Repotting Houseplants

Eventually, most houseplants will need to be repotted into new containers if they are to continue to thrive, and there are many things to consider when doing this.

Eventually, most houseplants will need to be re-potted into new containers if they are to continue to thrive, and Spring is usually the best time to do it. You'll need to know when is the right time to do it, choose the appropriate container, purchase the right potting soil, and transplant without damaging the plant. It seems quite simple, but there are many things to consider when doing this.

Surprisingly, a houseplant is often happy in a pot that seems too small, and few need to be re-potted more frequently than every two or three years. In fact, some will not flower unless they are root-bound. Usually, however, when a plant becomes root-bound, it's time to put it in a container one-third larger. Gently knock out the plant from its pot, and if the roots seem tangled and pushing against the wall of the pot, it's time to give it a new home. If your plants arrived in a group planting, such as a basket, you may need to re-pot sooner because crowded conditions may encourage diseases and pests, and they're often assembled to look attractive without regard to leaving space to grow.

There are many options in houseplant containers. You may choose the typical clay or plastic pots, a ceramic planter, or even a basket with a plastic liner. Whatever you choose, it's best to choose a container with holes for drainage. If the hole is large, place a piece of screen or a shard from a broken clay pot over the hole to keep the soil from falling out. You'll also want a dish or tray underneath the pot to catch any water that may drain through the holes, if the pot didn't already come with one. You can purchase thin plastic trays for this purpose, or use whatever is at hand. For smaller pots, I've cut out the bottom of a 2-liter bottle.

Choosing potting soil can be tricky. Although most commercial potting soils are adequate, some may be too lightweight and hard to water if allowed to dry out. Some are too rich in organic material and encourage fungus and insects. You can mix your own, but most people don't have a large enough collection of plants to make this worthwhile. Purchase the smallest package available to try it out before using it to re-pot in quantity. You may want to put it in a pot by itself and see how the water flows through it first. Potting soils with fertilizer added are also available. If you choose one of these, remember not to add any plant food until the time period stated on the package runs out, usually six months. Different blends are used for different plant species, but the only variation necessary for most plants is a sandier soil for cacti and succulents.

Now that you've decided to re-pot, chosen the container, and gotten the soil ready, actually potting is the easy part. If you're using a clay pot, soak it overnight. Cover drainage holes with a piece of screen or a broken piece of clay pot, and put in a shallow later of potting soil. Water the plant one hour before removing it from the old pot. Turn it over and gently tap the old pot until the plant and root ball slides out. Gently tease out some of the outer roots from the packed root ball, but try not to rip or damage the roots. Put the plant in the new pot, and add soil around it while pushing the new soil down to make it firm, until the soil is level with the base of the stem. Water sparingly and keep the plant in a shadier location than usual for about a week until it's adjusted to its new home, then put it back in its permanent location and treat as normal.

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