How to Repot Plants: The Steps and Timing to Repot Indoor Plants

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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A Mangave Plant that needs to be repotted
This Mangave plant is proportionally too large and outgrowing its pot

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.


Pro Tip:

Note that there are plants such as peace lilies, cacti, African violets, and snake plants that don’t mind being slightly pot-bound and prefer it!


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.


a 4 inch and 4.5 inch pot sitting side by side
A 4.5-inch pot is one size larger than a 4-inch pot

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.

Soil for succulents
It’s important to use the right kind of soil for your plant when repotting


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.

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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!

24 thoughts on “How to Repot Plants: The Steps and Timing to Repot Indoor Plants”

  1. is it advisable to combine 2 small moth orchids into one pot?

    • Hi Beverley, You can certainly do this however as they grow, if you think you would like them as 2 separate plants, you may want to separate them before their roots become entwined. Best wishes. -Shannon

  2. I repotted an African Violet a week ago because it looked pot bound. The outer leaves were large and floppy. There was some tiny leaves starting as if it was a new plant on the side of the plant. The plants outer leaves are still the same (floppy). What can I do to improve this African Violet?

    • Hi Helena, The large, floppy leaves can be removed at the base of the plant. New leaves will form from the center. If you want to, you can use the leaves to propagate new baby plants. Best wishes! Shannon

  3. Hi Arlene,
    thanks so much for all your help and advise here.
    My mother bought me a Kafir lime tree about 2 years ago.
    I repotted it about a year ago as it was in a very small pot and thought it may be root bound as there had been no growth but the odd flowering fruit.
    I’m wondering why it’s not growing?
    Kind regards
    Laura Nott 😊

    • Hi Laura, Citrus need a good bit of light and warmth to grow. Gradually improving those will encourage growth. Try not to shock the plant by changing its environment drastically in a short amount of time. Best wishes, Shannon

      • Thanks Shannon.
        I’ve been doing this as the tag attached says it like full sun. However still not growth in height yet it flowers and produces very small fruit.
        Kind regards
        Laura Nott

        • Hi Laura, that is fabulous that you are getting flowers and fruits! Well done! Perhaps it may need a larger pot to get more root growth or it could just be a dwarf variety that is near its mature size. I would suggest taking a look at the roots to see if it is pot bound (roots circling the pot), but wait until it’s done flowering and fruiting or disturbing it will make all of the flowers and fruits drop from stress. I have an article about repotting that might be helpful: Best wishes! -Shannon

          • Hi Shannon,
            Your a gem..ur reply and expertise is much appreciated ❤
            I actually reported it in a larger pot perhaps just under a year ago. I don’t want to put it into the ground as I rent and would like to take it with me whenever I have to move.
            Perhaps its a dwarf like you mentioned above?
            Another question while I’m here if ok. .I’m getting these little flake looking flies in my soil or somehow gotten into my indoor plants. Do you know what they are?
            Kind regards

  4. I have had a Norfolk pine for several years in a 9inch pot that doesn’t grow or die. Should I maybe down size my pot or would that be too much a shock than moving it into a too large of a pot? Also it has several very thin stems but a decent canopy for the size.

    • Hi Denise, I would suggest keeping it in the same pot for now. If the plant isn’t outgrowing the pot, putting it in a bigger pot will make it susceptible to root rot. In the spring, take a look at the soil level then gently pull the pot out and see how the roots look. If it seems that it could use more soil, spring is a good time to add it. Sometimes plants just need a little root-pruning and fresh soil to invigorate them. I see you are on our mailing list so you can feel free to send me pictures and I would be happy to walk you through the process! Best wishes! -Shannon

  5. Thanks a lot for all the information you have given related to watering and repotting of succulents and tropical plants.Your articles are very thorough and have answers to all the queries that I have in my mind regarding my houseplants.I have massively improved my understanding of gardening and my gardening skills by reading your mails and articles.Thanks!

    • Herman, I am so glad that are finding the information helpful and expanding your gardening skills-it makes me very happy! Thanks for sharing! -Shannon


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