It’s tempting to think that houseplants should take water any way you give it. After all, it’s not like plants get a lot of choice on how they get watered in the wild. They either accept the rain, or they don’t.
But growing plants indoors is a little bit different. Bottom watering gives the plant all the water it needs without being too heavy with the water on top, which can cause damage. And if you use a watering can the wrong way, you can give a plant too much water in one area and not enough in another.
Believe it or not, overwatering is a problem. Excess water in a potted plant might seem like a good idea—after all, we tell ourselves to hydrate all the time—but when you have a plant indoors, you should aim to give it the optimum amount of water. And that can differ from plant to plant. Here are some ways to tell how to water your plants properly and what you’ll need to know.
What is Bottom Watering for Plants?
Would you pour a glass of ice water into the water of a plant from the Amazon? When you sit down and think about it, it’s probably not a good idea. That’s why it’s essential to consider whether your plants come from areas that are better suited to bottom watering or top watering.
First, let’s define what bottom watering is. Bottom watering occurs when you set the plant on a saucer that already contains water, helping the water absorb water up from the bottom of the pot up through the soil and the roots to hydrate the entire plant.
What is Top Watering for Plants?
Top watering is the traditional type of watering you’re probably imagining. That means pouring water from a watering can, for example, and letting gravity do the rest of the work. That’s if everything is going according to plan.
When first putting a potted plant in its potting soil, bottom watering might not be a bad idea for many species. Having good, thoroughly moist soil isn’t a bad way to start a new potted plant. However, if the plant has already been watered, you will likely want to avoid this due to overwatering concerns.
Can You Overwater Plants by Bottom Watering?
The problem of overwatering often happens in homes where more than one person takes care of the plants. Imagine you’ve put some bottom water out for the plant to absorb. Another individual comes around thinking it’s their turn to water plants. They give what they think is “enough water” to the plant from the top, having no idea what’s going on underneath.
Overwatering like this can lead to root rot, excess water build-up, and all sorts of other problems.
For indoor plants that aren’t spending a lot of time losing moisture in the sun-heated air, this isn’t a good thing. You may overestimate how much water your plant needs based on size, soil, leaf size, and more. And though it’s good that you’re giving plenty of attention to your houseplant care efforts, you have to take your plant needs into account first.
Let’s Consider Some other Problems with Overwatering
- Excess salts: If you add a lot of salt to your water to treat it, then the tap water you use for your potted plants can be a bit too much for your plants. Consider a plant like the Orchid, which could always use a delicate touch. Philodendron plants don’t tolerate a lot of salt in their water, and you may be unwittingly contributing to this problem by overwatering them.
- Mineral deposits: Ordinary tap water may have some friendly minerals in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a plant. A potting mix should already have an excellent concentration of plant nutrition. Remember, many plants get their water from ordinary rainwater, which can be surprisingly devoid of the minerals in drinking water.
Is it better to Water Houseplants From the Top or Bottom?
Some plants may respond well to being watered from the bottom. But in plants where it doesn’t matter where you water them, it’s probably better to water from the top:
- It’s more convenient.
- It’s easier to tell when the plant has enough water.
- You’ll do a better job of tracking.
That said, if you watch the soil dry out, no matter how much water you’ve been pouring from that spout, you may need another solution.
Which Plants Like to be Watered from the Bottom?
Rootbound plants always need a good amount of water throughout the soil. Top watering can sometimes be insufficient if a plant drinks up a lot of water, especially if it has plenty of roots that go deep into the potting mix. But not every plant is ideal for bottom watering because of that. When you water houseplants, be sure to look up how to water them first.
But let’s also consider a species like African violets. Plants like these can respond surprisingly negatively from top watering, maybe even developing spots. Understanding a plant’s region of the world is essential to figure out how to water it properly.
In general, it’s safe to water all of your plants from the bottom. However, some people believe that due to the inconvenience of doing so, if you have a plant that can respond well to either, you should water them in a way that makes sense for the potting medium you’re using.
It comes down to knowing which plants you’re watering, how much they need, and the best way for them to get it. Don’t forget to give your plants room temperature water, either. They’ll thank you by drinking that water up and looking bright, vibrant, and healthy when it’s time to show them off.