Bottom Watering Houseplants: The Complete Guide


Some plant species are sensitive about light, others about their type of soil, and others still about water, in that you’re not supposed to get water on their leaves. For these plants, bottom watering is the ideal solution. How does bottom watering work?

What does it mean to bottom water houseplants? To bottom water houseplants is to fill water around the bottom of the pot so the plant’s foliage and flowers stay dry. You take a container with filtered or distilled water and then put your plant in the water, leaving it for around 10 minutes. Then replace your plant in its original spot.

If you still have more questions about bottom watering your plants, then I suggest you keep reading. This complete guide to bottom watering will cover the reasons to bottom water, which plants like this watering technique, and how to bottom water indoor plants, including dos and don’ts. 

What Is Bottom Watering?

With bottom watering, you transfer your plant–pot and all–to a shallow water bath. The plant sits for a while and its roots absorb all the water it needs. Then you take the plant out and put it back in its original home.  

The reason for doing this goes back to what I mentioned in the intro. Houseplants are finicky creatures, some much more than others. If yours happen to have any sensitivities to water, then you must have a careful hand. 

Outside of how much water your indoor plant receives, where you administer that water is also crucial. Should some water splash onto the leaves or flowers, the plant can react unfavorably.

It could develop spots or discoloration on the areas where it was wet. This can make you nervous to water your plant again, but it’s not exactly like you can skip doing so. You just need a better way of going about it. 

That’s why some inventive indoor gardeners have started doing bottom watering. Your plant is happy because it’s well-hydrated and when done correctly, its foliage and flowers never once got even so much as a drop of water on them.  

What Are the Benefits of Bottom Watering Your Houseplants?

If you’ve never bottom watered your houseplants before, you might wonder why doing so is deemed beneficial among many indoor gardeners. Here are the perks of the bottom watering method. 

Maintains Foliage Color

I’ll talk in the next section about which houseplants specifically most like bottom watering, but for those plants, following this watering method is highly recommended. Your plants will look fresh, green, and healthy. Their foliage and flowers will be unmarred by water spots and other signs of sloppy watering. 

Bottom Watering Can Prevent Soil Compaction

Did you know that one of the ways a houseplant’s soil can become compacted is by simply watering your plant over a period of time. This is all but unavoidable, since, as I said before, it’s not like you can stop watering your plant.

Yet by bottom watering, you’re avoiding the top-down method that puts pressure on the top layer of soil and begins pushing it down on the subsequent layers. By bottom watering your plants you can maintain the quality of your houseplant’s soil longer.

Choosing to bottom water your plants instead of only watering from the top, also means you won’t have to aerate your potting soil as often. You can also go longer between having to repot your houseplant just for the sake of replacing its compacted potting soil

Might Reduce Pest Risk

There’s a school of indoor gardeners who believe that by bottom watering their houseplants, the plant’s risk of attracting pests goes down. The reason for this is that the outer layer of the plant’s soil isn’t wet, so moisture-loving insects won’t come around.

They won’t even suckle on the plant’s leaves, since these are dry to the touch as well. All the moisture comes from the roots up, unbeknownst to these pests.

Whether you’ll have fewer pests is negligible, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to try!

To Learn More: Do Houseplants Attract Bugs?

Could Increase Root Strength

When you bottom water your indoor plants, the water doesn’t have to travel down through inches and inches of soil to the roots, which then have to work to drink the water. Instead, the water comes right to the roots. They’ll begin growing downward as they should, which can help the strength and longevity of the roots. 

Is It Better to Bottom Water Plants?

While there are many benefits to bottom watering plants it’s not better or worse than traditional watering methods. Watering plants from the top on occasion can help flush any added fertilizer, plant food, and even excess salts sitting on the top of the soil through the soil and the containers drainage hole.

Which Houseplants Should You Bottom Water?

Many species of houseplants can be bottom watered, but there are some that you almost always want to water in this fashion. Here’s the list.  

African Violet

The beautiful African violet or Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia produces purple flowers that indoor gardeners go gaga about. Yet those flowers can lose their luster if you get them wet too often. That’s why few plants are the poster child for bottom watering more than the African violet. Still, it’s worth taking the extra bit of effort to bottom water it so you can show off those pretty flowers to all your friends and family. 

Snake Plant

A classic indoor plant, the snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue, blade-shaped leaves can reach heights of up to four feet. Whether your snake plant has variegated leaves or simpler, unadorned ones, it’s still disappointing either way to see those leaves with unappealing water spots throughout. Once you begin bottom watering, those black or brown spots on the leaves of your snake plant, will be a thing of the past. 

Cape Primrose

Giving the African violet a run for its money, the cape primrose or Streptocarpus produces blooms in hues like pink, dark purple, lavender, and fuchsia. Maintaining the bright colors of those flowers requires you to water the cape primrose in such a way that its roots get wet but its soil isn’t soaking.

