Being a plant parent, one of your responsibilities is repotting your beloved plants when they outgrow their current pots. While this might seem burdensome to some people, repotting your houseplants doesn’t have to be challenging.
Repotting your houseplants is essential to adequate plant care. When your houseplant shows signs of needing repotting, such as stunted growth or wilting, simply remove the plant from its current pot, loosen its roots, add potting soil and the plant to the new pot, and water.
The rest of this article will serve as an ultimate guide to repotting your houseplants—everything from why it’s essential to know when to repot your plants and how to repot your houseplants successfully. Let’s get started!
Why Repotting Your Houseplants Is Important
This oversight could be because of the lack of knowledge on why it’s necessary or because they like the plant’s current pot. However, as cute as the current container is, it might be causing your plant damage.
There are several reasons why repotting your plant is essential:
- Plants outgrow their pots and need more room for root growth.
- Plants need a change in potting soil so they can absorb more nutrients.
- Plants require bigger pots with more drainage.
In the following sections, I’ll go over these three fundamental reasons why repotting your houseplants is essential so you can better understand the importance of doing so.
They Need More Room for Root Growth
As your houseplant grows, its roots begin to expand. Depending on your specific plant will determine how quickly it grows and how soon you’ll need to repot it; however, when roots emerge from the top of the soil, it’s a sign that your roots need more room.
Even when you understand you need to repot your plant, figuring out what size pot your plant needs can get a little confusing.
Repotting your plant in a pot that’s too small will only leave you with the same problems, and a pot too big can lead to root rot. However, I’ll discuss root rot in more detail later in the article.
There are typically two ways you can choose a new pot to allow for more root growth:
- Get a pot that’s 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) larger than your current pot’s size. Most people will go one or two sizes up in pots as they notice their plants growing.
- Measure your plant’s roots and get a pot at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) wider than the root’s mass. If you think your plant grows especially fast, you can get a container several inches wider instead. However, don’t risk getting a pot that’s too big, as your plant can be susceptible to root rot.
Allowing for more root growth for your houseplant is essential to the plant’s health. Without it, you risk your plant becoming root-bound or pot-bound—both of which can lead to shock, stress, and even plant death.
Root-bound and pot-bound plants are very similar but have differences, which can determine the plant’s health status and how you should care for the plant. Therefore, knowing the difference is essential to properly treating these issues.
Plants become root-bound when their roots grow too big for the container; therefore becoming “bound” around each other. While being root-bound won’t necessarily kill your plant, it can cause more problems in the future—including becoming pot-bound, which can result in the roots choking themselves—resulting in death.
Therefore, root-bound plants aren’t always harmful, as most plants eventually become root bound. Root-bound plants will continue to grow, and it won’t negatively affect the health of your plants too much. Various plants can tolerate being root-bound to a certain extent.
Some examples include:
- Aloe plants
- Spider plants
- Snake plants
- African violets
- Peace lilies
However, if your houseplant is root bound, and it’s not a plant that likes to be root bound (such as Monstera deliciosa), it’s ideal that you replant it. Otherwise, your houseplant may not receive the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Pot Bound Plants
While root-bound plants can still grow and thrive, pot-bound plants are the opposite. If your houseplant is pot-bound, it has run out of room for root growth. Therefore, the size of the container will cause the plant’s roots to stop growing.
When this happens, the plant’s roots will often begin to circle the pot looking for more nutrients, which, as I mentioned earlier, can result in the plant choking itself.
Therefore, it’s essential to repot the plant when you notice it’s pot-bound.
For more information on the difference between root-bound and pot-bound plants and what they mean, check out this helpful YouTube video by Healthy Houseplants:
Plants Need Nutrients From New Potting Soil
As plants grow in their potting soil, they absorb all the nutrients the soil offers. While you don’t necessarily have to repot your plant every time you provide it with new soil, you will have to remove the plant from the pot it’s in to give it fresh soil. Therefore, you’re repotting the plant, even if it’s back in the same container.
Replacing your houseplant’s potting soil is essential to introduce the plant to more nutrients and allow it to continue to thrive.
Luckily, replacing the soil doesn’t have to be done too often, but there are some instances where the soil needs to be replaced more often, including:
- Pests have overrun the soil: Although this issue occurs less often in houseplants, pests can still cause your plant stress. So, if your plant is dealing with pest problems, repotting it in pest-free soil is ideal.
- The soil is hard: If the soil is struggling to absorb water and you have to water more often, it’s time to replace it, as it’s likely not giving your plant the necessary nutrients.
When these instances occur, replacing the soil more often is necessary. Otherwise, replacing the soil every 1-2 years is ideal. However, it’s a good idea to check your plant’s soil every so often to ensure nothing is wrong.
