As you bring plants into your home and learn to care for them, you will notice the foliage of your plants growing larger and larger. When this happens, the root system of your plant is also growing, developing a significantly more extensive root system in order to keep up with feeding your increasingly more hungry plant. Eventually, a time will come where your plant will either stop growing because its roots don’t have any more room or your roots will start to force their way out of the container, poking through the drainage holes or above the surface of the soil; this means it’s time to repot.
The process of doing this always sounds more daunting than it actually is, especially when you are repotting something for the first time. Moving a plant from one pot to another, slightly larger pot, can come with its fair share of problems, but if you disregard all the confusing information and scary stories the internet has about repotting, you will be able to successfully learn this one trick that can keep your plants growing for decades to come.
Here is our final installment of Indoor Plants for Beginners: How and When to Repot Your Houseplant!
Monitor Your Plant’s Growth
Before you can start planning to repot and shopping for a new container, you need to determine if your plant even needs to be given a new container or not. There are two easy ways to monitoring your houseplant’s growth; we recommend using each in your day-to-day interactions with your plant because not only will you be able to figure out if your plant needs repotted, but you will always get to know your plant better. As we always say, each plant has as much of a personality as any person, so it’s important to understand yours plants mannerisms and behaviors to properly care for and communicate with it, just as you would another human.
- Each time you go to water your plant, take a look at its size and compare it to something inanimate when you do. In the warm season, your plant should grow at a consistent rate. When you start to notice your plant growing at a slower rate or suddenly not growing at all, it could be a sign that it doesn’t have enough space to do so.
- If you have your plant in a container with drainage holes (as you should), hold your plant above your eye level and check if you can see any roots sticking out of the pot. You can easily tell its time to repot when roots seek the outside world to continue growing because the system has used up all the space it could inside its container.
Make a Habit of Checking the Soil
While we may be used to admiring the beautiful stems, leaves, and flowers of a plant, there is a lot one can communicate to you through its soil. As we discussed in a previous Indoor Plants for Beginners chapter, there are many different types of soil and each houseplant has its own preferences when it comes to the medium it grows in. If you happen to pot your plant in the incorrect soil mixture for its species, you will need to repot your plant, not necessarily to give it more room to grow, but to transplant it into the proper mixture.
In both instances, the moisture level in the soil or substrate can also tell you exactly when to repot. Soil that is slightly damp but not freshly watered is going to be the easiest to work with and remove from your plant’s roots. Give your plant a few days to a week after watering to repot it to allow the moisture to soak into the roots. Then, you will have an easier time controlling the soil and your plant will have had enough water in its system to withstand its roots being exposed to the air for a short time.
What Tools You Will Need
When it comes time to repot your plant, it’s obvious that you’ll need your plant and a new pot, but did you know that you should also have brand new soil and fertilizer, as well? Here is exactly what you want to have on hand when repotting your plant:
- Your plant
- Your new pot
- New soil mix of your choice
- A fertilizer of your choice
- Plenty of distilled or filtered water
- Optional: Newspapers or a cloth to keep your space tidy and make clean-up easy.
If you are repotting your plant to give it more room to grow, you will want to find a pot that is half an inch to one inch larger than the container you are currently using. This gives your plant just enough but not too much space; a pot that is significantly larger than what you are using now will have end up overwhelming your plant’s roots, stunting it’s overall growth, and potentially killing it, so there’s no need to go much bigger.
You should also use new a new soil or substrate mixture when repotting your plant because the existing soil has most likely run out of nutrients to feed your plant baby. With your new soil in hand and add some fertilizer of your choice and give it a good mix. Now, you’re ready to get repotting.
Take Your Plant Out of its Old Container
With your tools in hand and sheet or newspapers down to protect your floor, it’s time to repot. The first step is to remove your plant from its old container. When you do so, you will find that while much of the soil stays in the pot or falls away from your plant, much of it will still be stuck to the root system. As gently as you can, begin to separate the roots from each other and free them from the soil. If you lose a few root strands in the process, it’s okay; you want to keep the core of the root structure intact because this is where the plant is initially connected. So, if you happen to lose a few hairs from the outside of the system, they can easily be replaced, whereas the oldest original roots cannot.
The reason behind removing the old soil from your plant baby is simple: vitamin and nutrients found in the substrate are vital to a plant’s growth and this is readily available in a fresh pot of soil rather than what it’s been living in for the last few months or years. You can always save and store the old soil for later use, you will just need to make sure to add some fresh mixture in to balance it out.
Transfer Your Houseplant into its New Pot
Now that your plant is free of its old home, you can put it into its new container. Fill your plant’s new home with enough soil and fertilizer so that your roots will be under the line of the pot but not so low that the roots are already sticking out of the drainage holes (if applicable). This is when it’s helpful to have slightly damp soil, because you can then cover the sides of the pot with soil, molding it to create a bowl shape to place your plant in. Then, holding your plant baby at the very bottom of its stem(s), fill the container with soil, covering the roots until it’s full.
Your soil should always be the ideal amount of well-aerated and slightly compressed, so here’s a trick: carefully and gently press down on the soil, packing it around the roots so the plant is firmly held in place; then use a bamboo skewer or something similar to poke into the soil around the roots, allowing oxygen to enter the container. Most plant species like a well-draining soil mix, so doing this will keep your pot from collecting and holding too much water at a time.
How to Tell if Your Plant is Unhappy After Being Repotted
After repotting your plant, you should spend some time monitoring its reaction to make sure it handled the transfer well, just as a doctor would with an organ transplant. This is because there is always a chance that your houseplant may have an adverse reaction to being pulled from its container, requiring extra hands-on care the days or weeks just after it was repotted. This can be referred to as transplant shock; while this term is often used to describe a plant stressed out by being repotted, it can also refer to a plant distressed by other environmental changes like a sudden change in temperature or being placed in a new location in your home with different light exposure.
Signs of transplant shock can be drooping or wilted leaves, excessive leaf drop, or yellow on the leaves. Many plants can be sensitive to being touched, having their roots exposed, and a plethora of other things, causing it stress during and after the repotting process; if a plant is suffering from shock just because its more vulnerable to it than others, it will most likely recover over time. However, plants can also go into transplant shock if they are repotted at the wrong time or if they are placed in the incorrect size pot.
That’s why we recommend never repotting a plant before its necessary or waiting until its extremely root bound, and it’s also why experts say you should only increase your container size by one inch. The last thing you want is to accidentally kill your plant! If you follow our steps and get to know your plant’s behaviors and personality, you should be able to repot your plant with no problem!
It’s finally come time for us to end out six-part Indoor Plants for Beginners series, but we are so happy that we were able to bring this knowledge to you so that you can feel confident to start your own journey into houseplants! If you haven’t already, bookmark this or each of our IPB articles so you can reference them whenever you need reminders or tricks on caring for your indoor plants.
Also, don’t forget to check out our other blogs! We offer tips and tricks to get the most of your gardening or indoor plant journey on a regular basis. Do you have a subject you would like us to write about? Let us know in the comments below!