Container Plants: Water From Base vs. Top

Container plants let you garden even when you don’t have a patch of earth to call your own. Container gardening brings plants up close, adding color and interest to patios, decks, and porches, and providing indoor rooms with a touch of nature. Growing plants in containers allows you to maintain control over the quality of soil, and makes it easier to manage weeds and pests. Yet many find it challenging to keep container plants thriving. When container plants go bad, often the culprit is the method of watering.


Most people water plants in containers from the top. Some prefer watering from the bottom. While there are certain circumstances where one method is preferred over the other, it is important to remember that to plants, all that matters is that roots get the moisture they need to thrive, neither too little, nor too much. Before deciding whether to water from the bottom or from the top, other factors need to be considered. To reach the right balance of moisture, plants need more than water. They need the right soil and the right amount of drainage.

Soil for Container Plants

Ordinary garden soil is generally too heavy for use in container plants. The simplest way to get the right soil mix for container gardening is to purchase potting-soil bags from a nursery or gardening center. Potting soil contains sterilized soil, to help prevent diseases and pests, and has the right density for container gardening. Many mixes include water retentive polymers, white granules about the size of rock salt. Polymers can absorb over a hundred times their weight in water, and act a water storage for the soil, releasing moisture over time. Look for potting soil with time-released fertilizer to maker sure plants receives nutrients as well.

Good Drainage

The right potting soil solves most drainage problems, but sometimes even the best soil can clog the pot’s drainage holes. To prevent this from occurring, place a few rocks at the bottom of the container over the holes before planting. Many gardeners use “shards,” bits of broken clay pots, instead of rocks. Drainage outside the pot is important, too. Even if you choose to water plants from the bottom, it is never a good idea to allow roots to sit in water for long. For pots with saucers, line the saucers with pebbles or rocks. In containers with no saucers, before adding the soil, line the bottom third of pot with rocks, pebbles, shards or packing peanuts.

Watering Your Container Plants From The Top

Since roots sitting in water are prone to rot, watering plants from the top is preferable in most gardening situations. Generally plants should not be allowed to dry out completely between watering. Sticking a finger halfway into the soil is an easy way to determine when to water. If the soil feels dry, water. For outside container plants in hot weather, it may be necessary to water every day. Adding a layer of inactive organic material, such as decorative bark of sphagnum moss, over top of the soil can help the soil retain moisture in hot weather.

Watering Your Container Plants From The Base

There are some cases when bottom watering is appropriate. When starting seedlings, watering from the bottom ensures that the seeds will stay where you plant them. To water seedlings, place the pots in a pan of water, allowing the water to seep up until the soil feels heavy, then remove the pot from the water. Some gardeners insist that certain plants enjoy wet feet, such as African violets. Just as with seedlings, however, it is important not to let the plants remain in standing water.

Although watering from the bottom is perfectly acceptable, the method does require extra work. Care must be taken not to let roots rot and soil compact from remaining water logged too long. Watering container plants from the top is the easiest and most-preferred method for most gardeners. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Additionally, we participates in various other affiliate programs, and we sometimes get a commission through purchases made through our links.