Houseplant Re-Potting

by Rebecca Austin

If you have houseplants, you have probably been confronted with having to re-pot them at one point or another. For some plants, these milestones of growth come sooner rather than later. For example, if you have a Snake plant, Dracaena, or ZZ plant, these moments are few and far between. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you own a plant like a Philodendron, Ficus, or Fern, you have to up-size your pots relatively often. Whatever plant you have or plan to buy, they will eventually have to be potted in a larger pot or container, and with this comes a multitude of questions and concerns. 

One of the biggest questions that comes with having to re-pot a plant is: why? The simple answer is that your plant has gotten too big for its home. The slightly more complicated answer is that the plants’ roots have become too numerous to fit in the pot, and have potentially upset the root to soil ratio, causing uneven water distribution and lack of nutrients.  You’ll notice the roots starting to poke out of the drainage hole of your pot or up out of the planter, the plant may seem top heavy, or their water demands skyrocket. If you take the plant out of the pot, you will typically notice that most of what was hidden are roots!  

The next question is usually: how? Re-potting can seem really scary, especially with plants that have sentimental value or are just extremely delicate. No need to fear though, repotting is only as hard as you make it and in most cases is quick and easy! For a regular houseplant repotting, you should only need your new pot (be sure to select a pot with a drainage hole), some well-draining potting soil, some water, and maybe a pair of gardening gloves if you don’t want your hands to get dirty. We recommend repotting outside when it is nice out, but you could easily do it indoors over a disposable garbage bag or tarp! When selecting your new pot, be sure to pick one out that is about two inches more in diameter than the current pot. If you size up too quickly, your plant will not be able to stabilize itself by pushing roots out to the walls of the pot. This will lead to an uneven dispersal of moisture when you water your plant, and can cause root rot. 

Pull the plant out of its current home 

  • Gently pull the plant from its base where it meets the soil 
  • If it is in a plastic grower’s pot, try gently squeezing the pot to loosen up the root ball 
  • Use slow movements and a light touch so as to not damage your plant 

Loosen up the root ball

  • Holding the plant with one hand, use your fingers to loosen up the roots, and shake out the old soil 
  • You don’t need to shake out all of it, but most of the soil should be removed, especially if the plant has not been repotted in some time 

Trim any dead or dying roots 

  • Roots should be bright white on most plants, anything mushy or discolored can be snipped off 

Re-pot! 

  • If necessary, fill in the bottom of the new pot with fresh potting soil before putting in your plant 
  • Fill in around the perimeter of the plant with more potting soil, poking it in deeper as you go so the soil gets in between all of the roots 
  • Add soil around the top of the roots, being careful to not bury too much of the plant; the plant should only have as much soil up its base as it did before repotting 
  • There should be about half an inch of space between the surface of the soil and the top of the pot 

Treat for pests

  • Oftentimes, our plants can pick up unwanted 'friends'. Re-potting is the perfect opportunity to see if your plant has been made into a home! Look for any critters in the soil, of any sticky, white fluff on the leaves and stems
  • Should you see any pests, or would like to be extremely cautious you can use Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap to spritz the leaves and stalks, and a houseplant systemic to water into the soil. The Neem and Soap will kill insects hanging out on the vegetation, and the systemic will act as a preventative!

Finishing touches 

  • Water your plant if necessary, sometimes the new soil is incredibly damp, so a watering isn’t necessary! 
  • Brush off any soil lingering around the rim of the pot or on the plant itself 
  • Use a damp paper towel and wipe down the leaves of your plant 
  • If you have a vining or top-heavy plant, you may want to stick a stake or small trellis into the soil and arrange your plant accordingly 
  • If necessary and if you are repotting between the months of April-September, feel free to fertilize your plant! We recommend Jack’s Houseplant Special, but any all-purpose houseplant food will do 
  • Watch your plant flourish! 

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