Top or Bottom Watering Houseplants: All You Need to Know

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

Once you start exploring what the best care is for your new green pets, you’ll soon enough stumble on a lot of advice about how to water your houseplants. One such watering advice concerns whether top or bottom watering is better for your houseplants.

Generally, both top and bottom watering are good for most of your houseplants. Top watering suits most houseplants except plants with sensitive foliage while bottom watering is not recommended for succulents and cacti.

There is no one best practice here as many plant aficionados on the internet want to make you believe. Both ways of watering houseplants work, and both have their pros and cons which we will go through in this post.

What’s the Difference Between Top and Bottom Watering?

Both top and bottom watering are feasible ways to give your houseplants what they need: water. What exactly is the difference between the two methods of watering your plants?

  • Top watering: You water your houseplant by pouring water into the pot right at the soil level. By watering from the top, the water flows all the way down and moisturizes the soil while excess water flows out through the drainage holes below.
  • Bottom watering: You water your houseplant by placing its inner pot in a water bath and letting it sit there for about one hour. The soil mix slowly soaks up water from below until it is saturated with water.

As you can see, both watering methods achieve the goal of watering your plant by saturating the soil with enough water until you give it the next rinse or bath. There are a few reasons why one or the other can be used but ultimately it is a matter of preference.

Tip: Whichever method you prefer, it is essential not to overwater your plants. Find out how not to overwater your plants as well as more helpful advice in my post about how to water houseplants.

Top Watering: Pros and Cons

Top watering your houseplants is definitely the standard method. This is mainly due to the fact that top watering correlates to how plants are watered through rainfall outside, hence it seems just natural to top water plants indoors, too.

These are the benefits of top watering:

  • By watering from the top, excess water flows out below and flushes out excess nutrient and salt deposits which is beneficial for a healthy soil environment.
  • Top watering makes it easier to know how much water you have given a plant and when it needs watering again as you see how much you pour in, and you can stick your finger into the top layer of the soil to check for moisture before watering again.
  • By top watering, you can water each plant individually which enables more specific watering according to each plant’s needs.

What are the disadvantages of top watering?

  • Plants with foliage sensitive to water must be top-watered very carefully to not damage the leaves. Among these plants are many succulents such as Aloe Veras or Echeverias do not like to get water into their Rosette or also plants like African Violets that have fine hair on their leaves. Just make sure you water the soil and not the plant leaves.
  • Overwatering happens more easily if you forget to pour out excess water. To avoid overwatering, make sure you empty out the saucers or the outer pots of your plants about half an hour after watering them.

Personally, I prefer to top water my houseplants. It is best not to move your plants too often, and by top watering, I just water them in their spots. It also makes for a good opportunity to check on their soil as well as the foliage for signs of pests or other issues.

Tip: A regular health check on your houseplants is a good habit for any plant parent. Here’s an easy 8-step plant care health check for your houseplants which you can integrate into your weekly watering routine!

Bottom Watering: Pros and Cons

For bottom watering, fill the saucer with water and refill until the plant soaks up no more of it. Pour out the leftover water. (Image source: author photo)

Bottom watering is one of these plant practices that has become more and more popular with the indoor plant hype we’ve experienced in recent years. It is a good alternative to top watering and has some benefits, too:

  • You can water several plants at once by placing them all in the same bath such as your bathtub.
  • Dried-out soil can be revived this way by letting it fully soak up. When top watering, dried compacted soil often repels water instead of taking it in. However in my opinion, if the soil has compacted down completely, it is best to repot the plant eventually.
  • For many tropical plants, bottom watering can mimic their natural environment better than top watering. Many tropical plants are used to heavy rainfalls with periods of drought in between. For example, orchids love to be bathed for hours and then left to dry for two weeks or even more.
  • If you have houseplants that like to have permanently wet soil, bottom watering works better than top watering by placing the plant on a tray constantly filled with water. There are not many such houseplants but the English Ivy, Umbrella Grass, or Venus Flytraps are among them.

There are also some disadvantages to bottom watering:

  • If you make shared plant baths, diseases or pests can easily spread from one plant to all others. Hence, make sure all of your houseplants are healthy before placing them in the same bath.
  • With bottom watering, excess salts, and other deposits are not washed out of the soil but instead accumulate. Over time, this can decrease a plant’s natural resilience.
  • Plants from arid natural habitats do not need much water at all. Do not use bottom watering on any succulents or cacti as it will create an environment that is too moist for them to grow healthily. Only water them sparingly from the top.

How to Decide Whether Top or Bottom Watering Is Better?

As I already mentioned, choosing one or the other is a matter of preference. However, if you want that rule of thumb to decide what method to use, here it is:

As a rule of thumb, do not use top watering on plants with foliage sensitive to water, and do not use bottom watering on arid plants such as succulents and cacti.

Instead of debating over whether top or bottom watering is better for your houseplants, I suggest you concentrate on more essential plant factors such as not overwatering your plant, choosing the right light conditions, or an appropriate soil mix. This will make much more of a difference to your plants.

Tip: Want to give your plants better soil than just the regular one you can buy in any store? Check out my post on how to make your own soil mix with a couple of simple and inexpensive ingredients!

Here are some of the main tips to consider for a healthy plant life:

  • Know your plants: Always check what plant types you have and what water and light conditions they need and give them an appropriate spot in your home.
  • Finger test: Almost all houseplants like to have their soil dry out at least a little bit before rinsing them again. Stick your finger into the soil and only water your plants when the top few inches of soil are dry. This is the best way to prevent overwatering.
  • Fertilize’em: Plants in a pot only have access to a limited amount of nutrients in their soil. Once used up, your plants will starve. This is why using fertilizer regularly is essential. As a rule of thumb, use fertilizer every two weeks in summer and none in winter.
  • Drainage: Create appropriate drainage in all plant pots to prevent root rot, the most common plant disease indoors.

These tips are much more important than whether you use top or bottom watering. Still, it is good you now know about what each watering method’s benefits are in case you want to switch your routines up a little.

Or, are you going on vacation? Creating a plant bath for your green fellows while away is one clever option to keep them hydrated. Find out here what other easy ways there are to water your houseplants while away!

More About Plant Care

How to Create Good Drainage?

Any indoor plant needs drainage holes for excess water to flow out. Appropriate drainage allows for enough air pockets in the pot as well as for excess nutrients and deposits to be flushed out.

Check out how to create good drainage in any type of pot with a few simple steps in my post.

What Kind of Light Do Plants Need?

Do plants necessarily need sunlight or does artificial light work as well? Read all about plants and light in my post on what kind of light plants need.

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