How To: Repot a Plant
For a houseplant to thrive, it may need to be moved into more spacious digs from time to time. Here's how to tell when your plant needs a bigger pot, and how to get it there quickly and safely.
Even if you’ve never before tried to repot a plant, you can do it today without much trouble, probably in under 15 minutes—so long as you’re dealing with a houseplant. It’s a different story with plants that live outdoors, not least because they tend to be larger and heavier, and therefore more difficult to move about. But for the vast majority of plants grown on windowsills and desktops, repotting is a simple and—in my opinion—a relaxing and fun job. Probably the trickiest part is deciding when it’s appropriate to move a plant out of its current container. One sure sign is if the plant has stopped growing. Another is if the roots are poking through or visible near the drainage holes on the bottom of the pot. Still another indication, less obvious than the others, is if the foliage has lost its vigor and begun to go limp. Once you’ve determined that your houseplant would prefer roomier accommodations, go ahead and follow the easy steps detailed below.
Bring the plant you’re repotting to an area where you feel comfortable making a little mess. Indoors, many people simply cover a table with newspaper. In some cases, watering the plant to dampen (not soak) the soil may make it easier to remove the plant from its container. In other instances, it’s easier to work with dry soil. Use your judgement. Rest assured that neither technique is better or worse for the plant’s health. Keep in mind that working with damp soil will make the process somewhat messier.
The best way to remove the plant from its current home depends both on the size of the plant and the type of pot it’s in. If it’s a small plant in a plastic nursery container, you can simply turn the container upside down and gently squeeze from the bottom, using your free hand to guide the plant out.
If it’s a larger plant in, say, a heavy terra-cotta pot, work a gardening fork or trowel around the edge of the soil in the container. Root damage is inevitable here, but try to keep it to a minimum. Next, lay the pot on its side and turn the container (not the plant) slowly, thereby twisting the plant out onto your work surface.
Now it’s time to prepare the new container. Double-check to make sure that it has at least one good-size drainage hole; if it doesn’t, you can always create one with your drill/driver. Some indoor gardeners like to line the bottom of pots with stones or broken pottery to further enhance drainage.
After filling the container halfway with new potting soil, use gardening scissors to clean up the plant and its root ball. Remove any old stems that could slow the plant’s growth, and cut away any dark-looking roots. With your hands, gently break up parts of the root ball to encourage new growth.
Position the plant into its new container so that the top edge of the root ball hits an inch or two below the lip of the pot. Add soil to backfill around the sides of the root ball until the plant can stand upright on its own. You may need to pack the soil, but be very careful not to make the medium too dense.
To help your plant cope with the shock of having been repotted, give it a good soak. Finally, return the plant to its favorite perch, whether it’s the humid environment of your bathroom or the cheerful sun of a bay window.