Knowing how to repot a plant is a part of maintaining its overall good health and care.
Repotting is a term that is used to describe the process of transferring a plant into a larger pot because it has outgrown its current pot size.
In the horticultural industry, this is called “potting-up.”
However, repotting is also used to also describe the process of changing a plant’s pot simply for decorative or cultural (health) reasons, not just because of size.
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How Do You Know When Your Plant Should Be Repotted?
One of the signs that a plant needs to be repotted into a larger pot is when roots begin to grow through the drain holes or over the top edges of the pot.
This is a clear indication that the roots don’t have enough space to grow.
This is called a “root-bound” or “pot-bound” plant.
Typically, when root-bound plants are watered, the water runs through the soil very quickly, and very little is absorbed.
This is another indication that the plant needs to be repotted.
When a pot-bound plant is removed from its pot, the roots are often growing in a circular pattern in the shape of the pot and there appears to be very little soil in the container.
Another way to tell that your plant needs to be repotted into a larger pot is that it visually is out of proportion (top growth is much larger than the pot) or is top-heavy and falling over.
This often happens in the spring and early summer when plants get a large growth spurt and quickly out-grow their container in a matter of weeks.
This is particularly common with tropical plants.
When Should a Plant Be Repotted?
Spring and early summer is the ideal time to repot houseplants.
Plants are actively growing at this time and the roots will grow into the new soil encouraging new leaves and shoots to form.
Repot flowering houseplants as early in the spring as possible to encourage new growth and ultimately to promote flowering.
Avoid repotting any indoor plant when it has flower buds or is in flower as the repotting process could cause stress and cause it to shed the flowers.
Houseplants can be repotted at other times of the year, however, they don’t seem to respond to the process as enthusiastically as in the spring and summer.
For indoor gardeners in northern cold climates, it is preferable to wait until spring to repot plants if at all possible.
What Pot Should I Use When I Repot A Plant?
The size of the pot you select is the most important criterion for the repotting process.
The rule of thumb is to only move the plant into one larger pot size.
Pots generally are sold in the following sizes: 4”, 4.5”, 6”, 6.5”, 8”, 8.5”, 10”, 12”, and 14”.
If your plant is in a typical plastic pot from a nursery or garden center, the pot size is embossed in the bottom of the pot.
Containers are also made to European metric sizing, so centimeters may be designated instead of inches.
However, note that if you measure the pot, a 4-inch pot may measure 3.75-inches!
It’s like televisions and lumber- just a guideline!
It’s always recommended to have containers with a least one drain hole, more if possible.
Plants in pots without drain holes are extremely susceptible to overwatering and consequently the associated insect and disease problems.
Another consideration is that succulents grow better in containers made of unglazed pottery.
This is because there is increased air circulation between the roots and the outside of the pot which is advantageous for succulents.
Succulents don’t need a lot of soil, so shallow containers are preferred as they promote quick draining.
Also, note that top-heavy plants such as Aloe vera will be more stable in a heavy ceramic pot than in a lightweight plastic container.
The shape of the pot (round or square) is a personal preference, but the primary concern is that the size (width and depth) of the container meets the proportions of the plant so that it doesn’t hold excess water and become overwatered.
What Kind of Soil Should I Use When I Repot A Plant?
The type of soil used to backfill a plant when repotting is critical to the health of the plant.
When repotting succulents, use a soil mix that is specifically designed for growing cacti and succulents.
The chunkier and grittier the mix is, the better it is as succulents need a fast-draining mix that won’t waterlog plant roots.
When repotting tropical plants, use a soil mix that is specifically designed for indoor houseplant container use.
Don’t use bagged “potting soil” or soil from a garden or bagged soil that is intended to be used outside.
For specialty plants such as bromeliads, orchids, and carnivorous plants, use soil mixes that are specifically designed for each of these types of plants.
Steps To Repot a Plant
1. The first step for repotting a plant is to prepare your plant for the process.
If the plant you are repotting is tropical, water it a day or two before it is to be repotted.
This will minimize the amount of stress on the roots and leaves and will increase the rate at which the plant will become acclimated to its new surroundings.
If the plant is a succulent, I make sure it has been at least a week since I have watered it before I begin the repotting process.
Succulents prefer to be dry and will fare better through the process if their roots and leaves are dry.
2. Repotting a plant can be a bit of a messy process, so if done inside, be sure to cover the table surface in newspaper or plastic to make clean-up easy.
3. Fill the new container about one-quarter to one-third full with the new soil.
As a side note, it’s a fallacy that adding rocks or pebbles to the bottom of a pot will help improve drainage.
There have been many studies done to disprove this theory, so trust me on this one!
4. If the plant is in a plastic pot, gently squeeze the pot to help release the roots.
Then, turn the plant sideways, supporting the leaves and stems, and remove it from the pot by gently pulling it from the base of the plant.
Sometimes tapping the pot on the table will help release the soil ball.
If a plant seems stuck in the pot, gently insert a plastic knife or chopstick around the inside edge to help loosen the roots.
5. Once the plant is removed from the pot, some of the roots can be trimmed with clean, sterilized pruners to break the circular growth pattern that has developed.
If this pattern isn’t broken, the roots will continue to grow in a circle and eventually strangle themselves.
Light trimming of the root tips and edges will encourage new growth in the fresh soil.
Pruning is an invigorating process so as long as you don’t overdo it, lightly trimming the roots of a pot-bound plant will rejuvenate the plant.
You can also use your hands to gently loosen tangled roots so they can grow outward.
6. Also, trim away any dead or yellow leaves or stems.
If your plant is a bit misshapen, this is also a good time to give it a trim to keep it looking proportional and shapely.
7. Place the plant into the new pot and backfill it with the new soil firming it in place until it is planted at approximately the same depth as it was in the previous container.
Don’t fill the pot to the brim with soil or there won’t be room for water.
8. If the plant is tropical, water it immediately until water runs through the drain holes.
Let the plant stand for a few minutes and then water it a second time until the water runs through the drain holes.
If the plant is a succulent, avoid watering the plant for a minimum of 3-5 days to allow for any bruised or broken roots to callus.
This will prevent any water-borne diseases from entering the plant through these open wounds.
9. As a finishing touch, a top-dressing (thin layer) of sand, small pebbles, or sheet moss can be added to the soil surface as an accent to make the plant have a finished look.
This isn’t necessary at all and is decorative.
10, Place the newly repotted plant in an area that receives indirect light for a week until it has a chance to acclimate to its new surroundings.
Avoid bright light or direct sunlight as this may cause stress until its roots get established in the new soil.
Frequently Asked Questions:
How often does a plant have to be repotted?
There is no definite rule on this. Some plants can go years in the same pot and are quite content. Others may need to be repotted every spring. It primarily depends on the rate of growth. Inspect the roots for signs that the plant is becoming root-bound as one of the main indicators that it should be repotted.
Which plants don’t mind being pot-bound?
Snake plants, African violets, spider plants, peace lilies, ficus, bromeliads, cacti, and most succulents don’t mind being pot bound. However, if you see signs of stress (yellow leaves, need to be watered frequently) they have reached the maximum amount of time that they can go in the current container.
Knowing how to repot plants is an important part of maintaining the overall good health of houseplants.
As a plant grows and develops, it will need more space for roots to grow and a larger container to keep the plant balanced and proportional.
The most important criterion when repotting a plant is selecting a container that is only one size larger than the current pot so that the plant will not be overwatered.
Light root pruning as needed and using the appropriate type of soil mix is a winning combination to invigorate new root formation.
This will yield gorgeous, lush leaves and flowers!