Subsurface phreatomagmatic explosions can result from the interaction of ascending magma with groundwater. Experiments over a wide range of energies show that for a given energy there is a depth below which an explosion will be contained within the subsurface (not erupt), and there is a corresponding shallower depth that will optimize ejecta dispersal. We combine these relationships with constraints on the energies of phreatomagmatic explosions at maar-diatreme volcanoes and show that most eruptions are likely sourced by explosions in the uppermost ~200 m, and even shallower ones (<100 m) are likely to dominate deposition onto tephra rings. Most explosions below ~200 m will not erupt but contribute to formation of, and to the vertical mixing of materials within, a diatreme (vent structure), with only rare very high energy explosions between ~200 and 500 m erupting. Similar constraints likely apply at other volcanoes that experience phreatomagmatic explosions.