Home Houseplants Top Watering vs. Bottom Watering Plants

Top Watering vs. Bottom Watering Plants (Pros and Cons) – GIY Plants

Woman top watering vs bottom watering a newly transplanted houseplant.

Are you constantly wondering if you’re watering your plants the right way? With so many methods out there, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the two most popular methods: top watering and bottom watering. We’ll explore the pros, cons, and best practices to keep your plants healthy and thriving.

Understanding Watering Methods

Watering is a crucial aspect of plant care, but not all watering methods are equal. Let’s delve into the specifics of top and bottom watering to help you decide which way suits your indoor and outdoor plants best.

What is Top Watering?

Top watering is the most traditional and commonly used method of watering plants. In this approach, you pour water directly onto the top of the soil using a watering can, hose, or other similar device. The water then percolates down through the soil, reaching the root system. This method is straightforward and quick, but it can sometimes lead to water splashing on the leaves, which some plants don’t appreciate. Top watering is often suitable for larger plants that need much water and those that prefer water to drain quickly through the soil.

What is Bottom Watering?

Bottom watering is different and is often considered a more controlled method of watering your plants. This technique places the pot in a water tray or directly into a water container. The soil absorbs moisture from the bottom through the drainage holes in the pot. This allows the plant to soak up the water it needs, reducing the risk of overwatering. Bottom watering is particularly beneficial for plants sensitive to having water on their leaves. It is often recommended for smaller potted plants that can easily sit in a water-filled saucer.

The Science Behind Watering Techniques

Understanding the science behind watering techniques can empower you to make more informed decisions about plant care. Let’s explore how plants absorb water and the soil’s role.

How Plants Absorb Water

Plants primarily absorb water through their root systems. The goal of both top and bottom watering is to ensure the root ball gets adequately moistened. When you water from the top, gravity helps pull the water down to the roots. In contrast, bottom watering allows the roots to soak up water through capillary action, drawing water upwards from the bottom of the pot.

This method can be especially beneficial for plants with extensive root systems, ensuring that water reaches even the deepest roots. Understanding how plants absorb water can help you decide whether top or bottom watering suits your specific plants.

The Role of Soil in Watering

Soil plays a pivotal role in how effectively your plants can absorb water. Different soil types have varying water retention capabilities. For instance, sandy soil drains quickly, making it more suitable for plants that don’t like to sit in water for extended periods. On the other hand, clayey soil retains water longer, which might be beneficial for plants that need consistent moisture.

The type of soil you use can influence the water level in the pot, affecting how often you need to water and which method—top or bottom watering—would be most effective.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Choosing between top watering and bottom watering involves weighing the pros and cons of each method. Both have unique advantages and disadvantages that can influence your watering routine and the overall health of your plants.

Pros of Top Watering

Top watering is the most straightforward and commonly used method of watering plants. One of its main advantages is its ease of use; you pour water onto the top of the soil until it drains through the bottom of the pot. This method is quick and requires no special equipment, making it convenient for many plants and gardeners. Top watering is also adequate for plants that prefer their soil to be evenly moist, as the water is distributed across the top surface of the soil.

Cons of Top Watering

While top watering is easy and quick, it does have some drawbacks. The most significant is the potential for overwatering. If you’re not careful, you can easily add too much water, leading to waterlogged soil and root rot. This method can also lead to water splashing on the leaves, which, for some plants, like African violets, can cause leaf spotting. Additionally, top watering may only sometimes effectively reach the bottom of the root system for larger plants, leading to uneven water distribution.

Pros of Bottom Watering

Bottom watering offers efficient water absorption, making it an excellent choice for plants with deep or extensive root systems. By allowing the plant to soak up water from the bottom, you ensure the roots absorb the water they need. This method is also excellent for minimizing water loss due to evaporation, as the soil from the bottom of the pot directly absorbs the water. Bottom watering eliminates this concern for plants sensitive to having water on their leaves.

Cons of Bottom Watering

The primary downside of bottom watering is that it can be more time-consuming than top watering. Depending on the plant and soil type, you’ll need to wait for the plant to absorb water, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Additionally, you leave the plant sitting in water for too long. In that case, it can also lead to overwatering and root rot. Some plants may not be suitable for bottom watering, especially those that don’t like their roots to be too wet.

Factors Influencing Your Choice

When watering your plants, one size doesn’t fit all. Several factors can influence whether bottom or top watering is better for your situation. Let’s look into some of these critical considerations.