Proper Drainage in Pots Is Vital
The lack of (or too few) drainage holes in pots is one of the leading causes of root rot. Root rot occurs when there’s nowhere for excess moisture to leave the plant’s pot. Therefore, the water lingers in the soil and rots the roots.
Unfortunately, root rot can lead to plant death, so proper drainage holes are essential to keeping your plant happy and healthy. If you notice your plant’s soil is retaining moisture, or there aren’t enough drainage holes in the pot for the size of the plant, it’s a good idea to repot the plant.
However, if you like your houseplant’s pot and want to continue using it, you can add drainage holes.
Check out this YouTube video by Techplant for an easy DIY drainage hole tutorial:
If you want to learn more about providing your potted indoor plants with proper growing conditions, check out my other article. I’ll specifically discuss how to select the right pot for your houseplant, share a few insights about repotting, and how to properly pot the most common houseplants: How To Properly Pot Any Type of Houseplant
How to Repot Your Houseplants
Now that you know why it’s crucial to repot your houseplants, it’s time to get into the next essential step—repotting them.
Although repotting your houseplants isn’t as challenging as some may think, there are several crucial steps you need to take to ensure your plant doesn’t get damaged during the process.
When you repot your houseplants, you risk damaging the roots or stems (especially if you’re not extra careful). While many plants can recover from this damage, as long as it’s not too intensive, you have to provide the plant with extra care. Therefore, it’s best to be as cautious as possible during the initial repotting process.
Without further ado, let’s go over the steps of repotting your houseplants:
1. Identify the Reason for Repotting
Before repotting your houseplant, the first thing to do is identify why you’re repotting it. The reason why you’re repotting your plant will determine how exactly to do it and what precautions to take in the days leading up to repotting it.
When you decide to repot your houseplant, it’s ideal that you water it generously for a couple of days beforehand. You can do this by top watering it like usual or giving your plant a “bath,” also known as bottom watering.
Watering your houseplant thoroughly the few days leading up to repotting is excellent for several reasons, including:
- It makes it easier to remove the plant from its pot due to the moist soil.
- It reduces the risk of your houseplant going into transplant shock (which can lead to stunted growth or wilting stems and leaves).
- It ensures that your plant is thoroughly hydrated during the process.
However, you shouldn’t water all plants in this manner before repotting without identifying the reason for the repotting.
If you’re repotting your houseplant because of root rot, don’t water the plant beforehand. Chances are you have already overwatered plants due to frequent watering or the lack of drainage holes), so adding more water won’t do anything for your plant.
You should allow the soil to dry completely when your houseplant suffers from root rot before repotting it. Otherwise, you risk damaging the roots to the point where they can be healed—therefore killing your plant. Consequently, it’s vital to ensure your plant isn’t suffering from root rot before you start repotting it.
Once you’ve identified the reason for repotting and have completed the necessary steps leading up to repotting, you’re ready to move on.
2. Remove the Houseplant From Its Current Pot
People new to gardening and plant life struggle with removing the houseplant from its current pot, which is understandable because you need to be extra careful. The size of your houseplant will determine how difficult this step is, as small snake plants will be much easier to handle than larger monstera plants.
Despite this, the steps to remove the plant remain the same:
Water Your Plant Thoroughly
You’ll want to water the plant thoroughly for a couple of days leading up to repotting. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a good idea to water your plant before repotting, so the soil is moist and easy to remove from the pot.
Shake the Plant Loose From the Pot
Hold the pot upside down and gently shake the plant loose. Keep your hand on the stems of the plant as you do this. Ensure you don’t pull the branches, as you could accidentally detach them from the roots, killing the plant. For larger potted plants, simply plant the pot on its side.
Cut the Plant Out of the Pot (Optional)
If the plant won’t come out of the pot from gently shaking it, use scissors to cut the pot. Of course, this only works if the pot is plastic. Consider adding more water to the soil if you have ceramic or terracotta pots.
Gently Remove It
Once the plant is loose, gently remove it and set it to the side. Always ensure the plant is coming out on its own and you’re not pulling on its stems.
If you want more information on removing a houseplant from its pot, I suggest checking out this helpful YouTube video by Healthy Houseplants. This short video provides information on removing houseplants stuck in their pots, which is excellent for those who are more visual learners!
3. Inspect the Roots
Once you’ve removed your houseplant from its old pot, it’s essential to inspect the plant’s roots. Even if you didn’t have any reason to believe the roots were bound or overgrowing, it’s best to study them and take care of any potential problems before you repot your plants.
