Container Set Up

Place the container on a level surface. We usually cover the surface with newspaper or a towel in case there are any accidental water spillages.

setting up bottom watering method

Step 3 – Place Plant into Water

Fill the container with an inch of distilled water and carefully place your planter into the container, and make sure it is level. The last thing we want is for it to tip over!

placing plant in water

Step 4 – Set a Timer

Leave the planter in the water for 15 minutes. Set a timer to make sure you do not forget about your plant.

Step 5 – Moisture Check

Once the time is up, check the moisture content of the topsoil. It should feel moist, with soil sticking to your finger. If it is not moist, leave the planter for a further 5 minutes before rechecking.

test your soil to see if moist

Step 6 – Remove Plant from Water

When sufficiently moist, slowly lift the planter up and allow excess water to drain back into the container.

You have now successfully watered your first plants from the bottom up!

Water absorbed bottom up watering

Let’s see why this method is gaining popularity among green thumbs, and why you should incorporate it into your watering routine.

Benefits of Bottom Watering

The team at the Garden Bench Top have been incorporating the bottom up watering technique for watering our plants for quite a while now. And the primary reason is the numerous number of benefits that you can get from using the technique. Let’s take a closer look at the pros of bottom watering plants.

Develop Stronger Root Structure

Did you know plants roots tend to grow in the direction of a water source?

Which means, if you are constantly watering your plants from the top, the roots tend to stay towards the top of the planter. This can cause issues with aeration of the topsoil through crowding of the roots.

Whereas, if you water your plants from the bottom, it stimulates the roots to grow downwards towards the moist soil. This encourages a healthier root structure with less crowding.

Reduces Likelihood of Overwatering Plants

Overwatering your plants is a very common issue for indoor plant owners – especially for novice gardeners.

It can lead to many diseases like root rot, or even encourage pests to breed. However, you can reduce the chance of overwatering by using the bottom up method.

When you water from the top, you risk overwatering or drowning your plant with too much water. Especially if your potting mix doesn’t have good drainage. Whereas watering from the bottom up allows the soil (and plant) to only absorb the amount of water that it requires.

Reduces Plant Pests and Fungal diseases

Whenever we receive a request for help from a reader complaining about tiny insects flying around their houseplants, 9 times out of 10, the cause is overwatering.

Pests, specifically fungus gnats, love moist topsoil. In fact, they need it in order to lay their eggs.

So, to help resolve our reader’s problem we generally recommend they stop watering for a period to dry the soil out completely. This will prevent the adult gnats from laying eggs, with the goal of breaking the gnat’s life cycle.

Once the soil is dry, we then recommend they water from the bottom up. This will allow the plant to still receive the necessary water, but still maintain a dry topsoil layer.

Recommended Reading:

If you have a gnat problem, check out our article on DIY gnat traps as part of our three-pronged strategy to permanently getting rid of fungus gnats.

Prevent Soil Displacement

One of our biggest pet peeves is when you lose soil from your planters because too much water spills out over the edges of the pot. Not only does it make a mess, but your plant has less soil to grow in and absorb necessary nutrients.

Bottom watering plants resolves this issue perfectly. Because water is being wicked up from the bottom, your topsoil remains undisturbed and remains intact! Why didn’t someone tell us this when we first started gardening?

Bottom Watering Cons

Unfortunately, it is not all fairy floss and rainbows with bottom up watering. There are some considerations (or cons) that we need to highlight before you start dunking all your plants in water baths.

Mineral Buildup

One of the primary issues with bottom watering is the process of rinsing the soil. When you water your plants from the top down, it acts like a cleanser and rinses away any mineral or salt built up from the fertilizer that the plants have not absorbed.

It is for this reason, if you do decide to use the bottom up method of watering your indoor plants, we recommend watering them from the top at least once a month. In doing so, you should clear any build up of minerals and keep your soil balanced and healthy.

More Time Consuming

Another consideration you need to account for is the time it takes to water your indoor plant collection. Bottom watering your plants is time-consuming. There is no denying it.

Depending on the size of your indoor plant collection, watering each plant for 15 – 20 minutes at a time, could potentially take you half a day. As much as we all love our houseplants, we don’t think anyone is that committed.

