Top vs Bottom: What’s The Best Way To Water A Succulent?

Succulents are well known (and loved) for being easy to care for but one thing that often catches people out, especially those who are new to owning them, is watering. You’ve probably read that they’d rather have less water than more but what you may not know is how best to water them. 

Any Google search (other search engines are available) about the best way to water a succulent will undoubtedly bring up lots of results about top and bottom water but what do they actually mean and which is best? This is something that I’ve often been asked which is why I wanted to explain what they both were and which method is best for you (and of course your succulent).

Top watering is without doubt the quickest and easiest way of watering a succulent but it also carries the most risks as it’s easier to overwater a plant this way. Bottom watering may take a bit longer to do but it ensures the water gets to where it’s needed and reduces the chance of overwatering.

When it comes to watering succulents the most important thing is that you don’t give them too much water and that you allow the soil to dry out fully in between waterings. The method you choose to water your plants though will be determined by a range of different facts. Before we get onto which method is best let’s have a look at what they both mean. 

What is top watering?

Top watering (which is sometimes called top-down watering) is undoubtedly the most common method of watering plants and is pretty much what it sounds like, it’s any method of giving a plant water through the top of the soil.

Misting, using a watering can or even holding the plant under a running tap* are all considered top watering methods. It can also be a good way of quickly watering your succulents.

*If you do use a running tap make sure it’s on lightly and the water isn’t too cold.

Top watering succulents can be good

How do you water a succulent from the top?

While you can use a spray mister, a bottle or a variety of other methods to top water a succulent I prefer to use a watering can with a long spout because it’s easier to get in between the leaves to the soil.

Watering a succulent from the top is pretty easy to do but there are two slightly different ways of doing it depending on if your plant is in a pot with drainage holes or not.

For pots with drainage holes:

  • Either place your succulent in a basin or hold it over one.
  • Fill a watering can and then, with a steady flow, pour the water around the top of the soil.
  • Continue doing this until the water starts to run out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot. 
  • At this point stop and allow the excess water to drain away before putting the succulent back.

For pots without drainage holes:

  • Use a watering can to give the plant a little bit of water and allow it to sink in.
  • Repeat the previous step if necessary but stop when the water takes longer to absorb into the soil.

When should you water from the top?

Watering from the top is more for our benefit than it is for the benefit of the plant but that doesn’t mean to say there aren’t times when it’s better to water this way.

If you don’t have time to bottom water your plants then watering from the top is the ideal alternative. It can also be beneficial to water from the top if you know the soil is well-draining and that your plant will be able to quickly get rid of any water it doesn’t need.

Top watering can also be used in conjunction with bottom watering so that you mainly top water but every few times bottom water.

What is bottom watering?

As you can probably guess, bottom watering (or bottom-up watering) is where the succulent gets the water it needs from the bottom rather than from the top. Typically this is done by standing the plant in a container full of water.

While it might take longer to do than top watering does, it’s a good way of strengthening the roots and making sure the water is evenly distributed.

Watering succulents from the bottom is the best way of watering them

How do you want a succulent from the bottom?

Before you start to bottom water your succulent(s) you need to find a basin or container that’s big enough to hold them all.

  • Fill the container with enough water to cover at least half the height of your plant’s pot. While you don’t want to overfill it the more water you add the quicker it reaches the top of the soil.
  • Put the plant(s) in the water and make sure they’re level.
  • Leave them for about 15 minutes or until you see the top of the soil is moist.
  • Once to top of the soil is moist remove the plant and allow it to drain any excess water.

When should you water from the bottom?

Personally, I like to water my succulents from the bottom once a month but there are a number of reasons why you might want to bottom water your plants.

In terms of the health of the succulent, watering from the bottom will help to strengthen the roots because they’ll always grow down towards the water. It also helps the water to be evenly distributed around the plant.

Root bound succulents can benefit from bottom watering

Aside from the health benefits to the plant, bottom watering is also a good idea if the soil isn’t absorbing enough water, either because it’s compacted or is hydrophobic. Root-bound plants can benefit from this watering method too because there’s often very little soil left in the pot and any water they might get from top watering just runs straight through.

If you live in a very humid or cold climate you may find that the soil never dries out if you water from the top. In these circumstances, bottom watering can ensure the plant doesn’t take on more water than it can deal with.

Plants that have been underwatered can also benefit from bottom watering because they can get water to the parts that need it quickly.

Which is best, top or bottom watering?

While top watering does have its merits and can certainly be beneficial sometimes, bottom-up is most definitely the best form of watering. Not only does it help to prevent overwatering and reduce the risks of root rot it also encourages healthy root growth.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

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