Most of the time, no matter the plant, you’ll want to loosen the roots gently. As plants grow, the roots will naturally grow in the shape of their container. While this is normal, loosening them before moving the plant into a bigger pot is ideal for more plant growth. To do this, gently shake the roots loose with your fingers.
Trimming the plant’s roots is also a good idea. However, I’ll go more in-depth about this in the next section.
Importance of Trimming Roots When Repotting
You should trim roots when repotting houseplants, especially if the roots were packed tightly in the previous container. Trimming roots encourages the plant to absorb more nutrients, growing bigger and healthier.
Trimming your plant’s roots is probably scary, but it’s not as challenging as you think.
Although you do need to take precautions and use the proper tools, the process is relatively straightforward if you follow these steps:
Get a Pair of Pruning Shears or Scissors
Pruning shears or scissors are ideal for cutting plant stems sharply and accurately. Therefore, when pruning the roots, you’ll want to ensure you cut cleanly to prevent issues.
Sterilize Your Pruning Implements
To sterilize your tools, place your shears in 70% isopropyl alcohol or ethanol, or wipe with a cloth soaked in the medium.
Cut Around the Root Ball
If the roots are in a root ball, cut around and under it. Use the shears to cut the bottom of the roots and around the sides.
Fertilize and Water Afterward
Make sure to give the plant plenty of water and fertilizer afterward. This step will help the roots heal and encourage the plant to grow.
Problems Caused When You Don’t Break Up the Root Ball
If you don’t break up the root ball when planting, the roots will continue to grow in a circular formation. This issue can lead to the plant becoming pot-bound, which causes the plant to choke itself. Breaking up the root ball ensures the roots will grow and anchor the plant.
Loosening the roots and breaking up the root ball is one of the essential aspects of repotting plants, especially if they are already root or pot-bound. Without doing so, you risk your plant becoming unhealthy over time due to the lack of nutrients in the roots, which leads to plant death.
4. Remove the Old Potting Mix
After inspecting and caring for the roots of the plant, remove the old potting mix from the pot. Although you can still use a bit of the old soil mix, mainly add the new potting mix—as it will contain more nutrients for your plant to absorb.
If you’re repotting your plant just to give it a new potting mix, remove the old potting mix from the pot and put the fresh potting mix into it. Leaving a little of the old mixture is okay, as long as there’s enough new mix for your plant. However, discard the old potting soil if you’re repotting due to soil pest issues.
If you plan to reuse a plant pot that previously held another plant—ensure that you sterilize the pot before placing your plant inside. Pests and disease can linger in pots and spread to your newly planted houseplant.
Sterilizing your containers is a fairly straightforward process as follows:
- Wash and scrub all loose dirt and debris with a solution of warm water and mild household soap.
- For an eco-friendly and less harsh sterilizing agent—opt for household vinegar in a ratio of 1:3 with warm water.
- Soak your containers in the solution for about 2 hours.
- Rinse the pot thoroughly in clean water.
- Allow the pot to dry in direct sun as it will further disinfect the container.
Importance of Removing Old Soil
You should remove old soil when repotting. However, removing the old soil is unnecessary as long as there’s enough new soil in the pot to provide the roots with nutrients.
Removing at least one-third of the old potting mix when repotting is ideal. However, depending on your plant’s needs, you can remove less or all of it. If your plant lacks nutrients, completely replacing the potting soil is okay. Keeping most of the old mix is acceptable if you’ve recently replaced the potting mix.
5. Ensure Your Pot Has Good Drainage
Before repotting your plant (whether in a new pot or the same pot), ensure you provide adequate drainage holes in the bottom. Drainage is one of the most vital components of a plant’s container, as it keeps the plant from falling victim to root rot.
Additionally, ensure you space out the drainage holes adequately. This process will allow the entire potted houseplant to drain sufficiently—and keep your plant (and its soil) as healthy as possible.
Ideal Number of Holes for a Large Planter
A large planter should have 6-8 drainage holes, especially if the pot’s diameter is larger than 6 inches (15 cm). However, the number of drainage holes your plant’s pot has isn’t too critical as long as the soil is well-draining.
If you don’t have access to a pot with multiple drainage holes, or you can put more drainage holes in your current container, it’s best to do so. This method will prevent possible water logging or root rot.
6. Add New Potting Mix to the Pot
Once you’ve ensured your new pot has the proper drainage holes for your plant, you’re ready to add your fresh potting mix. It’s best to only put the potting mix along the bottom, place your plant in the pot, and then fill in the rest.
However, before you begin adding any random potting mix to your plant, it’s a good idea to understand what type is best for your plant. Certain houseplants require specific potting mixes, so using the one meant for your plant is ideal.
