Repotting houseplants can be a scary and intimidating process, especially if you are new to houseplant parenthood or have a houseplant that is fragile. We are here to help with some tips and tricks to make repotting your houseplant easier! We will also talk about how to know if your houseplant needs to be repotted and some signs to look for in your plants.
Do Houseplants Need to be Repotted?
The answer to this is yes, definitely! Your houseplants pull their nutrients primarily from the soil they are planted in, and regardless of whether or not they have outgrown their pot, a plant will not grow well if it is living in soil that is depleted of essential nutrients. Fertilizing can help, but nothing benefits your plant like some fresh, nutrient-filled soil!
How Can You Tell if a Houseplant Needs to be Repotted?
Generally, houseplants need to be repotted once every 1-2 years, though this can vary depending on the plant. Here are several things to be aware of that will indicate if your houseplant is due for a repotting.
1. Are the Roots of Your Plant Growing Out of the Container?
If you begin to notice any roots growing out of the drainage hole of the plant's current container or grow pot, this is a big sign that your plant has outgrown its container. You may even begin to see roots starting to grow near the surface of the soil. In some situations where the roots are restricted, they may even begin to push the plant up and nearly out of the container it is growing in! None of these situations are good because it means the roots of your plant have run out of space to grow and are searching for a more adequate space. Roots in such a condition are referred to as "root bound" and require immediate attention.
2. Has Your Plant's Growth Begun to Slow Down Noticeably?
If your plant's roots do not have enough space to grow or are lacking nutrients, your plant will likely experience significantly decreased growth. This is different than the expected slowed growth in the winter season, though it can occur at any point. Keep an eye on your plants and take note if any of them stop producing new growth at their normal rate. If slowed growth is not noticed for long enough, the leaves of your plant may begin to turn yellow, indicating that they are suffering from a lack of space and/or nutrients. So, if the leaves of your plant begin to yellow and all other potential causes are ruled out (over/underwatering, over-fertilizing, pests, lack of sun, cold drafts...), this may be your plants' last effort to tell you that it needs to be repotted!
3. Is Your Plant Disproportional to its Pot?
While the foliage of a houseplant is not always the best determining factor, sometimes it can signify that a plant needs to be repotted. So, if the foliage of your houseplant is approximately more than three times the size of the plant's current container, it likely needs to be repotted. Another sign to look for is if your plant is extremely top-heavy or gets knocked over very easily. This is often an indication that the container is too small and that your plant could use an upgrade.
4. Does the Soil Dry Out Rapidly, Requiring More Frequent Waterings?
Most houseplants need to be watered approximately once every 1-2 weeks depending on the plant. If you notice that the soil your houseplant is living in dries out just a couple of days after watering, this is likely a sign that it needs to be repotted. This generally is an indication that there are more roots than there is soil, or that there is not enough soil in the container to support the water needs of the plant in question.
5. Is There a Noticeable Buildup of Salt and Minerals in the Soil and on the Container?
If you have not experienced this yet, it can appear in several different ways. It can literally look like a bunch of salt crystals in your soil, a white almost frosted layer covering the top of your soil, or a white ring around the inside edges of your container. With terra cotta pots, you may even see this buildup of white, powdery mineral residue start to accumulate on the outside or bottom of your container. This is not ideal for your plants and can cause health issues if not addressed!
6. How Long has it Been Since You Last Repotted Your Plant?
Not every plant needs to be repotted every single year. Repotting a plant puts stress on the plant, so if it doesn't need it, there is no reason to cause unnecessary shock to your plant. However, if you are approaching two years since your last repotting, it will definitely benefit your plant to swap out the soil. This will ensure that it continues to grow strong and healthy and will help avoid any setbacks caused by less than ideal growing conditions.
6 Steps to Repotting Houseplants
Repotting houseplants really can be simple and easy. We are going to go over the steps on how to repot a houseplant. Keep in mind, that repotting a plant doesn't always mean that you need a bigger pot! The ideal pot size is 1-2 inches wider in diameter than the root ball of the plant. Smaller than this will restrict growth, and larger than this risks danger associated with overwatering! For larger floor planters, 4 inches larger in diameter is acceptable, and for very small plants, a new planter will likely only need to be an inch larger at most!
