Do you plan on doing any repotting in the next couple of months? Gardening is new for lots of you, so maybe you’re not sure where to start, what to buy or how to do it. Repotting plants is like second nature to me since I have been gardening for so long now.
In the first place, repotting means moving a plant from one pot to another. Here are the things I know and more importantly, what has been proven to work for me in the past. We begin at the beginning no matter what we are doing—walking, reading, writing, or driving.
What is the right time to repot?
Summer and spring are the best times to plant. In climates where winters are mild, fall is fine too. In winter, plants rest so I let mine rest (both indoors and outdoors).
How Often to Repot
You will likely need to repot plants every couple of years, so make sure to research them before buying them. For instance, succulents and bromeliads grow better tight.
Check out the “Reasons to Repot” below. It should give you an idea as to what factors come into play when deciding whether your plant needs it.
When the weather warms in Tucson, AZ & my house plants come to life, they grow like crazy. I repot some every 2 years, and others will not need it for 5-7 years. Succulents and smaller cacti do not have an extensive root system, so they don’t need repotting often.
If your houseplant doesn’t grow very much (ie it’s a houseplant in low light), you won’t need to repot it very often.
Whether a shrub, tree or perennial will thrive in a large or small pot depends on the type of plant, the pot size and the environment in which it’s grown in. Plants that have too crowded root balls (the roots will wrap around themselves) and don’t have room to spread out will eventually show signs of stress.
What Size Pot
When repotting plants, I generally go up one pot size. For instance, if the plant is in a 6′′ grow pot then I go up to an 8′′ grow pot.
There are special circumstances, like annuals that only grow for a season or two, can be housed either in a big pot or in a small pot. Succulents are very tolerant of crowded pots since their roots are so small.
A word of warning if you do this: I recently repotted my Rubber Plants into much bigger pots. This gave them plenty of room to grow. If this much excess soil is present, house plants can be prone to overwatering; ie, they stay too wet. I’m especially careful to water only the root ball area until the plants & roots develop substantial growth.
In most cases, both indoor plants as well as landscape plants come in plastic pots. If I’m directly planting into a decorative container like I did with my Ponytail Palm, Aeonium, succulents & cacti garden, I use this terra cotta. Terra cotta is also good for directly planting.
For my houseplants, I use most of the plastic grow pots below (a few are directly planted in clay pots), and for my outdoor plantings, I use a mixture of the pots below.
Resin, fiberglass, ceramic, terracotta, and concrete pots are also available.
2 Things You Need to Know: Most plants have large &/or many drainage holes. I cover them with a piece of newspaper or a paper bag to keep the soil mix from draining out.
Planting the right kind of soil mixture depends on the type of plant you are. Some plants need & thrive in specific types of mixes.
Cacti and succulents do best in a mix like this. Here’s a DIY for making your own succulent & cacti mix.
Generally, houseplants do fine in good organic potting soil with extra pumice or perlite added in to prevent overwatering. I just bought these clay pebbles & will try them when repotting my larger dracaenas.
In potting soil, annuals, perennials & shrubs thrive as well.
A good acid mix such as this is best for plants that thrive in acidic soils.
For more details on repotting, you can look at the Repotting category on this site including soil preferences. The other categories will tell you more about specific plant needs such as orchids, bromeliads, perennials, shrubs, houseplants, etc.
HOW TO GET THE PLANT OUT OF THE POT
It’s been a bear getting some plants out of their pots, and some just glide right out. I’ve used the following methods:
When exterior plants are in pots, I have had to push down with my foot on the pots in order to loosen & pull them out.
Then run the knife along the edge of the pot. It may be necessary to squeeze the pot as well.
Several times I have cut or broken plastic pots of the type used for growing plants. Ceramic or terracotta pots are usually broken as the last resort.
Note: It may be necessary to cut some roots coming out of the bottom of the pot in order to pull the rootball out.
REPOTTING PLANTS: HOW TO DO IT
It is important to water the plant 2-4 days in advance. You don’t want to repot it when it is soggy, and being too dry will cause it stress.
Remove the plant from the pot.
