Is Top or Bottom Watering Better for Your Plants?

Watering your plants seems like the simplest part of gardening, but did you know that how you water your plants can significantly impact their health and growth? Two common methods, top watering and bottom watering, each have their unique benefits and drawbacks. In this blog, we'll dive into these methods to help you decide the best approach for you and your plants.

Top Watering

What is Top Watering? Top watering is the most traditional method where water is poured directly over the soil's surface, around the base of the plant and allowed to soak down into the plants roots.

Pros of Top Watering:

1. Simulates Natural Rainfall: This method mimics the natural way plants receive water, making it a more organic approach.

2. Helps Nutrient Distribution: As water seeps down, it carries essential nutrients from the soil to the plant's roots.

3. Flushes Out Salts: Regular top watering helps in flushing out excess salts from the soil, preventing salt buildup.

4. Visibility and Control: You can easily see how much water you're giving and adjust accordingly, ensuring your plant isn’t over or underwatered.

Cons of Top Watering:

1. Risk of Overwatering: It's easy to give too much water, leading to waterlogged soil and potentially causing root rot.

2. Uneven Moisture Distribution: Water might not reach the entire root system, especially in larger pots, leading to uneven root growth.

3. Foliage Diseases: Water left on leaves can promote the growth of fungal diseases in some plants.

4. Time-Consuming: Requires more time and attention to ensure even and adequate watering.

Tips for Top Watering

Be sure your plant is in well-draining soil. This will allow the water to flow through the plant’s soil and not leave the soil soggy. Excess moisture in your soil can cause root rot. Add a little at a time, allowing the water to drain slowly through the soil. Continue this until water starts pouring out of the bottom of your plant.


Bottom Watering

What is Bottom Watering? Bottom watering involves placing your plant in a tray of water, allowing the soil to absorb moisture from the bottom up. It's a more passive approach but highly effective.

Pros of Bottom Watering:

1. Encourages Deep Root Growth: Roots grow downwards to access water, promoting a strong and healthy root system.

2. Reduces Overwatering Risk: Plants take up only the water they need, minimizing the risk of waterlogging.

3. Prevents Foliage Diseases: Since the foliage stays dry, there's a reduced risk of developing fungal diseases.

4. Prevents Fungus Gnats: Fungus gnats thrive in a moist environment and lay their eggs in the topsoil of plants. Having topsoil that remains dry will discourage fungus gnats from seeking shelter in your plant’s soil.

Cons of Bottom Watering:

1. Time-Consuming for Large Plants: Not practical for larger plants due to the need for larger trays and more water. We encourage top watering for plants in a 12" pot or larger.

2. Risk of Underwatering: If the soil is very dry, it might not absorb enough water, leaving parts of the root system dry.

3. Salt Buildup: Without the flushing action of top watering, salts can accumulate in the soil.

4. Limited Nutrient Distribution: Nutrients in the soil may not be distributed as evenly compared to top watering.

Tips for Bottom Watering:

There isn’t an exact length of time for how long you should leave your plants in the tray. There are many factors that determine how long your plant will need, from the environment of your home, to the type of soil, and what your plant may need at that specific time. To help, try starting with a 20 minute timer. Place your plant in the water and after 20 minutes, check the soil moisture. See if the water has travelled up to the top inch of the plants soil by using your finger. If it is still dry, leave it for longer, setting another timer so you don’t forget! The more you do this method, the more you’ll remember and understand how much time each plant needs. Be sure to remove the excess water from the tray after watering to avoid root rot.

So which watering practice is the best?

Personal preference of course! Here at Mental Houseplants, we perform both methods on all our plants. For most of the waterings, we will bottom water. When it is time to fertilize, we will top water to help evenly distribute the nutrients and drain excess salt from the soil. When we top water, we like to spray the topsoil with a fungus gnat preventative. Having a well-draining soil will also aid in preventing these pesky fellows.

Some people will even do both watering practices each time. They will bottom water first and allow the plant to take up what it needs, and do a quick top-watering to help prevent the soil from building up any excess minerals.

Additionally, some people strictly top water. This could be due to worrying about forgetting a plant sitting in water, feeling as though they have more control over the amount of water the plant gets, or it’s just what they’re used to!

Choosing between top and bottom watering depends on your plant's needs, your environment, and your personal preferences. Some plants may prefer one method over the other, and sometimes a combination of both methods works best. Experiment with both and observe how your plants respond to find the perfect watering balance.

What matters most is ensuring your plants are in quality soil and researching the watering needs and frequency of each plant genus. Some can stay dry longer than those that prefer constantly moist soil. To help, each plant we sell has a description on each listed with care instructions required to care for each plant to help you succeed as a plant parent!

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