I’ve recently started experimenting with a new method for watering our houseplants.
The method requires a large bucket, and only works for houseplants that are planted in plastic planters that drain from the bottom (like how they generally come when you get them from a plant store). The bucket has to be large enough to hold the entirety of the houseplant’s planter, so that the edge of the bucket comes up higher than the soil level when you place a plant in it.
I take the houseplant (in its plastic planter) out of its decorative vase that I keep it in and place it in the bucket, then I water it until the water starts draining out of the bottom of the planter and into the bucket, but then I keep watering it, until the bucket fills with water, until the bucket starts to overflow, until the water spills out onto the floor, flooding the room, flooding the entire planet, water levels rising until all our plants are underwater— then I stop imagining things and I notice that the bucket is still filling with water and then I stop filling the bucket when the water level in the bucket just about reaches the top of the houseplant’s soil. I let the soil soak, sitting in the water until the soil is fully soaked through, then take the plant out and let it drain in the sink until it stops dripping, before returning it to its decorative vase that I keep it in.¹
Assuming the soil of all your houseplants is healthy and not diseased or infested or buggy, the water that remains in the bucket can then be reused to water multiple houseplants — I just dip each successive houseplant into the bucket of water, letting it sit and soak, and then, when the soil feels like its watered all the way through, I take the plant out, let it drain, and do the same with the next houseplant.²
A lot of our plants are supposed to have their soil dry out completely between waterings, or have the top few inches of their soil dry out completely between waterings. Sometimes, this leaves a pretty solid hunk of dry soil, signaling that it’s time to water them. When I used to water our plants from above, before this bucket-soaking method, I would often watch as the water snaked across the surface of the dry soil, then just drip down the side of it and drain out the bottom of the planter, none of it actually disappearing into the soil, all of the water just flowing around the soil as if it were a stone.
Other times, I’ve watered our plants more fully from above, pouring water onto the soil and waiting for the soil to take the water and then watering until the water started to drain through the soil and out the bottom of the planter, but even then, I’d poke a finger down into the soil and notice that the water was one following a few wetted routes down through the soil, leaving large areas of the soil still dry.
I think of all the years I’ve watered our plants like this, assuming each plant was getting the water it needed, but instead, most of its soil still remained unwatered, its roots waiting like always, parched and unnourished, not knowing a watering had even occurred.
I like this new watering method of soaking the plant’s soil because it allows the dried, hardened soil to soften and be fully and evenly watered, so that, in turn, all the roots of the plant embedded in the soil can get the water they are reaching for.
After watering our plants using this new bucket-soaking method, I’ve seen them perk up more brightly than before, their leaves more crisp and green, new leaves and branches budding and growing where growth used to slow down or stop altogether previously. I think it means this new method is working.
And I find myself envying the plants for not holding grudges against any of their previously poor waterings, and for their ability to drink fully as soon as the chance to drink fully is given to them.
It makes me wonder if I am able to recognize moments of deep and full nourishment (of rest, of kindness, of joy) when they present themselves to me, or if I am too hardened from a previous lack of those nourishments to do so. I don’t want to let these moments flow around me like water over a stone. On some days, I feel like the soil — dried, solid, impenetrable — and on some days, I feel like the roots trapped within.
Perhaps what’s so hard about being able to accept those moments is that a deep, flowing excess of that nourishment is required to soften the hardened, dried soil and to finally reach the roots within.
I hope that after years of not getting whatever nourishment you are missing, that it would take only one good soak to remember what that nourishment feels like, and to, hopefully, allow yourself to accept it.
I don’t know if I am open enough to accept the water when it comes. And I don’t know if I would be able to recognize when the soil around me is watered. And I don’t know if that means that I’ve missed those moments when they’ve arrived, or if I’m still waiting for them to occur.
¹ For smaller houseplants, the decorative vase that I keep the plant in is the “bucket” for this watering method — I just water the houseplant until the decorative vase it sits in fills up, then I let it sit and soak, then I take the houseplant (in its plastic planter) out of the decorative vase, let it drain, pour the water out of the decorative vase, then place the houseplant back in the vase. For larger houseplants, I use an actual bucket.
² A few disclaimers - for this to work properly, the plants have to be planted in soil appropriate for it (well-draining soil for succulents, for example), and you have to the let the plant drain properly and fully afterward. Otherwise, there could be too much water in the soil which might lead to some waterlogging and/or root rot (though I’m really just guessing here - none of the plants I’ve been watering this way have suffered from any of the effects of overwatering).