How do you tell if your plant needs to be repotted? As part of our feature series, Plant Parent Basics, in this article you will learn how to tell if your plant needs a new home, and the foolproof way to make it happen.
How do I know if my plant needs to be repotted?
Before doing anything, take a look at your plant and ask the following:
Do you see roots coming through the drainage holes in bottom of the container?
Do you see any tangled roots in a thick mass near the soil surface?
Gently slip the plant out from its container. Do you see more roots than soil?
If you answered yes to ANY of these, it's time to give your plant a new home. If you answered no to ALL of these questions, you do not need to repot your plant.
How do I know what kind of container to use?
Pick a container that has good drainage. You want to make sure water doesn't stay stagnant - this causes root rot and other not fun plant illnesses. Good drainage means that water can flow out of the container unobstructed, usually through holes in the bottom of the container. If the container you want to use doesn’t have drainage holes, you can create a drainage system in the bottom of the container using a layer of rocks.
If you're using a new pot, give it a good rinse under warm water before you repot. If you're using an old pot, wash it with soap and water. C'mon folks, we're not animals.
What do I need to repot my plant?
You’ll need a couple essential items to begin.
This is important - use fresh soil with every repot. Over time the nutrients in the soil of potted houseplants are used up or dissolve. It's good practice to use fresh soil to re-up on the vitamins and minerals plants need to grow.
If you are repotting a tropical plant, we recommend an all-purpose, organic potting soil.
If you are repotting a cactus or succulent, we recommend an organic cactus potting mix.
Rocks, sand or other similar media is essential to line the bottom of your container. This is exceptionally important to have if you are using a container that does not have drainage holes.
This is a big duh, but it’s funny how many times we’ve begun a repot without making sure we had our new container handy.
This is just a good item to have spread out over your work area to ensure a quick clean-up. A tray or cookie sheet always works well.
Depending on your plant, you may need some additional items:
You’ll use these to cut away any dead or rotted matter from your plant. Make sure to clean your shears with hot water and soap when you’re finished.
A necessary tool if you are repotting cacti or spikey succulents.
Good to have handy if you prefer to scoop soil with a tool rather than your hands; especially helpful with larger repot projects.
A nifty tool to have to brush off extra bits of dirt and debris from your plant when you’re finished; especially useful for dusting off cacti and spikey succulents.
How do I repot my plant?
Just follow these simple steps:
Water and loosen soil
Lightly water your plant to help the root ball and soil slide more easily out of the pot.
Remove your plant from the pot by carefully turning it on its side, supporting the main stem of your plant in one hand and use the other hand to gently pull the pot away. Do not pull or yank on the stem. Instead, work it loose by tapping on the container. You can also use a trowel to loosen the soil around the edges of the container.
Take a look at your plant’s roots. If the soil is in good shape, try to disturb it as little as possible.
If the soil is rotten or moldy (if you aren’t sure, give it a sniff and if it smells like death, that’s rot boy!), shake away some of the excess soil and snip any rotted roots. Use your fingers to gently loosen the roots they can spread out in their home.
If your container has drainage holes, it’s not necessary to put rocks in the bottom of the pot. If your container does not have drainage holes, you must put rocks in the bottom of the pot to create the necessary drainage.
Add soil and plant
Add a bit of soil in the container for your plant to sit on. Measure the height and make sure the top of the root ball is at least 1/2″ below the rim of the pot, so that it won’t overflow when you water it.
Place the plant in the pot and settle it on the soil. Look at it from all sides to make sure it’s centered and sitting up straight.
Add potting soil around the plant in layers, pressing it down with your fingers until firm. Don’t be afraid to pack that soil in. You want the plant roots to be snug in their new home, so pack that soil in tight. It may sound counter-intuitive, but trust us on this one.
Water and monitor
Water, water, water. Plant roots hate being exposed to air because it yanks the moisture right out of them faster than a speeding bullet. That's why their underground (#ohduh). Give your plant a good drink after repotting to make sure your roots don't dry out. And go slow! Too much water at once can cause a newly potted plant to pop out of the soil.
Repotting can be daunting, for some fear that handling the roots will cause irreversible damage to the plant. In almost all cases, this is not true. Plants are amazingly resilient. While they may take a few days or weeks to bounce back to their pre-repot body, they will, in time, make a full recovery.