How to Repot Houseplants
By: Julie Day
When repotting houseplants, make the new pot only one size larger.
Late winter/early spring is a great time to repot houseplants since they’re getting ready to begin their spring growth spurt, and we gardeners are so stir crazy that we’re looking for a good reason to get our hands dirty! Depending on your plant’s needs, you have several options:
- Repot in a Bigger Pot: For plants that are actively growing and have become pot bound.
- Repot in the Same Pot with Fresh Soil: For neglected plants or ones you wish to keep the same size.
- Refresh the Top Layer of Soil: For very large plants that would be hard to repot, or healthy ones that you’d like to spruce up.
Here’s how to go about successfully repotting your houseplants.
This suffering peace lily needs drainage and better soil.
When to Repot Plants
Just because you have the digging itch doesn’t mean your plants need to be uprooted! The majority of tropical houseplants actually like to be a little crowded in their pots, and increasing the pot size when it’s not necessary can do more harm than good. Signs that a plant needs to be repotted include:
- Plants that are straggly, pale, or have stopped growing.
- Water runs immediately out the bottom without soaking into the soil.
- Top heavy plants that keep falling over.
- Pots without drainage holes in the bottom.
- Roots that poke out of the soil or the holes in the bottom of the pot.
- Thick roots that are coiled tightly in a circle (gently remove plant from pot to inspect).
Supplies Needed to Repot Plants
- Tools: Trowel, gloves, scissors, and a clean sharp knife.
- Potting Soil: Choose a high quality potting mix specific to your type of plant. Special mixes are available for cacti, African violets, citrus, orchids, and many other types of houseplants. For general repotting of foliage plants, use an all-purpose houseplant potting mix.
- Pots: Choose pots that have drainage holes in the bottom and are no more than 1”- 2” larger in diameter than the current pot. Resist the urge to use a bigger pot, since your plant won’t appreciate the extra room and all the extra soggy soil can suffocate it.
- Work Space: Unless you have a really warm day (in the 60s or more), do your repotting indoors. Spread some newspaper or plastic to make cleanup easier.
How to Repot Plants
Step 1: Water Plant
Lightly water your plant to help the root ball and soil slide more easily out of the pot.
Step 2: Remove Plant
Remove your plant from the pot by carefully turning it on its side, then support the main stem in one hand and use the other hand to gently pull the pot away. Try not to pull on the stem – if necessary, you can gently tap the pot on the counter, or use a knife or trowel to loosen the soil around the edges of the pot. Be careful not to yank or break the main stems of the plant!
Step 3: Prune Roots
When moving your plant to a larger pot, begin by inspecting the roots and soil. If the soil is in good shape, try to disturb it as little as possible. If it’s rotten or moldy, shake away some of the excess, but remember that removing soil will stress your plant even more. If the roots are tightly coiled, use your fingers or a sharp knife to loosen or gently slice them so they can spread out, trimming away any really long ends. Cut away any rotten or dead roots.
When repotting in the same pot, shake off the excess soil, then use scissors to prune back up to 25% of the roots. This will help rejuvenate your plant while keeping it small enough to stay in the same pot.
Step 4: Clean Pot
Clean the pot with hot soapy water to get rid of disease causing microorganisms and insect larvae. Pat dry.
Step 5: Add Soil
If the soil drains well, it’s not necessary to put gravel in the bottom of the pot. Make a small mound of soil in the pot for your plant to sit on. Measure the height and make sure the top of the root ball is at least 1/2″ below the rim of the pot, so that it won’t overflow when you water it.
Step 6: Position Plant
Place the plant in the pot and settle it on the soil. Look at it from all sides to make sure it’s centered and sitting up straight.
Step 7: Fill Pot
Add potting soil around the plant in layers, pressing it down with your fingers until firm. Don’t bury your plant deeper than it was before!
Step 8: Water Plant
Water your newly potted plant well until the water runs out the bottom. I like to sit the plant in the sink or bathtub and give it a good drink, making sure the soil gets evenly moist while the excess water drains away. This is also a good time to spritz or wipe down the foliage to remove dust and potting soil.
Step 9: Settling
Sometimes after watering, it’s necessary to add a little more soil to fill in low spots in the pot.
Step 10: Trim Plant
Cut off any dead or broken stems and leaves. If needed, lightly prune your plant to encourage branching.
Caring for Repotted Plants
Your plant will need about three to four weeks to recover from repotting. During that time:
- Water regularly.
- Hold off on fertilizer, because the roots are sensitive and could burn.
- Keep your plant in a bright spot away from direct sunlight.
Use high quality potting mix.