1. Remove Your Plant from its Container
This is sometimes easier said than done. If you know your plant needs to be repotted, avoid watering it just before repotting. It will be easier to remove your plant from its pot if the soil has not been recently watered. If your plant is in a grow pot, simply squeeze the sides of the pot while gently holding onto the base of the plant. The grow pot should come off rather easily. For larger plants or plants that seem stuck, you can always cut the pot off the plant with a pair of sharp scissors or pruners. If your plant is growing in a ceramic container or something hard-sided, set the pot on its side and gently use a spoon, butterknife, or some other long and skinny object to poke around the outside edge of the soil to help loosen it from the container. Gently pull at the base of the plant to help wiggle it free.
2. Loosen the Roots of Your Plant
With many plants that are due to be repotted, their roots can become very compact or root bound, which is not good for healthy growth. With your fingers, gently break up the roots a bit. Some of the roots might break off, and that's ok. Just be gentle with the large main roots of the plant. Loosening the roots like this will help encourage the roots to grow out into the extra space it now has rather than just continuing to grow in a compact spiral.
3. Remove the Old Soil
Remove as much of the old potting mix as you can. As you loosen the roots in step 2, much of the soil will spontaneously fall away from the roots. You will want to throw this soil away! Do not be tempted to use it for potting any other plants. You are repotting the plant in the first place because the soil is no longer adequate for healthy plant growth. Plus, there could be unknown pests, diseases, or fungi in the soil that you would not want to risk passing on to any other plants. We know the thrifty side of you may want to save the soil for some other purpose, but, for the good of your future plants, we recommend just tossing it out. To go a step further, if you are repotting the plant in the same container, we recommend giving the container a thorough rinse to get rid of any soil that may be hanging onto the sides of the pot.
4. Add New Potting Mix
Now that your pot is rinsed and clean, add a layer of soil to the bottom. If your container doesn't have a drainage hole, first add a layer of rocks or gravel before adding the layer of soil. This will allow a sort of reservoir at the bottom of the pot for excess water to escape the roots of your plant, which can help avoid future problems with root rot.
5. Position Your Plant and Add More Soil
Now it is time to place your plant in the container! You want the base of the plant to sit at least an inch, maybe two, below the edge of the pot. If you need to add or remove some soil from your base layer, now is the time. Once your plant sits at a good height, start to fill in soil evenly around the plant, gently packing it down as you go. Be sure not to pack the soil in too firmly. You want your plant to be stable, but you don't want the soil to be so compact that the roots don't have room to breathe.
6. Water Your Plant Thoroughly
Once you have your plant situated properly, take it to the kitchen sink and water it thoroughly until water begins to drain out the bottom. If your pot doesn't have drainage, be careful with how much you water. You don't want your newly planted roots to be sitting in soggy soil! Avoid fertilizing your plant for a while until it gets acclimated to its new pot. Newly potted houseplants do not need to be fertilized for a while since they are able to take in nutrients from the new soil they were given.
4 Tips for Difficult Plants
Every plant is different, and certain plants can pose difficulties of their own when trying to repot them. Here are some tips and tricks for repotting houseplants that are bigger, more delicate, or harder to handle.
Succulents can be tiny and delicate. Employ the use of spoons, paint brushes, or other small tools to make the process easier! There are even miniature gardening tools you can purchase.
2. Large Plants
Enlist some help! Large plants can be heavy and hard to handle, and the last thing you want to do is damage your plant in the process.
Similar to succulents, use tools that can be found around your home to help, and consider purchasing a quality pair of rubber or leather gardening gloves to avoid the prickly spines.
4. Trailing plants
It can be hard to maneuver long vines of trailing plants. You can cut a hole in the bottom of a trash bag and put it around the base of the plant to help contain the trailing foliage. Enlisting an extra pair of hands can also be helpful!