Is It Better To Water Plants From The Bottom?

Has this ever happened to you?

You pour water onto your plants’ soil regularly; they get enough sun, your soil is rich, yet your plants are struggling to survive.

You wonder, what are you doing wrong? Why are your plants not surviving? 

Have you ever explored the method of reversing the direction of your water application? That’s right; I’m talking about the bottom-up watering technique.

It is better to water your plants from the bottom. Using the natural laws of absorption and the science of equilibrium, you can provide the perfect amount of water to keep your plant hydrated, prevent overwatering, and respect each plant’s individual moisture preferences.

watering potted plants in a tray

How does bottom watering work?

Bottom watering is a method that is exactly as it sounds. The roots of your plant will access its water supply from the bottom of the container, instead of from the top of the soil.

With the bottom watering method, you provide your plant with a supply of water through the bottom of the container, via the drainage holes, and your plant will suck up as much water as it needs and absorb it directly into its root system.

Setting up a bottom-watering system

  1. Get a clean container that already has drainage holes. If you are using a plastic pot and there aren’t holes in the bottom, you can use scissors or a craft knife to make and remove small triangles from the bottom of your container.
  1. Fill the pot with good soil, and seeds, seedlings and/or a mature plant.
  1. Find a larger basin-type container with no holes in the bottom. Sometimes I use my kitchen sink and bathtub to water multiple plants and to save some valuable time.
  1. Fill the basin so when the plant is placed in the water, the drainage holes are completely submerged.
  1. Leave your plant sitting in the water for as long as it needs. It will absorb the water, and just like a sponge, it will stop absorbing the moisture when it has enough saturation. 

Check it every ten minutes. 

If the plant absorbs all the water, keep adding more until your plant is no longer wicking the water up.  Once your plant has stopped taking in water, empty the water of the basin.

  1. Repeat this process every time you water your plants.

One of the best parts about bottom watering is that you are guaranteed that your plant roots are getting the perfect amount of water each time. 

watering potting plants with brass can

Using the scientific principle of absorption and the equilibrium of osmosis, the roots and soil act like a sponge, wicking up just enough moisture to keep the plant properly hydrated, yet ensures overwatering is a thing of the past. 

This accurate watering method removes the guesswork of how much water you should be giving your plants each time, resulting in healthier plants and a greener thumb.

Why should you bottom water?

With the traditional top-down watering method, you would usually test the soil with your finger. You press your finger into the soil; it feels moist enough, so you don’t water that plant.  

The problem?

The soil is only moist on the top layer of the soil. 

What happens if you dig a little deeper into the soil? You would probably notice that the soil underneath the top layer is actually parched.  

So the roots that are stretching toward the bottom of the container that you thought were being saturated were actually dying of thirst.  

Bottom watering takes out the responsibility of trying to decide if your plant needs water.  

Letting your plants sit in a bath of water anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour (or more) will allow nature and the laws of science to do the job for you. 

If your plant needs water, the soil and roots will absorb as much as it needs. 

When the roots have had enough moisture, absorption naturally stops. 

There is an equilibrium between the amount of water the plant needs and what it has absorbed – a perfect growing situation.

woman watering seed tray of plants

Other reasons for bottom watering include:

  • The soil in the container is very slow to absorb water from the surface. If water stays on the soil surface too long, it could begin to erode and weaken plant stems.  Bottom watering bathes the roots of the plants where the water is needed.
  • Bottom watering is beneficial to accommodate plants that are growing in a humid environment.  Excessive humidity could cause rapid growth of mold and bacteria, which are detrimental to a plant’s health.  Bottom watering doesn’t add to this moisture or pull any harmful organisms through the soil to fragile roots (as it would with the top-down watering).
  • At times, plants become root-bound, and we don’t have the time immediately to report them. To make sure your plant is still alive when you finally get that day off to tend to your repotting chore, you can use the bottom watering technique to make sure enough water gets to the fine root hairs that are usually concentrated at the bottom area of the container of a root-bound plant.
  • Some plants do not tolerate getting their leaves wet.  If you’ve ever watered an African Violet from the top down and have seen the damage to the leaves, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Certain succulents, Dragon Trees, Spider plants, and Ficus are more examples of plants that prefer to be bottom watered.
  • Some types of growing methods require bottom watering to ensure maximum success. Growing sprouts or microgreens require the perfect amount of moisture for the proper germination yields and maintenance of the greens’ nutrient density. Too much water and bacteria could infect the fragile sprouts; too little water, the seeds don’t germinate properly.  Bottom watering is a necessary part of this growing method to achieve proven success.
  • Bottom watering is a great way to ensure you have an even distribution of fertilizer for your plant’s roots. Watering with fertilizer from the top-down leaves a lot of uncertainty about how much of that nutrient is actually making it to the roots for absorption. Using the bottom watering method allows you to experience the confidence that the root hairs absorb the exact amount of food needed for the optimum growth of your plant.

“Goodness cannot be imposed externally, from the top down; it must grow internally, from the bottom up.”

Phillip Yancey

Other considerations:

If you are trying to decide where to start your bottom watering method, look for plants in absorbent pots (terra cotta, peat pots, etc.). 

These pots wick the moisture away from the roots quickly even though the top of the soil feels moist.  Start with these plants as they will need more than the average watering.

Examine the developmental stage of your plants.  

Younger plants, seedlings, and thin stemmed plants would benefit more from the bottom watering method than more mature, well-established plants. 

In the video below, we talk about bottom watering for large amounts of the seedling. If you plan on sowing large numbers, this video will be worth you watching.

As explained earlier in this post, there are many reasons why these more delicate plants prefer this type of watering method.

If you are still feeling unsure, start small.

Find a plant in a smaller container (don’t forget to make sure there are drainage holes). 

Set up your bottom watering system, and you will see the small plant suck up the water like a straw.   

Watching your little plant absorb the moisture it needs is an enriching experience. 

Observing the absorption stop when the plant has had enough water will also help you trust that your plant knows when to stop drinking.

Final Thoughts:

Imagine the hottest day of the year; your water bottle is empty, your thirst is unimaginable after a long hike, you can find a nice cool stream.

You rip off your shoes and socks and dangle your feet in the water.  You instantly start to feel better.  

If you can get yourself some drinkable water and some nutrients (you did pack that healthy granola bar, right?), you begin to feel stronger.

This is exactly what happens to your plants when you bottom water them.  

watering clay pots

Your plants get the water they need at their root tips, they get the nutrients they need from your fertilized water, and they will be thriving in no time.  

Bottom watering is the way to go!  

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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