Bottom Watering

Bottom Watering

Happy Friday everyone!

How many times have you heard people say, “I love plants, but I always kill them”? In truth, most of us have killed our fair share of houseplants. The most common reason is over-watering. We just love our plants to death.

Figuring out individual plant watering needs is complicated as all plants require different amounts of water and environmental factors like humidity, proximity to light, and air flow effect the dryness of soil. The same plant will require more water in the summer than it will in the winter.

We just want happy, beautiful plants. Why can’t the plants just tell us what they need?

I am going to share with you a technique called bottom-watering. Using this technique, the soil will tell you how much water it needs.

What is Bottom Watering?

As the name implies, bottom-watering utilizes capillary action to absorb water from drainage holes in the bottom of the pot into the soil. Capillary action works in soil because small gaps of air in substrate allow the water to climb against gravity. Soil soaks moisture evenly over the course of 10-45 minutes, depending on the soil; soil with finer material, such as fine sand allows the water to climb better than larger, chunkier substrate.

Compared to top-watering, bottom-watering helps prevent over-watering along with a host of other benefits I will discuss below.

Primarily, bottom-watering is performed by placing pots with drainage holes into larger containers of water for a given amount of time until the soil underneath the surface is moist. The soil will become uniformly wettened without becoming soggy.

Plants need to be monitored and removed once the soil has finished absorbing because if left for a lengthy period, the plant can still be overwatered. Most plants respond poorly to being in standing water. The soggy soil results in root rot, which will kill a plant if severe enough.

A More Efficient Method of Watering

Bottom watering is a more efficient and effective method of watering. Have you ever top-watered a plant only to have the water run off the soil? Top watering can lead to ‘spotty’ moisture consistency and compaction of soil over time due to soil becoming hydrophobic.

The capillary action of bottom watering ensures that moisture will uniformly wick into the soil. Using a specialized bottom-watering pot means that all water will be utilized without waste. This is helpful when like me, you live in a city with tap water that turns my calathea brown within a week. Even my filtration system doesn’t seem to be enough for them, so I have resorted to buying distilled/spring water. 

Inverse watering or bottom watering, also prevents soil from becoming hydrophobic and compacted. Typically, compaction occurs over time due to air being pressed out of soil. I have experienced this with plants that haven’t had their soil changed in a while or are root-bound. Soil becomes hydrophobic if it thoroughly dries out for expended periods of time.

A water-soluble fertilizer can be diluted and easily used in inverse watering. Remember to be gentle on fertilizer application, as it can cause burns to both the leaves and roots if applied too heavily.

Discourage Uninvited Guests

The number one reason I hear people turning to bottom watering is because they got an outbreak of fruit flies or gnats. These pests enjoy moist soil and become comfortable laying eggs in the topsoil of houseplants that are kept damp.

Luckily, inverse watering will allow you to avoid wet topsoil. Although the substrate throughout the pot is moistened, typically the top will remain dry. Since I started bottom-watering, I rarely see those tiny pesky bugs. Using this method, you can also add top-dressing to the soil, such as decorate rocks, sand or mulch without messing it up every time you water.

Encouraging Healthy Root Growth

Roots naturally grow towards the source of water. Bottom-watering your plants will encourage the roots to grow downward forming healthy and robust systems. You can ensure that the plant has received adequate amounts of water without waterlogging the roots using this method.

Flush Your Soil!

If you bottom water, you will need to thoroughly rinse your soil from the top about once a month. I found this to be a good practice even with my plants I was top watering as well. Thoroughly rinse the soil to wash out salts and minerals that build up due to fertilizer or tap water. It can also wash out pests if they have settled in the soil.

Ideally, plants should be watered using a combination of both bottom and top watering depending on the needs of the plants. For regular watering, I bottom-water my plants. However, occasionally I will do a more thorough rinsing of the soil to wash out any build-up.

A plant pot designed for bottom-watering

The Happy Roots Plant Pot was designed to be bottom-watering capable without the hassle of bottom-watering. This double-lined planter has a flexible rubber liner that sits inside a ceramic pot. The flexible liner is easily removed so that you can rinse your plants, treat, or trim without the ceramic pot getting in the

A pouring funnel allows water to be poured directly into the bottom of the ceramic chamber and a clear window allows the user to view how much water is inside.

The clear window helps you get to know your individual plant. As you don’t want your plant to be standing in water after it has finished absorbing water, after the drinking period, pour out any excess water from the bottom of the pot.

It may take a time or two to gauge how much water each plant needs, but once you have it figured out you can easily bottom-water without any additional container or pouring out excess water.

As a bonus, you can ditch the saucer! No more clunky, dirty saucers underneath your plant pots. Forget all those times dirty plant water spilled over your saucer. This plant pot provides a cleaner, minimalist look.

Thank you for reading! I hope it helps you grow beautiful, healthy plants😊
Feel free to comment below or email me with any questions or comments you have.

Happy Planting,
Rikki Cook

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