Here are some potting mix ingredients to look out for different houseplant species:
|Provides houseplants with additional nutrients|
|Provides monstera with drainage and nutrient retention|
|Cacti or succulents||Sand |
|Prevents waterlogging (fast draining)|
7. Gently Place the Houseplant in the Pot
After placing your potting mix along the bottom, you’re ready to transport your plant into the new pot. It would be best to conduct this step very carefully—as you don’t want to damage the delicate roots of your houseplant.
Place your plant on top of the new potting soil and make sure it lines up with the top of the pot. Then, pour more of the potting mix into the pot along the sides of the plant, patting it firmly.
It’s crucial to ensure no roots are visible after you’ve added your soil—if this is the case—it’s best to take the plant out and remove the excess potting mix.
8. Water the Houseplant
Finally, it’s time to water once you have successfully repotted your houseplant. Many keen gardeners argue whether or not you should water your plant right after repotting. While many people water their plants immediately after repotting, others will wait several days to give the roots time to settle and heal.
It mostly comes down to the type of plant you have. Drought-tolerant plants (such as succulents or cacti) might not appreciate being watered immediately after repotting, while others do.
If you watered your plant thoroughly in the days leading up to repotting, it might be best to wait several days before watering again. However, if your plant was already thirsty before repotting, a healthy amount of water right after most likely won’t cause any harm.
Time Your First Watering After Repotting Correctly
You shouldn’t water your indoor plant right after repotting. It’s best to wait several days after repotting to water your indoor plant to allow the roots time to heal and the plant time to adjust. However, watering your plant right after repotting shouldn’t cause significant harm.
It’s ideal to see your plant’s condition and decide whether or not you want to water it right away, as all plants are different.
How to Know When You Should Repot
Many signs indicate it’s time to repot your houseplants. These signs can be evident for those who know a lot about plants and gardening. However, people who aren’t professionals in plant care may struggle to see them.
Despite this, there are often signs that aren’t so obvious or just aspects of plant care to keep in mind, including when you should repot them.
So, let’s look at the various signs and ways to know when you should repot your houseplants:
It’s Been Over a Year Since You’ve Potted Your Houseplant
If you haven’t repotted your houseplant in over a year or bought it already in a pot, and it’s been a year since you moved it—it’s a good idea to repot it.
As mentioned, houseplants need nutrients to continue to survive and grow. And, no matter how great of a potting mix you initially supplied your plant with, it will need a new potting mix eventually because the plant will absorb all of the nutrients the mixture has to offer.
Additionally, repotting your plant will allow you to check on its roots to ensure they’re not struggling, especially after having your plant in the same pot for a year. Therefore, doing so may prevent any potential problems your roots may have or could have in the future.
However, it’s important to note that not all plants are the same, especially regarding repotting them. While you should repot most houseplants every 12 to 18 months, some plants can last in the same pot for years, while you may have to repot others multiple times a year. Therefore, you must research what type of plant you have to understand its repotting needs.
Your Plant Is Pot-Bound
As mentioned above, a pot-bound plant is a plant that seriously needs help. While I’ve discussed what a pot-bound plant is and its difference from root-bound plants, it’s essential to know the other signs that go along with a pot-bound plant so you can quickly identify it and repot your plant.
Some signs that indicate your houseplant is pot-bound include:
- WIlting of the leaves or flowers
- Yellowing leaves
- Drooping leaves
- Stunted growth
- Smaller-sized new leaves
- The lack of flowers
- Poor quality flowers
If you notice any of these signs on your houseplant, it’s a good idea to take it out of its current container and check the roots. And, if it is pot-bound, make sure to repot the plant as soon as possible.
You See Signs of Root Rot
Root rot is one of the worst things that can happen to a houseplant, especially plants such as cacti or succulents.
Although root rot typically occurs because of the lack of drainage holes or overwatering, the soil can sometimes be at fault, as some potting mix drains better than others.
Nevertheless, once you know your houseplant is suffering from root rot, you must take action immediately. Otherwise, your plant may not make it. And, unfortunately, if your plant’s roots are already too rotted, there’s no saving it.
The following sections will review your plant’s various signs of root rot:
The Soil Is Staying Moist
Typically, when you water your houseplants, the soil will begin to dry within a few days. However, if your plant is suffering from root rot (or even just in the beginning stages), you’ll likely notice the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly.
Unfortunately, the water is struggling to drain or becoming waterlogged. So, if you notice your plant’s soil not drying out as quickly as it should, it could be waterlogged – which quickly leads to root rot.