To keep the cape primrose flowers beautiful means keeping any water away from its flowers is a must. You’re much better off bottom watering the cape primrose plant. 

Seedlings

At their very young age, seedlings are still extremely vulnerable. The force of the water being poured from above is often too much for still-developing plants. By bottom watering seedlings, you can avoid disturbing their soil and getting them wet, which the emerging plants will certainly appreciate! 

Mid-Sized Plants (or Smaller)

Since bottom watering larger potted plants often requires you to transfer to a larger amount of water such as a tub or sink, if your plants are so large and heavy that moving them is difficult, then I would say they’re not a good candidate for bottom watering.

You’ll already have your work cut out for you when the time comes to transfer your plant to a new pot. Save potential stress of moving them for an eventual necessity . 

How to Bottom Water Your Houseplants

If you have houseplants that you would like to began bottom watering, here are some handy steps to follow.

Step 1: Choose a Bottom Watering Method

Where will your houseplant soak? That depends on its size. For smaller plants, using a container full of water suffices. For larger plants, a container might be too tiny, so filling your bathtub and putting your plant in works better. 

Step 2: Fill the Container/Tub with Water

After you select your vessel, you need to fill it with water, at least an inch deep of water once the plant is sitting in the container, tub or other vessel. If you have a larger plant, it’s okay to add an inch more, as your plant’s roots must be able to drink the water.

If they can’t do that, then your plant is at risk of being underwatered. Instead of having to contend with foliage discoloration or water spots, the leaves will become brown and crispy.

Yet there is a fine line here. You can’t really overfill a container, but you can definitely do that with your tub.

Remember, you’re not bathing your houseplant like you would your dog. Too much water will soak the plant’s soil from the bottom up, leaving it soggy and the plant susceptible to root rot

Besides the quantity of water, make sure you don’t use any ol’ type of water either. Tap water is a no-no since it’s full of chemicals, so you can’t turn your tap on to fill your tub. Distilled or filtered water is better, including rainwater if you happen to collect that.

Regardless of the watering method, the temperature of the water you use should always be at room temperature or “tepid” when watering your plants.  

Step 3: Put Your Plant in the Water

Now it’s time to bottom water your plant. There’s no need to remove the plant from its pot or anything.

Just plunk the whole thing in the tub or container. Give your plant at least 10 minutes to absorb the water.

If it’s been a while since your plant was last watered, you can double the time, but don’t leave your houseplant in there longer than 20 minutes. By then, its soil can get soggy and you’re again creating conditions that are conducive to root rot

Step 4: Drain and Replace

I’d suggest putting your houseplant down on some towels now, as water is going to come seeping out of the drainage holes for the next couple of minutes. Once the water is done draining, dry off the plant’s pot and put your houseplant back where it was.  

Moving houseplants too often can cause unnecessary stress on the plant. Do your best to put your plant back where it was before you watered it.

Houseplants tend to thrive more consistently when their appropriate light source is consistent. Basically, don’t make your plant have to adjust to a new position every time you water it by placing it in a new spot every time you finish watering it..

Tips for Bottom Watering Plants

Although bottom watering your indoor plants is a relatively hands-off method, things can still go wrong. Here are some mistakes to avoid. 

Always Do the Soil Test Before Bottom Watering Your Plants

Determining when it’s time to bottom water your plant is no different than if you watered your plant from the top down. You want to use the soil test, which I always say is the most accurate indicator of when your houseplant truly needs water.

To do the soil test, make sure your hands are clean first. Then put one finger a few inches into the soil. If the soil feels moist that deep down, then your plant is nowhere near ready for a water bath. Should the soil be a little moist, come back in a few days and do another soil test. Then make up your mind from there. If the soil is dry a few inches deep, then fill up your tub or container, as your plant needs water. 

Ensure Adequate Drainage Hole Size when bottom watering

The water in your plant’s pot must have sufficient space to exit when bottom watering. What can result otherwise is standing water that accumulates within the pot and causes root rot. If the drainage holes of your plant’s pot are smaller than an inch, then you’ll want to move your plant to a better pot before you consider bottom watering it. 

Don’t Overcrowd Your Plants

If you have snake plants, African violets, and maybe a cape primrose or two in your indoor garden, it’s a great idea to bottom water all the plants. However, you don’t want too many plants in your tub at once. Then they’re fighting for water and one plant is bound to end up with less than it needs.

Clean Your Tub Prior to Using it to Bottom Water Your Houseplants 

Speaking of your bathtub, if that’s the option you’re using, please make sure your tub is completely clean before putting your plants in there. Rinse your tub thoroughly to remove any traces of chemical residue or soap scum.

Watering your houseplants in a tub or container with chemicals and soaps that may be safe for you, may not be safe for your houseplant.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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