How to Bottom Water Plants (+ Why It Will Keep Them Alive)

All plants need water to grow, but how much is too much? Should I be watering everyday?

Sometimes we end up overwatering them, the plants die, and end up thinking we just have a black thumb and are going to kill every plant we ever own.

But you can keep plants alive, I promise. You just have to stop overwatering them, and that’s where bottom watering plants comes into play.

What is Bottom Watering?

Bottom watering (also called reverse watering) is as simple as it sounds, you just water your plants from the bottom instead of the top. Instead of forcing your plants to take all the water you pour on them, you let them soak it up from the bottom. It’s really that simple.

This method can be used in a variety of situations, so whether you’re growing a snake plants or African violets, other potted plants, or starting seeds indoors, bottom watering can be a gamechanger.

bottom watering houseplants

What You’re Going to Need

Bottom watering plants doesn’t require much extra in terms of resources, but it can take a little more time.

1. Drainage Holes

To get started with bottom watering, you want to make sure the container you’re growing your seedlings or plants in has at least one drainage hole. As with many houseplants, drainage is important as you don’t want water sitting in the bottom of the pot and keeping your plants feet wet.

2. A Bottom Tray That Holds Water

You’re also going to need a tray or drainage plate that can retain water below the pot with the drainage holes. For starting seeds you can use a 10×20 tray with no holes, but if you’re bottom watering houseplants you can use a simple plate or practically anything in the kitchen that will hold water while you do this.

Bottom watering plants works best with small to medium sized plants.

The bottom watering method can be challenging with larger plants, as you need to lift your plants to make this work. And often a larger plant pot can weigh upwards of 100 pounds.

How to Bottom Water Plants

Bottom watering plants is a pretty simple method to use, especially for smaller plants.

Step 1: Add the Water

Fill the bottom tray, cake pan, or pot with enough water to allow the plant to absorb as much moisture as it needs. I generally like to start with around 1/4 to a 1/2 inch – you can always add more if need be.

If you have drainage rocks at the bottom of your pot, make sure to fill the bottom tray with enough water to go above the rock line, or else your plants are going to have a hard time absorbing anything.

Step 2: Put Your Plants in the Bottom Tray

Place the plants (and whatever they are growing in) in the watering tray.

For a smaller potted plant, you can also let the plant sit in a sink with a few inches of water in it.

If you’re watering a new plant or succulent that is really dried out, make sure you hold onto it until it’s able to sit straight up in the water. You don’t want the plant tipping sideways and getting water and potting soil all over the place – that kind of defeats the purpose of this exercise 🙂

Dryer plants have a harder time and take longer to absorb water whether you’re bottom watering or top watering.

Step 3: Wait

Let your plants sit in that bottom tray for about 10 minutes or so. After that, check the top of the soil and see if it’s moist.

If so, you’re ready to remove that baby from the water.

If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes and check it again. If you’re anything like me, make sure to set a timer. I may or may not have forgotten about a poor guy and ended up almost drowning him.

Step 4: Remove from Water and Drain

If you’re using a 10×20 tray, you can just remove any excess water from the tray and place it back underneath your seedlings.

If you’re bottom watering a houseplant or succulent, let it hang out and drain in the sink for a minute to get rid of any excess water before you hang him back up or put him back.

watering houseplants

Is Bottom Watering Better Than Top Watering?

Yes it is a better method, especially for newer gardeners. We have a tendency to think plants need water all the time, 2 times a day, every day. But plants aren’t that scheduled.

  1. Watering from the bottom takes the guess work out of how much water your plants need. And it’s going to be a lot harder to kill your plants this way.
  2. No more wet leaves – When you water from the top, you are generally using a watering can that ends up splashing water all over the leaves and surface as well. Wet and soggy leaves are just asking for rot to set in. Watering from the bottom removes that possibility.
  3. Get rid of root rot – bottom watering helps avoid root rot from your plants.
  4. You also get to avoid the whole debacle with fungus gnats. They LOVE moist environments and lay their eggs on wet soil. It’s gross, and really annoying if you’ve ever encountered them. They can be an absolute pain to get rid of, and honestly that was my reasoning for starting to water my plants from the bottom.
  5. This also encourages the roots of your plants to spread out and get stronger as they are growing downward looking for water.

How Long Should You Bottom Water Plants?

As I mentioned above, check the surface of the soil after about 10 minutes, and then in 5 minute increments after that. I wouldn’t leave them in more than 20 minutes or so as the plants roots do need oxygen as well.

Can You Bottom Water Any Plant?

You can bottom water any plant. Succulents, seedlings, houseplants – essentially anything in a pot or planter with drainage holes. If you have a favorite planter that doesn’t have holes, you can always add them in with a drill or screwdriver (being careful not to crack the material).

The only other caveat to this is a plant that is too large to easily move around in order for you to be able to water from the bottom.

Should You Let Tap Water Sit Before Watering Plants?

Yes, you should let it sit out for a bit – but not for the reasons you think. I was always told that the chlorine in tap water could harm plants, so letting the water sit for a while would help remove some of that chlorine and you wouldn’t kill your plants.

But that apparently isn’t a thing because there isn’t enough chlorine in tap water to harm your plants.

Dr. Leonard Perry from the University of Vermont actually made me realize there is a better reason for waiting to use it and not watering straight from the faucet.

Water that comes out of the faucet can be really cold, especially during the winter. This can shock the roots and lead to root disease and/or continuing your black thumb legacy and killing your plants. This is especially true for more tropical natured plants.

You want to water your plants with room temperature (or tepid) water whenever possible.

Watering From the Top Isn’t All Bad

Even if you are consistently bottom watering you will want to water your plants from the top occasionally, this helps to get rid of excess salts in the soil that can build up otherwise.

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Hi - I'm Chenell! I'm on a mission to learn how to grow my own food, and help other people do the same.

I lived in the city for almost a decade, but after moving to the suburbs, I started making my Iowa blood proud and growing all kinds of food 🌽 I started this website to help keep track of the journey while teaching others the mistakes and things I'm learning along the way. You can follow along with the journey and learn more here.

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