Gardening Tips

How to Repot House Plants

Does it seem like your houseplants look "sick and tired"? Sooner or later, your houseplant will surely come the day when it has outgrown its starter pot. The roots will be tangled. It is especially wise to check in on your potted plants at winter's end when the promise of vernal sun brings on hardy growth spurts, and your ready-to-burst houseplant begs for roomier real estate.

When to Repot

Over time, your plants' soil loses essential nutrients and the ability to hold water. While the soil is depleting, the plant’s' roots continue to grow, taking up more and more space in the pot. Soon, the plant becomes "root-bound" (or "pot-bound.") This combination of factors inevitably leads to a sick plant.

Here are a few telltale signs it's time to repot:

  • The plant is "root-bound" (roots wind around inside of pot or poke out drainage holes).
  • The plant is deformed or top-heavy.
  • You notice the appearance of brown, unhealthy roots at the bottom of the root ball.
  • The bottom leaves turn yellow and drop off or leaves are pale and dull.
  • The plant wilts between normal watering.
  • Water drains quickly through the soil.

Helpful Tips:

For best results, repot once a year or so when plants are between flowering cycles, usually in early spring or early fall. When selecting potting soil, choose a mix that specifically identifies what it's made of. Avoid bags that just say "peat" or "compost". Instead, look for potting soil with specific ingredients, like "Sphagnum Peat Moss". This potting soil will be higher quality and better for your plant.

Step 1. Choose the Right Pot

Select a pot or container with a drain hole one or two sizes larger than the old pot. When choosing a new pot, pick a pot with a diameter that's only an inch or two wider than the original. A pot that's too large can lead to over-watering.

If the new pot has been used previously, use anti-bacterial soap to kill any potentially harmful organisms left in the pot. Clay pots need to be soaked overnight and then scrubbed to remove the white fertilizer salts around the insides.

For African violets, there is a type of pot designed just for them. The two-part ceramic African violet pot functions to make sure that your violets will be easily taken care of. The bottom part holds water, the top part holds the soil and your African violet.

Step 2. Remove the Plant from the Old Pot

Take the plant out of its old pot. If the plant is kept outdoors, now is a good time to check for slugs. If the roots are tightly wound, gently slice the sides of the root ball in two or three places.

Step 3. Fill New Pot with Soil

Fill one-third of the new pot with potting soil and insert the plant stem or root ball. Fill in around the sides of the root ball with more potting soil, pressing lightly. The plant should be at the same soil level as it was originally growing, and there should be a 1/2'' – 1'' space from the top of the mix to the lip of the pot.

Step 4. Water, Feed and Prune

Water the plant, thoroughly soaking the potting mix. Then allow it to drain. To ensure that your plants grow healthy and strong, feed them immediately after repotting and on a regular basis. Use a liquid plant food such as Miracle-Gro® Liquid All-Purpose Plant Food. Use sharp scissors to cut away browned and dead stems and tips. Let the plant rest a few days in semi-light to recover.

Repotting will not necessarily bring an unhealthy plant back to life – plants with damaged roots, fertilizer build-up, diseases or sunburned leaves may never bounce back to a healthy, leafy green. Furthermore, repotting a sickly plant may cause more stress and possibly kill it. It is best to throw out visibly unhealthy plants and replace them with healthy ones.

Repotting Large Plants

Repotting a large house plant can be as easy as repotting a small one, if you take it a step at a time. Here we tell you how to tackle the job successfully. Large house plants need repotting for the same reasons as smaller ones: to replace worn-out potting mixture with a fresh one, and to provide more room for roots. If your house plant is already in the largest convenient pot, you should still refresh the potting mixture regularly.

Have handy plenty of suitable potting mixture— more than you think you need, just in case —and a trowel. Other useful items include newspaper; a dustpan and brush; a large, sharp knife; a bamboo cane and sturdy twine.

What size pot?

Most people find a 25-30cm (10-12 inches) pot the largest size they can easily deal with, although bigger pots and planters are sold. If you have room for a larger pot, and your plant is pot-bound, use a pot 2.5-5cm (1-2 inches) larger than the present one.

Some house plants can grow huge if given larger and larger pots, and you may not want an enormous specimen. Sometimes a plant has been in its potting mixture for a long time and has not grown, in spite of being fed.

Getting Started

  • Spring is the best time to repot. You can repot at other times, but avoid repotting a plant in bud or flower. Water the plant 24 hours before repotting – not too much, or the mixture will be too messy!
  • Tie up any floppy growth loosely with twine, to reduce bulk and prevent damage. Carefully lay the pot on its side on a large table or on the floor. If the plant has a thick, single stem, a firm but gentle pull should loosen the rootball. If the pot has a large drainage hole, push from below at the same time, using a bamboo cane through the hole. Try sliding a long knife round the outer edge of the rootball, to free stubborn roots clinging to the sides. As a last resort, smash a clay pot with a hammer, or cut
  • If your plant has floppy, wide-spreading stems or leaves, tie them loosely together before starting, to reduce bulk and prevent damage.
  • Use a firm but gentle tug to remove plants with tough, single stems from their pots. A second pair of hands makes the job easier!
  • To loosen stubborn roots clinging to the insides of the pot, run a long, sharp kitchen knife round the outer edge of the rootball.
  • Use a trowel or scoop to fill the space between the rootball and the edge of the pot. Tamp down the compost gently to make sure you fill any air a plastic pot, using strong snippers.


Once the plant is out of its pot, use the same techniques for teasing out the old compost, filling the pot, firming the compost, watering to settle and re-staking. If using a larger pot, make sure the plant is centred in the pot and upright, and that it is at the same level in the new pot as it was in the old one. If it is too low in the pot, you may need to add a layer of compost in the bottom first.

All newly repotted house plants need time to recover from the shock. Water sparingly for the first 2 weeks after repotting. When repotting your plant, be sure to firm the potting mixture, but your plant’s roots maybe brittle, so be careful not to damage any.

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