Ask a Question forum: Bottom vs. Top Watering..?

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Name: Jasmine
Greenville, NY (Zone 5a)
Jul 19, 2017 6:17 PM CST
I'm sorry, I assume this has been answered & discussed many times over already, but I just joined & haven't seen anything on the topic yet. I've read both pros and cons for top & bottom watering, but have yet to find a conclusive answer. I guess that could be because it may vary from plant to plant, but I'm not too sure. I have everything from succulents to herbs to a begonia, an African violet, various seedlings, Chinese evergreen, fittonia etc. They are all indoor plants & I've just started noticing bug problems (so far it's been springtails, one fungus gnat larvae- that I've seen, God only knows what's lurking around the potting mix though, one adult FG and teeny tiny ants). I keep them clean, trimming/clearing away any dead pieces & have a fan on them at different times to maximize air circulation. I wait until they're pretty much completely dried through before watering again, letting most fully dry with the exception of my basils & spearmint, who pout severely if too dry. They're all in soil-less potting mixes, some with sand mixed it, others with perlite and coconut coir, and some are in Terra cotta pots, others in plastic and one in ceramic (not sure if any of that's relevant, so adding it in case). I'm very very new to "gardening" and still extremely uneducated on all things plants, but I'm trying to learn. I have one of my basils in a "self-watering" pot and it not only thrives in there, but by the time its done drinking its water, the top is just barely moist. I assume that's a good thing, but not even sure- and I believe it's good because I'd think less bugs would be prone to invading a pot that isn't covered with damp soil. I also seem to have a problem with the soil taking forever to dry out. I've read that a lot of plants tend to need water once a week, maybe even more, especially in the summer (it's very hot in my apartment), yet mine take well over a week to even dry slightly. I watered the begonia about a week & a half ago, and all the soil in the pot is still extremely wet (despite the fan blowing on it, almost continually), and that seems to be the case with most of them. I'm wondering your opinions, on whether I should begin to water them from the bottom, or if I should stick to the top, or if it won't matter much either way. I apologize for the drawn out question- again, I'm just a novice trying to hone my craft Smiling Thank you so much in advance, if anyone even answers me
Name: Will Creed
Professional indoor plant consultan
Jul 19, 2017 6:44 PM CST
Jasmine - It would take a book to answer all of the questions you have posed here:smily: ! Both top and bottom watering can be effective and both have drawbacks. Personally, I find it easier to manage to water properly when I water from the top. Bottom watering requires that you monitor the water absorption for up to 30 minutes after watering.

You mentioned that your plants don't seem to be drying out very often. That can be a problem because drying out is the way that oxygen gets to root zone and without oxygen, the roots suffocate. If the soil is not drying out every week or so, it is probably because your plants are in pots that are too large, a common mistake that newbies make. Plants kept in their nursery pots are much easier to water and much less likely to develop root rot.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
I now have a book available on indoor plant care
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
Jul 19, 2017 6:50 PM CST
Welcome! I'm sorry, I forgot the question... Smiling

Okay, here goes....

Water when plants need watering, not before. If you try to water on a schedule, your plants will not do well. You are obviously using soil that holds mousture for a long time. Is it the 'moisture control' stuff? If so, it will stay wet longer. Which is fine until you decide to add cactus to your indoor menagerie.

Some plants like bottom watering (violets because their stems are very suseptable to rot). Some plants demand top watering (like palms) because they can't handle the salt buildup in the soil. Some just don't care. I top water everything except the violets. And, periodically, I run a lot of water through the pots just to get rid of salt buildup.

I hate bugs! About once a month, mix up some Insecticidal Soap (not the home made stuff) and water your plants with it. Make sure to thoroughly soak the soil. That will kill anything lurking below the soil surface. Its especially effective on ants.

Did I cover everything? If not, ask another (shorter) question. Smiling
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

Eastern Tennessee (Zone 7a)
Jul 19, 2017 7:13 PM CST
I am a steadfast supporter of bottom watering. When I first started doing it a few years back in the nursery the results were amazing and I have never looked back. I bottom water everything ...period. If there are cons to it - I havent experienced them. It sounds to me like your doing a fine job on the bottom watering. Your plants will tell you more than anyone here if they like it or not.

I wont comment on seeding medium except to say I use 3 different types 1 for brassica family, 1 for nightshade family and 1 for everything else. Everyone has a way to make it so im not going down that road. I dont mess with flowers so my opinions are based on plants that produce something edible.

I have quite a bit of basil and they are all in pots - about 50ish pots and I use a potting mix called Baccto. The basil loves it and it holds water well. It also has a bit of compost in it for slow release. Good stuff.

Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
Jul 19, 2017 7:25 PM CST
Is there any way to give your plants a break from being inside?
Down here in the deep south, house plants rotate out to the shade garden during the growing season.

That takes care of a host of problems...

I try to put bowls (or whatever) under as many pots as possible.

Down here in the constant droughts and high temps.... Getting the soil to take in water after completely drying out can be a challenge.

It always seems to me that most people over water their inside plants.
Your post makes me think that you do also.

When I bring in plants for the winter, I find that they respond well to completely drying out between waterings, the same as when they're out in the garden.

[Last edited by stone - Jul 19, 2017 7:26 PM (+)]
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Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
Jul 21, 2017 7:31 AM CST
I support bottom watering. But, you can't have to large of a pot, soil in bottom will stay wet to long, and cause problems. I use equal parts potting soil and washed sand. It drains well.
Next time you water them, water them with a solution of neem water.
Get bugs in soil, and being its systemic, gets bugs on plant.
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: Jasmine
Greenville, NY (Zone 5a)
Jul 23, 2017 2:10 PM CST
Wow, thank you all so much for your answers/input. It's all very helpful and each one of you have given me some food for thought & ideas on different, ie better, potting mix is always welcome. I watered the violet from the bottom (thank you Daisy!) and it worked like a charm. She drank up the water surprisingly fast & today, every little bud on their has bloomed into beautiful purple & white blossoms. The begonia was a fail- not from bottom watering though, it could be that it was in too large of a pot as you suggested, Will. The potting mix took almost 2 weeks to begin drying, despite the constant fan, & by the time it did, the entire stem was falling over. I tried staking it on either side but to no avail- it must've either rotted completely at the base or it was just way too top heavy to survive (I had problems keeping this thing upright since the minute I bought it). I guess it's what I get for thinking I could manage to grow bright, beautiful flowers indoors. Besides my one violet (which was a gift, since my grandmother always had them & they remind me of her), so lesson learned- no more flowers indoors. I think I will try bottom watering all & flushing them for salts & whatnot every so often, except for the succulents, since the tops don't get extremely wet that way & I need to rid myself & my home of these disgusting bugs asap (the insecticidal soap & neem oil are both great suggestions! I was using neem but it didn't help at all w/ the bugs- now I see that it could be because I only sprayed the plants and did not water them with it, so thank you for the advice Philip!). I'm very grateful for all your help, thank you again so much! -Jasmine

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