How to Repot Your Plant 101

Thursday January 27, 2022
Repotting Plants
Is your plant staring to outgrow its pot? Did you get a new plant as a gift and are wondering when to repot? Read on for tips on repotting and answers to your most popular questions.

Why should I repot my plant?

Repotting your plant does two important things: it gives the plant’s roots more room to grow, and it provides the plant with fresh soil full of nutrients that it needs to grow and thrive. If a plant is not repotted it can become “root-bound,” meaning that the roots have overgrown the pot, creating a dense root ball that can stress the plant and prevent it from getting the air, water, and nutrients it needs.

I just got a new plant, should I repot it?

If your plant recently came from the store or nursery, most of the time you should leave it alone. Moving a plant between different environments can cause shock or stress that you don’t want to exacerbate by repotting without acclimating your plant to its new environment first. The exception would be if a plant has become infected with a disease or plant pest, which can sometimes happen when plants are grown/stored outside or come in contact with infected plants from other growers at the store or garden centre. A quick check inside the pot and on and underneath the foliage for damage can tell you if your plant may need some TLC. 

How often should I repot my plant?

Most houseplants only require repotting abut once per year (12-18 months). Larger plants that have reached maturity or that are slow growers can go two years or more without repotting. Keep in mind that there are a few kinds of plants that actually thrive when root-bound, such as sansevierias, aloes, spider plants, jade, peace lilies, boston ferns, or ficus. These particular plants prefer to be root-bound in order to bloom and/or produce off-shoots. Being root-bound for these particular plants signals to the plant that the environment could be threatening, causing it to concentrate its energy into making sure that there is a next generation to survive. Even in these instances, if you want your plant to grow larger you will still need to repot it every few years.

How do I know when my plant is ready to repot?

If your plant is not one of the types that prefers to be root-bound and you’re not sure when it was last repotted, you can check for visual cues that it’s time to repot. Some visual signs that your plant is ready to be repotted are: the plant has grown significantly; the roots appear tightly packed or can be seen coming out of the drainage holes of the grower pot; water does not absorb easily in the soil; or the soil dries out quickly and has pulled away from the sides of the pot.

When should I repot my plant?

Ideally, the best time to repot your plant is at the beginning of its growing season before it sends out any blooms. For most plants, this is usually early spring when the plant is coming out of its dormancy. Repotting at the beginning of the growing season ensures your plant has plenty of room and fresh nutrients when it needs them the most.

What size of pot should I use?

When repotting your plant, choose a pot or planter that is slightly larger than the post the plant is already in (about 1” or 2” inches larger in diameter). Be aware that smaller pots can dry out more quickly than larger pots because larger pots have more soil media that retains moisture. So be careful not to overwater your plant when you move it to its larger home. 

What kind of pot should I use?

Almost any container that retains water can be made into a planter. Keep in mind that if you’re using a wicker, jute, paper or fabric container you will need a liner that will help prevent water escaping through the sides before it gets to the roots. A liner is also recommended for non-galvanized metal containers because they will rust over time. Terra cotta or clay pots are a popular choice because they slowly wick away excess moisture, but glass, cement, or glazed pottery are all popular choices. 

Do I need a pot with drainage holes?

If you water your plant in its decorative pot, be aware that switching to a pot with drainage holes will cause water to leak out the bottom. This is a good thing for the plant, but not for your furniture. Placing a saucer underneath can help protect your space from any potential water damage. We grow our plants in recyclable grower pots that have holes for aeration and drainage at the bottom. These holes help air get to the roots and help let excess water escape, which is important to help prevent “root rot” (one of the most common houseplant killers). 

Should I put rocks in the bottom of my pot?

Horticultural grade rocks like lava rocks are sometimes used because their porous nature makes them better at draining moisture, but generally speaking it’s better to choose a pot with a drainage hole than to use rocks, because using a gravel base can increase the water saturation levels that cause root rot. To keep potting soil from falling through the pot’s drainage hole, place a piece of paper towel, a coffee filter, or cheesecloth over the drainage hole. This will keep the potting soil inside the pot but still allows water to drain efficiently.

