How to Repot a Plant

6 min read

The term “repotting” is a misnomer. Repotting does not necessarily mean changing the pot or planter it is in, but rather, changing the soil or potting mix. There is actually very little soil in a pot. Over time, the plant takes all the nutrients from the soil. Fresh soil or potting mix means a fresh supply of much-needed nutrients. Of course, nothing is stopping you from changing the container. There is no better time than now to do it. If you do decide to change the pot, choose one that is slightly larger than the one you are replacing. Most importantly, it must have drainage holes in the bottom.

We have created a guide with tips, which include:

  • Is it Necessary to Repot Plants?
  • When is the Best Time to Repot? 
  • How to prepare to Repot
  • How to Report a Plant

Is It Necessary to Repot Plants?

When you purchase a new plant from the garden center, there is a good chance it has already outgrown the pot. Having a plant that looks full and fresh is advantageous for the garden center or nursery. However, overgrown plants will eventually die back to accommodate the pot you found it in. The objective of the initial repotting is to give it fresh media in which to grow and thrive.

Repotting plants is an ongoing task. It is not something you do one time and then never again. There are signs that indicate it is time to repot, including:

  • Root growth out of the drain holes in the bottom of the pot
  • Plant growth has slowed down or stopped altogether
  • Plant topples over easily
  • Soil dries out quickly. It becomes necessary to water more frequently
  • Visible foliage is three times the size of the current pot, and
  • Salt and mineral deposits on the soil in the pot

Typically, potted plants will need repotting once every 12 to 18 months. Some plants are notoriously slow growing. They can stay in the same pot for longer.

Repot in the Late Fall

It is always a good idea to repot plants outdoors. It is easier to clean up the mess. For people who live in the northern part of the country, fall is the ideal time to repot houseplants. The leaves on the trees around the house have fallen. As a result, the indoor plants will get more direct light and sunshine. Couple this with the warm, inside temperature and the plants will grow well. 

It is not difficult to determine if a plant needs repotting or not. The half-dozen signs noted above will tell you a great deal. However, if the plant is simply not growing well, there is another way to know if the time has come to repot. Invert the pot. Hold your hand over the soil and tap the pot to loosen the grip the soil has on the pot. If the roots have little soil covering them, the time has come to repot.

The root color is also an indicator of a plant’s health. The roots should be quite firm to the touch. Roots are usually white, with many tiny hairs covering them. If the root is brown or the root has patches of different colors, or if the root is soft to the touch, chances are the plant has root rot. Root rot is often caused by overwatering. If there are only one or two sickly roots, cut them away using pruning shears. If it appears the plant is beyond saving, take a few stem or leaf cuttings and discard the plant. With the cuttings, you can easily start again.

Preparing to Repot Plants

When you repot your plants, you must use good quality potting soil. Although it is possible to make potting soil at home, it is far easier to buy a bag. Furthermore, quality is guaranteed. Buy potting soil that is suitable for indoor potted plants. Using soil directly from the garden is not advisable. Garden soil is not suited to pot culture and often stays too wet, too long. A purchased mix contains peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and added nutrients, usually lime. Lime raises the soil acidity or pH.

There are two reasons why plants need to be repotted. Either the existing soil no longer has sufficient nutrients, or the plant has outgrown the pot. When repotting, choose a pot somewhat larger than the one the plant is currently in, both in diameter and depth. A larger pot gives the roots lots of space in which to grow. 

Cover the bottom drain holes. A good way to do this is to drop a coffee filter in the bottom of the pot. A drip coffee filter is ideal as it keeps the soil in the pot but allows water to pass through. If you are repotting into a terra cotta pot, give the pot a good soaking first. As terra cotta absorbs water, if it is not wet to begin with, it will dry out the newly potted plant. Add a base layer of soil, just enough that when the root ball is placed in the pot, it is not above the rim of the pot. Water the plant that you are going to repot. Watering helps to keep the root ball together and stops the plant from going into shock.

Now Comes the Repotting

When taking the plant from its current pot, do not pull it out. Turn the pot over, rotate the plant a bit one way and the other. This loosens the plant in the pot to the point where it will fall out into your hand. If the plant does not simply fall out, run a knife around the inside of the pot to separate the plant from the pot.

Prune back older roots. This helps the plant to flourish in its new environment. If the roots are tangled, straighten them out. Center the plant in the new pot. Press the plant roots firmly into place and add more soil. Once the soil is at the correct level water the plant again, this watering helps to settle and compact the soil.

Now that the plant has been repotted make sure you continue to care for it while it transitions to its new home. Water the plant frequently. Do not let it dry out. Until the plant has stabilized in its new home, keep it away from direct sunlight, and hold off fertilizing it for about a month.