Type of Plant

Different plants have different watering needs, which extends to the watering method as well. For instance, snake plants and many succulents prefer not to have water on their leaves and are better suited for bottom watering. On the other hand, larger plants with extensive root systems may benefit more from top watering to ensure that water reaches the entire root ball. Understanding your plant’s specific needs is essential when choosing a watering method.

Environmental Conditions

Your local climate and indoor conditions can also significantly determine the best way to water your plants. Top watering in hot and dry environments may lead to rapid evaporation before the water can reach the plant’s roots. In such cases, bottom watering can more effectively ensure the plant absorbs the water it needs. Conversely, bottom watering may lead to overwatering in humid conditions, as the soil retains more moisture. Indoor conditions like air conditioning or heating can also affect soil moisture levels, influencing your choice between top and bottom watering.

Combining Top and Bottom Watering

Sometimes, both top and bottom watering alone will meet your plant’s needs. Combining both methods can offer a more holistic approach to plant care in such cases. Here’s how and when to use both ways effectively.

When to Use Both Methods

There are scenarios where both top and bottom watering can benefit your plants. For instance, newly potted plants may need top watering initially to help the soil settle around the root ball. Afterward, you can switch to bottom watering to encourage deeper root growth. Another scenario is when you have plants that are sensitive to having water on their leaves, like African violets. You can use bottom watering most of the time but occasionally use top watering to flush out any excess salts or fertilizer from the soil.

How to Effectively Combine Methods

Combining top and bottom watering can be simple if you follow these steps:

  • Start with Top Watering: Initially, water the plant from the top to help the soil settle and to ensure the root system is adequately moistened.
  • Switch to Bottom Watering: After the initial top watering, fill a tray or saucer with water and place the pot in it, allowing the plant to absorb moisture from the bottom. This encourages more profound root growth and is efficient in water absorption.
  • Monitor Water Level: Keep an eye on the water level in the saucer. Once it’s mostly absorbed, remove any remaining water to prevent overwatering.
  • Occasional Top Watering: Every few weeks, revert to top watering to flush out any accumulated salts or nutrients that could harm the plant.
  • Check Soil Moisture: Always check the top inch of soil before any watering session, regardless of the method, to ensure your plant needs water.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Watering plants may seem straightforward, but even experienced gardeners can fall into several pitfalls. Understanding these common mistakes can help you avoid them and keep your plants healthy.


One of the most common mistakes in plant care is overwatering. Whether you’re using top or bottom watering, giving your plants too much water can lead to root rot and other issues.

Top Watering: When you water from the top, it’s easy to saturate the soil, especially if you’re not monitoring the water level. To avoid this, water the plant until excess water starts draining from the bottom of the pot. Then, stop.

Bottom Watering: With this method, leaving the plant sitting in water for extended periods is tempting. To avoid overwatering, remove the plant from the saucer or tray once the top inch of soil feels moist to the touch.

Inadequate Watering

On the flip side, not giving your plants enough water can also be detrimental. Plants that don’t receive adequate water may exhibit stunted growth, wilting, and yellowing of leaves.

Top Watering: When using this method, pour water evenly across the soil’s surface, allowing it to reach the root system. Don’t just wet the top layer; ensure that water reaches the bottom of the pot.

Bottom Watering: If using a saucer or tray, ensure the water level is high enough for the soil to absorb sufficient water. If the water in the saucer is gone, but the soil still feels dry, you may need to add more water.

By being mindful of these common mistakes and implementing these tips, you can better meet your plants’ watering needs, whether you prefer to water from the top or the bottom.


Watering is a critical aspect of plant care, and choosing between these two can significantly impact your plants’ health. Both methods have pros and cons, making it essential to consider factors like the type of plant, the environmental conditions, and your watering routine.

Top Watering is quick and easy, suitable for various plants. However, it can lead to overwatering and may be less efficient regarding water absorption.

Bottom Watering is excellent for ensuring that your plants are watered efficiently. Still, it can be time-consuming and may only be suitable for some types of plants.

For the best results, consider combining both methods, depending on your plant’s needs and the environmental conditions. Avoid common mistakes like overwatering and inadequate watering by closely monitoring the soil and water levels.

Ultimately, the best way to water plants is to understand your plants’ specific needs and be flexible. Whether your water is from the top or the bottom, the key takeaway is to be attentive and adaptable in your watering methods to keep your plants healthy and thriving.

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