Will A Plant Die if the Pot Is Too Large?

Have you ever repotted a plant into a pot that was too large for the plant itself? Looks disproportionate, doesn’t it? If you have been considering rehoming your plant, it’s essential to consider pot size before you make a move.

A plant can die if its pot is too large. This is because, with too much soil, the plant’s roots are more susceptible to root rot since the soil will hold excess water. Although this isn’t necessarily true for every plant, it’s best to choose a pot that is only slightly bigger than the old one.

There are other ways that an ill-fitting pot can harm your plant baby. The remainder of this article will discuss why you should always use a proportionate pot for your plant and how you can ensure you’re not choosing pots that are too big or too small, as well as the overall dangers of using a plant pot that is too large.

The Dangers of Using Plant Pots That Are Too Large

Root rot is the first danger of using a planter that is too large for the plant. Plants that sit in too much soil are at risk of prolonged moisture, and this can damage the roots. 

A second problem is that the plant may also exert excessive energy trying to make roots fill the pot instead of putting out new growth.

In either case, a pot that’s too large will stunt the plant’s overall growth. If root rot doesn’t occur, you’ll notice the plant grows very slowly without putting out new leaves or flowers over a long period of time. 

Aside from those two primary conditions, there are other signs that your plant isn’t happy in its container. The existing leaves may turn yellow or brown, or they may wilt and drop off the plant. It’s essential to examine the plant if you notice these signs because leaf discoloration and leaf loss are signs of other conditions as well.

Let’s explore the two main conditions for a plant potted in a disproportionately large planter.

What Is Root Rot?

Root rot occurs when the root ball of the plant is soaked in water for a lengthy period of time and eventually begins to get soggy and rot. The roots will blacken and begin to cause discoloration, starting in the stem and making its way up to the leaves.

For the most part, root rot is a lifelong sentence. You may be able to prune the dead roots and save the plant if caught in time, but this condition frequently kills the plant left unattended for too long. 

When the planter is too big for the plant, all of the extra soil will absorb the water. Although plant roots survive on water consumption, if they can’t absorb all of it, they’ll end up sitting in that moisture and essentially drowning in it.

Excess moisture in the soil makes it an ideal breeding ground for various fungal species responsible for root rot. If your soil stays moist long enough, these fungi can proliferate in large enough populations that can damage your plant.

A black stem and leaves are a telltale sign of root rot. You can save your plant if you follow the instructions in the next section.

How To Prune a Plant Suffering From Root Rot

If you’ve noticed sections of your plant’s stem and leaves turning black, it’s worth checking the plant for root rot. Remember that if root rot is caught fast enough, there is still hope for the plant’s survival. Follow the below steps to prune your plant and save it from this disease:

  1. Prune all damaged leaves off the plant. Prune all of the black, dead, or dying leaves off of the plant. These leaves will not spring back to life as they’ve already been affected by the rot, so it’s critical to remove these leaves. This will ensure that the plant exerts appropriate energy on its living parts.
  2. Dig out the root ball of the plant. Using a hand trowel, carefully dig down in a circular motion around the plant’s stem. Leave a few inches between the plant’s stem and your digging point to avoid damaging the roots further. A few inches down, you will reach the root ball. Gently remove the plant and the root ball from the pot.
  3. Prune the rotting roots. You can shake away the soil or wash it off under gentle and lukewarm running water. Examine the root ball carefully. Healthy roots should be white, so if the entire root ball is black, it is likely too sick to bring back to life. However, if you notice only some sections of the roots are black, prune those roots off using sterile pruning shears.
  4. Repot the healthy, pruned root ball into fresh soil. Consider going down a size in pots at this point to prevent the risk of root rot from occurring again. 

These steps should help to bring your plant back to life if it is suffering from root rot. Whether the plant is in a hanging basket or an indoor or outdoor container, catching the root rot and treating it immediately will further your chances of bringing the plant back to life. 

Stunted Growth Due To Expanding Roots

While this seems contradictory, the reality is that if a plant is in a planter that is too large, it will begin to exert most of its energy into filling the soil with more roots. That means you will not see new growth of any kind. 

Typically, the plant’s roots pull nutrients from the soil and water and put them toward the external plant. When this doesn’t happen, the foliage growth slows down exponentially.

This issue is less apparent yet equally destructive outside of the growing season. Since the roots naturally don’t spend most of their nutrients up to the shoots during the plant’s inactive period, they will store the nutrients in the underground parts, leading to root overgrowth.

This disproportionate root-to-shoot size can either boost plant growth in the spring or result in stunted growth.

Remember: More extensive roots don’t automatically mean more nutrients for the plant. 

Most gardeners using powder or granulated fertilizers usually apply them close enough to the plant’s crown. Therefore, root ends on the farther sides of the large pot don’t have access to these nutrients, resulting in a waste of resources.

Considering the large volume of soil in the pot, some gardeners may also avoid thoroughly watering the plant to prevent oversaturation. As a result, the nutrients can only spread as far as the water can take them, often becoming inaccessible to root ends.

Therefore, the plant doesn’t benefit from the fertilizer as well as it should if grown in an appropriately sized pot. As you can see, having a planter that’s too big can seriously harm, if not kill, your plants. That means having the right size of pot is essential to plant health. 

Choosing The Right-Sized Pot For Your Plant

When potting a brand new plant, the first thing you need to do is measure the root ball. Using a ruler or measuring tape, determine how wide the root ball is and choose a container that is 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) wider than that. 

You shouldn’t pot a young plant into a container that is as wide as the root ball because the roots won’t have anywhere to grow and will become root bound.

An appropriately sized pot will give your plant up to two years to develop stronger roots before you need to consider sizing up its container. 

When you’re sizing up, continue the pattern of choosing a planter that is an inch or two (2.5-5 cm) larger than the first one. Any bigger and the roots will start to get stressed, and the soil will retain excess water, leading to the above-mentioned challenges. 

Additional Signs of Plant Death in Large Planters and What To Do About It

If you’ve started growing your plant in an oversized pot before coming across this article, have no fear. There are some additional signs of potential plant decay that you can look out for to take better care of your plant baby.

For example, a plant with yellowing leaves that wilt is telling you that it’s struggling with something. Sometimes it can mean too much water (which is the most likely case in an oversized planter) or poor drainage. Other times, it can indicate too little water or soil with inadequate nutrients.

If you start to notice these signs, it’s time to put your plant-doctor cap on. Assess the individual lighting and watering conditions of your plant, and remember that different species require different living conditions. 

If these signs persist after you’ve made adjustments and you believe you can minimize trauma, consider repotting your plant into an appropriately sized pot. 

It’s also worth doing some research about the species you’re caring for if you haven’t already done so. In the right environment, some plants may grow faster or slower than the 1-2 year recommendation for upsizing the container.

Final Thoughts

A plant that is too small for its container can die, most often because of root rot. 

However, if you manage your watering schedule well, it does have a chance at survival. You can refer to the various steps discussed in the article to save your plant if you’ve noticed signs of decay due to a disproportionately sized planter. 

By paying close attention to your plant, making adjustments to its environment, or repotting it, you can ensure your plant thrives.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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