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The sacred art of bottom-up watering

The sacred art of bottom-up watering

While watering from above (aka top down watering) is a tried and true method, there is in fact, another way to water - bottom-up watering!  

Which plants prefer this method?

Just like some of us don’t like getting our hair wet, some plants don’t like getting their leaves wet! While regular watering is rarely life or death, pickier plants may sulk or get sick if their leaves get too wet. 

This is case for African violets (Saintpaulia) and cyclamens (Cyclamen persicum). African violets are prone to water staining. Too much water splashed on their leaves can cause white water marks to break out on their foliage. Not only are these stains unsightly, but they are also super hard to get rid of!

In the case of the cyclamen, the reasoning is different. This plant has a tuber (a short, fleshy stem) that pops up slightly above the potting mix, with a little dip in the centre. By continually watering from above, you risk filling this indent with water and giving your cyclamen a dreaded case of plant rot.

So what is bottom-up watering?

You may not have heard the term before, but it doesn’t take a genius to guess what it means. Yup, it’s that simple! Bottom-up watering simply means watering plants from the bottom, rather than the top. 

Now before we explain the ins and outs of bottom-up watering, we want to get one thing straight! We don’t want anyone walking away from this blog thinking that they’ve been watering wrong. Most plants are pretty chill, and are happy to receive water from either the top or bottom. But there are some great pros to bottom-up watering (especially when it comes to houseplants). 

The pros of bottom-up watering

Bottom-up watering is a great solution for you over-waterers out there. It’s a bit like free-range parenting. You give the plant child water, and it decides how thirsty it is and how much water it wants to drink.

Another huge plus of bottom-up watering? You’re giving the plant water right it needs it most— at its roots! Instead of having to travel down layers of potting mix from the top, the water enters through the holes at the bottom of the pot and soaks into the potting mix. The roots instantly reach the water and pull it upwards and voila! Instant hydration!

Okay I’m sold! So, how do you water plants from the bottom-up?

Great question! Bottom-up watering is incredibly simple and works best with on small to medium sized plants that aren’t too tall or heavy to move. Just follow these simple steps and you’ll be a pro in no time.

A word to the wise 

Before we get started, a friendly reminder! Whether your plants are indoors or outdoors, they should always be placed in pots or containers with drainage holes. Not only do these holes drain excess water (and prevent root rot), they also allow water to seep in from beneath –essential for bottom-up watering!

You can ensure your plants have enough drainage in two ways. Either, plant your leafy babies directly into pots with lots of in-built drainage holes (the more drainage the better!). Otherwise, you can place your plants into smaller grow pots/planters (referred to as ‘inserts’) inside of a larger pot or container (sleeve). This way you can move the inserts in and out of their sleeves as needed. This process is known as double potting.

1. Timing is everything!

Okay so now you’re ready to go, you need to work out when your plant needs water. A great way to figure this out is by pushing your finger gently into the top of the soil (between the wall of the planter/pot and the stem of the plant). If you push down to your second knuckle and still can’t feel any moist soil, it’s time to water! For an more accurate assessment, you can purchase one of our handy dandy Sustee ‘water checker’ devices, to help you tell when it’s time to water!

2. Bath time!

Fill up a sink or a container large enough to hold your planter or pot and fill it halfway with water. (Some people insist on using filtered water, but it’s really not necessary!). While filling up the water, you want enough water to sit well above your pot or insert’s drainage holes (but not so much that it pool in at the top of the container). If your plants are double potted you can add water directly into your sleeves and pop the inserts back inside to soak up the water instead.

The waiting game

Leave your plants soaking for about 10 minutes before you check up on them. You’ll know that they are ready to come out when the soil is moist all the way to the top of the soil. If it’s still dry under the soil’s surface, keep the pot/ planter in the water for up to 20 minutes longer (checking on them regularly). Keep in mind that planters and grow pots will absorb water quicker than plants that are planted directly into pots. Some plant types (e.g succulents and cacti) also take a little longer to absorb water than others.

If you have lots plants you want to bottom-up water, you can place multiple pots into the same sink or container and let them soak together. This can be tricky though! Because different plants absorb different amounts, it can be hard to gauge how much water the all the plants will need. If in doubt, soak them separately!

Important note! Some people are scared to leave their plants soaking for fear of root rot. Root rot only develops when plants are left sitting in water for prolonged amounts of time. Up to 30 minutes won’t do them any harm!

3. Drain and done!

Empty the water from your sink, container or sleeve and let you plants sit and drain for a while. You don’t want them dripping all over the place when you move them! After a few minutes, place your plants back in their sleeves (if you have double potted) and return them to their designated spots.

Self-watering pots

Self -watering pots use the same principle as bottom-up watering and are super simple to use! Just plant you plants into a suitably sized self-watering pot with some good quality potting mix. It’s a good idea to carefully water from the top (just the first time after planting!) to help the potting mix settle into the pot. Any excess water then gathers in the waterwell at the bottom and the plant sucks up the water from there. Once the waterwell is dry (and your soil has adequately dried out), simply top up the water in the waterwell at the bottom and the plant will decide how much water it wants. 

With self-watering pots, there’s no need to ever drain the water at the bottom! The ventilated floor helps keep the plant’s root systems aerated and wards off root rot (so the standing water isn’t an issue). Depending on the humidity and heat levels, plants can stay hydrated with self- watering pots for up to 4 weeks. These pots are great for most houseplants, with the exception of succulents and cacti.


Okay that’s it! Now you know the secrets of the sacred art of bottom-up watering. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get watering. Bottoms up!

Looking for some new plants to test out your new watering powers? Check out our range of beautiful houseplants and other indoor plants online. With shipping available Australia wide, it’s never been easier to order plants online.

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