If you’ve spent time on social media scrolling through plant accounts or if you just know what you’re doing, you’ve likely heard of how to bottom water plants. If not, hear me out. This technique, also called reverse watering, is beneficial for several varieties of plants. Here’s the why and how to bottom water plants.
African Violets are most plant owners’ first introduction to bottom-watering plants. Specialized dual pots make it easy to hydrate these flowering beauties from the bottom, protecting the delicate foliage. A specialized pot is helpful for African Violets but not necessary for most houseplants.
The actual process of how to bottom water plants is easy. Plants need to be in a nursery pot or a pot with drainage for this method to work. Fill a sink, tub, or bucket with a few inches of water and set the potted plant in the water. The potting mix will absorb moisture through the drainage holes.
Let the plant sit in the water for 15 to 20 minutes. Too much of a good thing turns out to be not so great of a thing, so don’t bottom water your houseplants for more than 20 minutes. Leaving a plant in the water for too long can cause root rot.
When to Bottom Water Plants
Knowing when to water houseplants can be tricky regardless of the watering method. A perk of top-watering houseplants is that you can feel the soil and know when to water. Bottom watering does not offer this advantage, but you can learn when and how to bottom water plants.
Use a moisture meter, or learn the gauge when it’s time to water based on the weight of the container. Wet soil weighs more, so pay attention to the weight of the potted plant before and after you water it. Keep track of how long since the last watering, how much sunlight it receives, and the humidity, and continue to lift the plant to gauge the weight. The plant will feel light when the soil is dry, and that’s when it’s time to water. This technique is subjective and takes trial and error to get a feel for it.
Drooping stems, and curling foliage are common signs of a dry houseplant. Water the plant immediately if you notice these signs, and the plant may bounce back. Try to water a plant before it becomes stressed.
Benefits of Bottom Watering Houseplants
There are a surprising number of benefits to bottom-watering houseplants. The process offers some advantages over traditional top-watering, but learning how to bottom water plants is vital to execute this technique properly.
Fully Saturated Soil
Top watering is effective when correctly done. Enough water must be applied to the top of the soil until the potting mix cannot absorb any more and excess water drains. Shallow top watering does not promote root growth, resulting in small plants.
Bottom watering ensures the soil at the bottom of the container is saturated. Wet soil at the bottom of the pot encourages the roots to reach for moisture, creating an extensive, more robust root system, resulting in large, full plants.
It’s worth noting that an overly dry potting mix can become solid and caked. Top watering is ineffective when the soil becomes excessively dry, but bottom watering is the perfect solution. Even if bottom watering is not a standard part of your houseplant care, using this method is effective if the soil is excessively dry.
Reduce the Risk of Fungus Gnats
Pesky fungus gnats appear when a plant is overwatered. Fungus gnats thrive in damp conditions and eat the roots, damaging the plant. Consistently wet potting mix supports these pests. Overwatering from the top can create the ideal conditions for fungus gnats. Bottom-watering houseplants hydrate the bottom portion of the soil, keeping the upper portions dry or slightly moist, which is not inviting to fungus gnats.
When Not to Bottom Water Houseplants
A properly sized pot is essential for bottom watering to be effective. Do not bottom water a plant in a pot more than one to two inches larger than the root ball. The water may not reach the roots, and the plant will dehydrate. This is a tangent, but repot a plant if the pot is too large.
The process isn’t difficult, but you may not always have the time to fill the sink and wait for each plant to have a soak, especially if you have a lot of thirsty plants. Top watering is fine, but consider mixing in bottom watering every so often. Utilizing both watering methods ensures your plants are properly hydrated and the roots reach their full potential.
For clarity, bottom watering is different from submerging plants in water. Some plants, mostly desert cacti, and succulents, can be completely submerged in water. The plant and soil will soak up water, and that’s how they replenish their water reserve. The entire plant will be underwater instead of just the bottom couple of inches of the pot. Most plants can handle bottom watering but save completely submerging plants underwater for varieties that benefit from this method.
Learning How to Bottom Water Plants
Bottom-watering houseplants is an effective way to hydrate plants and help them grow to their fullest ability. This technique is not ideal for all plants, but it does work well for most houseplants. Like everything, it may take some time to get the hang of it, but learning how to bottom water plants can be a useful skill to help your plants thrive.