Watering several plants at one time will help to reduce the amount of time, but it is still more cumbersome when compared to taking 20 minutes to water all your houseplants from above.

Tips for Bottom Watering Plants

When it comes to bottom watering plants, there are a few tips we think are important to make the most of employing this strategy.

Easy Method of Feeding

Make sure to include an all-purpose liquid fertilizer in the water once a month when you bottom water your plants.

It is one of the most efficient and economical ways to feed your plants, because there is minimal wastage. When you feed from the bottom up, the fertilizer is absorbed into the soil. Whereas, feeding from the top can result in lost fertilizer out of the drainage holes along with the excess water.

Test Your Soil

BEFORE you dunk your plants into the water, always test the soil to see if you have moist soil or dry soil.

It is an easy mistake to make, but it is an important habit to get into. It helps to prevent future issues like root rot and water logged plants.

We like to get our hands dirty and use our fingers to determine if our indoor plants need watering. This method is called the soil finger test, and we have found it to be the easiest, and most reliable method of testing the moisture content of our soil.

Choose the Right Pot with Proper Drainage

Since the bottom up method of watering plants relies exclusively on water being wicked up via the drainage holes of the planter pots, it is important to get this right.

To encourage even root growth, ensure the drainage holes are spread evenly around the bottom of the pot. Feel free to do a bit of DIY and cut additional holes if you feel your plants could benefit from more drainage holes.

The holes also need to be of adequate size to allow water into the soil. If the holes are too small, you will find it will take longer for the soil to soak up the necessary water. Resulting in the bottom up watering process taking up more of your precious time.

Moderation is Key

Watering multiple plants at one time is a great way to bottom water plants. We do it, and you should too. It just makes sense.

However, be wary of overcrowding your water containers with too many plants.

Besides the fact that it can make a mess when the water level rises too high too quickly (been there, done that). It may result in your plants competing for the water.

credit: giphy

When you crowd your water tub, it is hard to see the water level. And therefore, it makes it hard to determine if each plant has received a sufficient amount of water.

So we recommend moderating the number of plants you bottom water at one time, and erring on the side of fewer is better.

Sterilize Your Equipment

This is an important tip, and one that could save you a world of pain. Our motto is always that prevention is the best method of resolving 99% of gardening issues.

This means it is important to clean your equipment (including your watering container), between each watering. This way, it will prevent diseases and fungal infections from spreading between your houseplants.

Ideally, you would sterilize your tub in between each watering. However, we realize that is not practical. At a minimum, we would empty out the remaining water from the previous watering, and give it a good spray with a high pressure hose to clean off any residue.

Frequently Asked Questions for Bottom Watering

In this section we tackle the odd questions that may crop up while you are bottom watering your indoor plants.

On a side note – if we don’t answer your question below, please reach out to us via our contact page and we;’ll be sure to respond as soon as we can. We’ll even feature your question in this FAQ section so other fellow gardeners can benefit.

What water to use when bottom watering?

If you are serious about providing the best for your indoor plants, the best water to use for bottom watering is filtered or distilled water. Using clean water is the best way to avoid any build up of unwanted chemicals that are present in tap water, like chlorine and fluoride.

This may not always be feasible, both in cost and storage wise. So, where possible, you can also try using rainwater from a water tank or collection from a window sill.

How often should I bottom water houseplants?

This is a difficult question to answer, because it will depend on many factors. For example, during the warmer months of the year you will need to water more frequently, compared to the cooler months. You will also want to ensure there is adequate water for your plants during their growing seasons.

Like we said earlier, the best method for determining when to water is to use the finger soil moisture test and use that as a guide for when to bottom water plants.

when to bottom water houseplants - dry soil
dry soil – time to bottom water your plants

How long should I bottom water my plants?

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

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. Although it is less likely to happen when you practice bottom watering regularly.

The reason why overwatering occurs during bottom watering is that 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.

What size plants can I bottom water?

Bottom watering is best suited to small and medium – sized plants. This is because the amount of water that needs to be soaked up is less in smaller plants, due to the amount of soil in their pots.

You can still bottom water larger plants, but the time it takes for the water to soak up will be considerably longer. You may even need to top up the water in the container during the process, depending on the amount of soil in the planter.