How To Repot A Houseplant

Question: I’ve went down the “repotting house plants” path before. It should be simple but whenever repotting a plant they never seem to do well afterwards.

I’m not sure if I over-pot, over-water or over-fertilize. Maybe all three! How big of a pot should I use when repotting indoor plants? Caden, Chicago, Ill

Repotting a Calathea HouseplantPin

Answer: Caden, I’m not a big supporter of repotting house plants. Many times this process causes more problems than it helps.

It sounds like you’ve experienced that!

Read: When Should I Repot Plants After Buying?

Before Repotting Ask These Plant Questions

  • Roots come out the bottom of the pot, or the roots are a large tangled mass
  • The plant continues to dry out quickly and more water is needed
  • Slower than normal growth in the “growing season”
  • The plant is top heavy and outgrown the pot. The pot does not support the plant also look at double potting or cache pots.
  • Water runs quickly through the pot and out the bottom. This happens when there isn’t enough potting soil to “grab” the moisture.
  • Soil stained. When the top of the soil is stained it often indicates a salt build up which can burn roots.

The fact remains that there is a time when to repot house plants, but there is a right way and a wrong way.

Read on to learn more on how to repot a plant. This guest article is by, Clem Cirelli, Jr. of Summit Plants & Flowers, Inc., Springfield, NJ.

Repotting House Plants Tips & Essentials!

Although some of you wouldn’t know it to look outside your window, Spring is on the way! To your indoor plants, the lengthening days are a stimulus to new growth, both above and below the soil surface. So you may want to start preparing your potting bench for that annual Rite of Spring….houseplant repotting. And to help you avoid the pitfalls of that ordeal, here are some tips to keep in mind:

When Repotting Plants Use Pot of Appropriate Size For Plant:

Potting up a 6″ pot into a new 14″ pot (where the 14″ refers to the top inside diameter of the pot) is a surefire way to sentence that plant to the compost heap prematurely.

The new pot should be 1-2″ larger in diameter and depth than the pot it’s living in now, so the roots have room to grow, but the soil can dry down at an acceptable rate and not remain waterlogged for days or weeks after watering.

Repotting Plants: Drainage IS Most Important Factor

Drainage is the most important factor for the health of potted plants: and, no, that doesn’t mean two inches of clay pot shards or gravel in the bottom of the pot! That’s a no-no…

This just raises the wettest zone of the soil profile closer to the tender roots of your plant. It radically increasing the risk of root rot due to lack of oxygen penetration into the rootball.

Just try this experiment if you aren’t yet a believer:

Soak an ordinary washcloth in water, hang it up on a clothesline or shower curtain rod to dry, and notice which part of the cloth stays wettest longest…it’s the BOTTOM, of course (see: Newton’s Law of Gravity).

Your plant’s soil does exactly the same thing. So, deeper is better, within reason, and always in proportion to the size of the plant’s root ball.

Drainage holes in the pot are essential, but if you must pot into gorgeous decorative flower pots, used as a cache pot, then plant your plant into an ordinary plastic pots or clay pots.

Make sure that the pot is slightly smaller than that container, and just empty any drainage water after each watering.

NEVER let container plants stand in excess water for more than a few hours, or you WILL kill it!

Choose the Right “Soil” for Your Specimen:

roots on a houseplantPin

Remember, “one size does NOT fit all”.

If you are repotting a fleshy-rooted plant, such as a Rubber Tree, many Dracenas or Yucca, use a coarse-textured soil with fairly large particles of drainage material, such as coarse Perlite or lava rock (about 1/4″ or so particle size).

This permits good drainage and root development and reduces the chance of overwatering due to slow-drying medium.

Conversely, fine-rooted plants, such as ferns, African Violets, begonias and many other smaller houseplants, do best in fine-textured soilless mixes or potting mixture composed of milled sphagnum peatmoss, vermiculite and “horticultural grade” perlite.

This holds moisture a bit longer for their more “sensitive” roots, and prevents desiccation (drying-up) in the smaller pots we usually grow them in. More on what to use for drainage in pots.

Tease the Roots

When repotting, be sure to “tease” the roots out of their cylindrical rootball shape. This will help to speed the growth and branching of new roots into the fresh medium.

You can do this by cutting away any large coils of roots that may have grown around the bottom of the old pot, or simply score the rootball vertically with a sharp knife in several places, cutting into the rootball about an inch as you slice from top to bottom.

Set the rootball atop a couple of inches of fresh potting mix that you have poured into the bottom of the new pot, filling in and gently but firmly tamping down the mix as you go, until the soil is even with the top of the plant’s original rootball and about 1/2″ to one inch below the rim of the new pot.

Give the freshly potted plant a good drink. Place the plant in good, filtered light out of any direct sunlight for the first couple of weeks, and stand back and watch it grow!

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