Choosing the Right Time
Before worrying about how to repot your plants, you need to figure out how to choose the best time!
The Wrong Time
So you just brought your new plant home from the nursery. (Or it just arrived in the mail!) It’s time to repot, right? Wrong. Let new plants acclimate to their new environment before repotting. Why?
A newly purchased houseplant has had a string of shocking experiences: it went from a perfectly lit, balmy greenhouse to a dim, air-conditioned home. For plants purchased online, add ‘three or four days in a pitch-black box and fluctuating temperatures’ to the mix. Basically, repotting your houseplant at this point could be the last nail in the coffin. Wait at least 2-3 weeks.
Frequency and Season
Due to the stress that repotting puts on your plant, you should do it as infrequently as possible. There is such a thing as “transplant shock,” and yes, it’s real. What is it?
Transplant shock describes the stress your plant experiences at repotting. Symptoms similar to overwatering can occur. Severe cases can cause extreme declines in a plant’s overall health.
The early Spring-Summer is the ideal season for repotting your plant. Why? Your plant has started growing again. This newfound energy will help your houseplant quickly recover from the shock of repotting and fill its new container with healthy roots.
While you should avoid repotting during the Fall-Winter, sometimes you don’t have many options. Pests, disease, and mold pose a particular threat during dormancy. And, let’s be honest: if your cat knocks over your plant in December, what are you going to do? So, avoid winter repotting if you can but make the best of it if you can’t.
Let’s get one thing straight: Repotting ≠ a bigger container (at least, not all the time).
How can you determine when to repot your plant? All houseplants need to be repotted every 12-18 months. Why? Within that period, your potting mix runs out of nutrients and decomposes.
What’s the problem with that? Decomposed, compacted soil eliminates oxygen that your roots need, eventually suffocating your plant.
Looking to “buy” more time? Peat is to blame for your soil’s short life expectancy. If your plant requires well-draining soil, adding an extra few handfuls of perlite can extend the life of a traditional potting mix by 3-4 months. Just remember, this isn’t a suitable solution for all plants… do your research!
What are some signs that your plant has outgrown its current digs?
- Slow growth during the growing season.
- Small or deformed growth (this can also be a sign of pests, so keep your eyes peeled!).
- Roots are poking out the bottom.
- Roots are growing out of the topsoil.
- Soil dries out more frequently (like within a couple of days).
- A root ball that comes out as a twisted chunk.
Before you get too excited, it’s essential to research your specific type of plant. Like the Fiddle Leaf Fig and Pothos, some houseplants prefer (and actually grow better) when they’re slightly rootbound.
How to Tell What Size Container to Repot Plants In
As noted, do your due diligence! Research what your specific plant prefers. Beyond that, here are some easy guidelines:
Small Plants you can hold one-handed: select a container that is 1 inch larger.
Medium Plants requiring a two-hand hold: choose a pot that is 2 inches larger.
Large Plants that you’d rather not pick up: pick a planter that is 3-4 inches larger.
Understanding Pot Sizes
If you’re looking for a pot that’s “1 inch larger,” what exactly does that mean? A diameter that’s 1 inch bigger (so ½ inch extra space on either side of your plant) and a depth that’s 1 inch deeper.
What’s “proper drainage”? At least one good-sized hole per gallon of soil. For small plants, one hole is plenty. For larger plants, 4-5 holes will be necessary.
Choosing the Right Tools
What do you need to have on-hand before you set out on this repotting adventure?
A Container with Drainage: Decide what your mission is. Are you refreshing the soil or going for an upsized container? Whatever your choice, pick a pot that’s the right size and has good drainage!
Potting Mix & Additives (like perlite, orchid bark, charcoal, etc.): Ensure you have a new bag that’s less than 6 months old. Never use a potting mix from last season: it’s already compacted, nutrient deficient, and maybe hosting pests.
A Watering Can: Opt for one with a shower-head nozzle, so it can remove any debris off your plant’s foliage.
Pair of Gloves: Even if you like the feel of dirt on your hands, read up on your plant species. Plenty of houseplants, like the Tradescantia, are toxic and cause skin irritation. Don’t want itchy hands all afternoon? Wear gloves!
A Plant Havn Potting Mat: If you’re repotting your plant on a patio or indoors, a functional potting mat (like ours!) is a lifesaver. Why? It makes clean-up a breeze. Outdoor gardeners enjoy them too: say goodbye to that random dirt pile in the middle of your yard!
How to Repot Plants in 10 Easy Steps
You’ve finally made it: you’re ready to learn how to repot plants!
Step One: Thoroughly water your plant the night before. Why? This will make the roots supple, allowing the soil to fall away, and minimizing transplant shock.
Step Two: Gather your supplies, choose your location, and set up your potting mat. Remember, keeping the sides snapped will ensure all the dirt stays in!
Step Three: Gently place your plant (pot and all) horizontally on the mat. Lightly tap the pot on the ground until the soil releases. For stubborn rootbound plants, move your hand around the pot’s edges, manually releasing the roots.
Step Four: Remove the depleted soil from the rootball. How? Imagine getting your hair washed at the salon: firmly but gently massage the rootball with slow motions.
Step Five: A mid-way tidy-up. Either push the exhausted soil to one side of the potting mat or (if you had a sizable plant!) dispose of the soil. Take this opportunity to mix in any additives into your new potting mix, like extra perlite.
Step Six: Take an honest evaluation of the roots. Remember, if the roots don’t live up to your oversized expectations, there’s no shame in placing your plant back in its original container!
Step Seven: Start with a layer of soil at the bottom of the container and then center your plant. Your houseplant must be at the same depth as it was initially. In other words: never put it deeper into a pot, covering more of its stem. So, keep building up this bottom layer until your plant is at the appropriate height.
Step Eight: Fill in the sides with soil. Once you reach the top, gently pat the soil’s surface, so your plant stands upright.
Step Nine: Water your plant thoroughly. See bubbles popping in the soil? That’s a sign you need to continue watering! The soil is filling in the gaps between the roots. If you’ve used the proper soil, you cannot overwater your plant in one sitting, so don’t feel anxious.
Step Ten: Clean off your utensils and potting mat, sit back, and enjoy your plant!
- What’s the right time to repot plants? The early Spring-Summer, 12-18 months since your last repotting.
- What are the right tools? The obvious: a pot, a plant, potting mix, and watering can. The not-always-so-obvious but essential: a functional potting mat and gloves.
- How do you repot plants? In a nutshell: (1) Water the night before. (2) Gather supplies. (3) Remove your plant. (4) Remove old soil. (5) Tidy up. (6) Evaluate the roots. (7) Layer the bottom soil. (8) Fill in the sides. (9) Thoroughly water. (10) Final cleanup.
Here at Plant Havn, we wish you “Happy (Mess-Free) Repotting!”