What kind of soil should I use to repot my plant?

Different types of plants require different types of soil. There are different kinds of potting mixes you can buy commercially or make yourself, depending on what your specific plant needs. For indoor plants, look for bags that say, “potting mix” as opposed to “potting soil.” Certain plants like succulents and cacti prefer a sandier soil mix that is well-draining. Soil out of your yard or garden is not recommended for houseplants because it is often less nutrient dense and can contain insects, weed seeds, or even plant diseases. 
Most commercially available potting mixes contain a mixture of several ingredients. These include soilless mediums like peat, coconut husk (coir), vermiculite or perlite that can help retain moisture and/or promote aeration. Fertilizer or organic matter like compost or manure are often added to help provide nutrients. 
If you’re not sure what kind of soil is best for your particular plant, we recommend that you dig through our care pages for more specific information, but in a pinch most commercially available potting mixes will suffice.

Does soil pH matter?

If you’re picky about your plants or are plant parent of a ‘diva’, you may want to pay special attention to your soil pH. Soil pH is a measurement of how acidic or how alkaline your soil is on a scale from 0 to 14 (0 being more acidic, 14 being more alkaline). Having balanced soil pH is important because it can affect how well your plant absorbs nutrients. Houseplants generally prefer soil that is slightly acidic to neutral range (6.0 to 7.0 pH). A soil test kit or pH meter can help provide a more accurate readout, but you can help keep your soil pH balanced by being careful about what compounds or fertilizers you add to the soil.

How do I repot my plant? 

  1. Gather the tools you will need: You will need your plant, a pot that is only slightly larger than your existing pot (preferably with at least one drainage hole underneath), fresh potting mix, and possibly a trowel and/or a sharp, sterile blade to help remove the plant from its existing pot. Depending on the kind of plant (eg: a tropical foliage plant) you may want to water your plant well a few days before replanting. 
  2. Remove the plant from its current pot: Holding the plant sideways gently by the base of the stem, slowly and gently loosen the plant from its pot, trying not to damage the roots. If the plant is stuck, you may need to tap the bottom of the pot to loosen it. If the roots have outgrown the holes of the grower pot and are too large to remove, you may need to cut the grower pot to free them. You can cut the roots if it’s the only way to free the plant from the pot if it’s extremely root-bound, but be advised that losing root material will slow the recovery time and growth of the plant. 
  3. Tease and inspect the roots: once your plant is free, check the roots for signs of damage. If the roots are tightly wound together, try to loosen them as best you can. You may choose to trim some of the roots if they are very long and thin or appear to be mushy or rotten, but try to conserve as much plant material as possible. Keep about two thirds of the old potting mix. 
  4. Get ready to replant: Place a piece of paper towel, a coffee filter, or cheesecloth over the drainage hole. Fill the bottom of the new container with fresh potting mix and pack it down lightly (no more than one third of the pot). 
  5. Add your plant: Centre your plant in its new pot on top of the new potting mix. Add more fresh potting mix to fill in the space around the sides. Leave some space between the potting mix and the top of the pot, so there’s room for water and for the plant to grow. 
  6. Add water: Foliage plants can be watered shortly after repotting. If you are repotting a succulent, however, wait a few days to a week before watering to allow the roots to heal and callous over. After replanting you won’t need to fertilize your plant for at least 4 to 6 weeks until your plants have acclimated. 

What can I do to relieve plant stress after repotting?

Like other living things, plants can get stressed out when moved to a different environment. Signs of stress after repotting including dropping or yellowing leaves, or wilting.
Plants are particularly susceptible to stress if they are repotted later in the growing season or when they’re ready to produce blooms, so it’s better to repot in the early spring before they start putting out new growth. 
Happy planting!