The Leaves Are Struggling
Your houseplant’s leaves showing signs of struggle don’t always point toward root rot. However, struggling leaves, combined with many other symptoms, are a clear sign of unhealthy roots.
Struggling leaves can be any of the following symptoms:
- Yellowing leaves: the yellowing leaves should be abundant, as one or two leaves turning yellow is normal. However, if most leaves are yellowing, this is a bad sign.
- Brown splotches on the leaves: usually indicate that the plant is struggling, and it’s one of the main symptoms to look out for with root rot.
- The leaves are falling off: like yellowing leaves, one or two leaves falling off isn’t a bad sign. However, it’s a bad sign if multiple leaves drop off your houseplant.
- The leaves are smaller than usual: if your leaves aren’t growing as big as expected, your houseplant might not get enough nutrients, or there’s a problem in the root system.
The Plant’s Growth Is Stunted
Another sign of root rot in plants is stunted growth. However, stunted growth is a common problem with houseplants (or plants in general), so it doesn’t always mean it’s due to root rot.
However, if your houseplant shows stunted growth and signs of root rot—it’s a good idea to take extra caution.
Some signs of stunted plant growth include the following:
- Leaves dropping
- Leaves curling/becoming limp
- Weak or limp stems
You Suspect the Roots Are Unhealthy
Your root’s health isn’t always easy to diagnose unless you uproot your plant. However, if you see other signs that indicate your houseplant’s roots are unhealthy, it would be a good idea to take your plant out of its container to check on the roots.
Unhealthy roots that show rot will be a black or brown color rather than white. These roots will also be mushy rather than firm. Unfortunately, if all of the roots are this way on the plant, there’s no saving it. However, if your houseplant has some healthy roots, you can salvage it.
Learn more about how to fix root rot in houseplants in my other article: How To Fix Root Rot In Houseplants (Complete Guide)
You Can See the Roots
If your houseplant’s roots are beginning to emerge in the soil, it’s a sign that your plant is outgrowing its pot, and you need to rehome it. Some plants have these roots, also called aerial roots, and they offer many benefits to the plants.
However, when your houseplant’s roots are pot-bound and emerging from the soil, you should take the plant out of its current pot, loosen the roots, and repot it in a larger container. Not giving your plant’s roots enough room to expand will only stunt its growth—possibly leading to plant death.
When Should You Repot Houseplants?
While there are many different reasons you should repot your houseplant, it’s essential to know when the right time to repot them is and when you shouldn’t try repotting them. Like with fertilizing plants, there’s a specific time when it’s best to repot houseplants—especially if you’re repotting for reasons other than root rot or pot-bound plants.
The best time to repot houseplants is in the spring or summer when the plant is in its active growth phase. However, because the plant is indoors, the exact time you decide to repot it isn’t too crucial. Therefore, if you want to repot a houseplant in the fall or winter, it will not damage it.
Many people choose to repot their plants before moving them outdoors during the spring or summer. Doing this may allow the plant to recover from repotting more quickly, as they have access to their natural environment, which can be very beneficial for indoor plants.
While the time of year that you repot your houseplants isn’t too critical, there are a few occasions when you should wait to repot your plant. For example, if your plant is already fragile and unhealthy due to the lack of water, you’ll want to nurse it back to health beforehand.
So, if your plant is underwatered and wilting (or showing other signs of underwatering), you must wait to repot it. You want to ensure you adequately watered your plant a few days before repotting. Otherwise, it can be overly challenging to remove it from the pot, and your plant may become damaged after the repotting process.
Unsteadiness in Plants After Repotting
If you’ve successfully repotted your houseplant, but now you’re noticing it’s wobbly or drooping, don’t panic! There could be several reasons for this, and it doesn’t always mean your plant is dying.
Your plant is most likely wobbly after repotting due to transplant shock. Transplant shock often occurs with plants after repotting and usually goes away in a few weeks—as long as you provide your plant with regular water and sunlight. Your plant could also be wobbly due to a lack of water.
Ensuring your plant has access to the right amount of sunlight it needs after repotting is crucial. Therefore, you want to ensure you place your plant appropriately in your home.
However, if your plant continues to be unhealthy for several weeks after repotting, it could suffer from a different problem, including damage to the roots or stems during the repotting process. Your houseplant should recover if the damage isn’t too extensive.
Houseplants are great to have around your home. Not only do they brighten up any room they’re in, but they can also boost your mood when you’re feeling down. Therefore, taking care of them (including repotting them regularly) is essential.
Although the repotting process isn’t too challenging, ensuring you don’t harm your plant, and care for it properly after repotting, can be overwhelming. However, if you water the plant thoroughly a few days before repotting and ensure the roots are healthy, your houseplant should be fine.