The roots should be loosen up if the rootball seems a little tight. This is usually how I treat houseplants. In root-bound plants (especially those with tough roots or those that have been in their containers for too long), I shave the bottom roots off and score the sides of the rootball. Read about planting and repotting bougainvilleas if this doesn’t work for you. Annual plants have a crowded root system.
This is the time to knock off any soil in the rootball that you don’t want to transfer into the new pot; especially old, infested, or overwatered.
Put in enough mix so that the rootball’s top is level with or just below the top of the pot. Except for succulents, I water the mix if it is extremely dry while going through this process. Some succulents are very heavy so I leave the root ball no lower than 1/2′′ – 1′′ above the top because their weight will eventually pull them down in the light mix.
Add more mix around the rootball up to the top of the pot. In most cases, the plant needs to be up & down & in the middle of the pot. My care and repotting/planting posts discuss the use of compost & worm compost, whether you’re repotting indoors or outdoors.
Generally speaking, water the soil mix thoroughly after repotting, with the exception of succulents & cacti, which I let dry for 2-7 days (depending on the type of succulent) before watering.
Plant roots shouldn’t be planted too deeply beneath the surface of the soil (except for one like a Cosmos which doesn’t mind being planted deep). This is one way roots breathe.
HOW TO REPOT A LARGE PLANT
Repotting some large plants isn’t difficult & some are a challenge. I sometimes need to have someone help me out with it, especially if the plant is heavy.
I agree that having someone hold the plant steady & hold the pot still makes a difference. Landscape plants can become quite heavy, especially when they get bigger. You may need to use a shovel and/or pruning saw to separate the roots from the pot.
Repotting my large Ponytail Palm required that I secure the long leaves at the trunks so they wouldn’t get in my way. You can see the process in the video. This made it easier to use the drench diggers shovel to loosen the rootball.
My Dracaena Lisa will be transplanted in about a month. It is about 7′ tall & has 4 canes. It’s in a 10′′ pot, and isn’t too heavy. I’ll most likely wrap the lower growth in a sheet or tie it up somehow so it doesn’t get in the way or break leaves.
Reasons for Repotting Plants
There are several reasons for repotting and these can help you determine when it’s time to repot.
We’ll start with the obvious. There are roots growing from below the surface of the pot. When there are more than a few of them, it’s time for repotting. You may also see the rootball pulling away from the sides of the pot. Most plants require room for their roots to grow.
Having been in the pot for a while, the soil mix is a bit old, so it needs to be refreshed. We’ve done this several times: remove the plant, shake or “knead” off the old mix, fill with new mix, and water.
The root is mesurably exposed at the top. If the soil is only down 1/2 – 1′′, then top dress with fresh soil. One exception would be phalaenopsis orchids, which grow with their top roots exposed.
A plant that has been overwatered might require new soil to fully dry out. It may recover some of the time, and may not.
This doesn’t happen very often (except in my experience with Snake Plants & Cast Iron Plants), but roots have cracked the pot.
Plant them directly in a decorative container like succulents or snake plants. I do this with my exterior plants as well as a few of my indoor plants like succulents or snake plants.
You have a problem with the soil getting infested & can’t get it under control. You might need to do this for root mealybugs or ants.
My Money Tree fell out of its pot (the roots were weak when I bought it) & I had to repotted. It is slowly recovering.
Plant is heavy and needs a larger base. The Phildendron congo will not stand upright on its own because the weight of the leaves and stems is causing it to tip.
My Monstera plant that you saw in the photograph towards the beginning & the video is out of proportion with the pot. The pot is too small & the plant is growing too fast.
You want to move the plant from a pot with no drainage hole to one with drain holes, so I will repot my succulent Hatiora after it finishes flowering.
In small pots, succulents and plants with smaller root systems are fine. Most other plants in small pots require frequent watering, which may not be your thing.
I got my variegated jade a couple of weeks ago and the root ball is sticking up by two inches & the soil looks punky & moldy.
Big growers often use the same mix of soil for all their plants. You may have gathered by now that some plants require a soil more conducive to their needs & the mix they’re currently in is not the best for their optimum growth.
A repotting will help the plant grow straighter.
Do your research & don’t rush to repot if some plants like to grow a bit enclosed in their pots so don’t rush to repot before you are ready.
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