How to Repot Your Houseplants

By Ophi Hodgman

As spring approaches, all of us plant parents are anticipating what is ahead within this beautiful season - the Earth is waking up, the snow is melting and our houseplants are coming out of hibernation! When our houseplants are waking up, that means there is going to be a slew of plant chores to do.

One of the most basic but important aspects of spring houseplant care is repotting! During the wintertime, we may not see a lot of leaf growth on our plants, but their root systems are always active and growing.

If you are looking to learn more about the specifics of repotting, read ahead for Estabrook's Ultimate Guide to Repotting Houseplants!

When Do I Repot My Houseplant?

The primary time to repot your houseplants is at the beginning to mid-spring, but if your plants are actively putting out new growth year-round, here are some things to look for:

  • If the plant is looking too big for its pot, or the top of the plant is too heavy to keep the pot balanced on a flat surface
  • Roots are growing outside of the pot (through the drainage hole or on the surface soil)
  • The soil is drying out too quickly for the plant, or the water is running out the bottom of the pot too quickly for the plant to get a drink
  • The surface soil appears depleted or calcified
  • The foliage is overall discolored or not looking as healthy or lush

Above all else, use your intuition. If you are not noticing any clear signs of your plant needing a repot, take it out of the pot and give the roots a look. Oftentimes, the problem lies below the surface. The roots of your plant will tell you everything you need to know. Keep an eye out for roots growing in circles around the pot, browning roots, mushiness, or dead and dry roots that may need a snip.

Pot Size

It is often said that a plant will grow to the size of the pot it is planted in, but did you know that this is a myth? Planting our indoor houseplants into a pot that is too large risks stressing out the root system, which can cause many harmful physiological changes, such as root rot, leaf melting, or loss, and worse - it could kill the plant altogether.

Depending on how prolific your plant's root system is, the best thing to do is to only go up an inch or two in diameter. A good rule is to be able to fit the width of your index finger on all sides of the pot when placing the old pot inside of the new. If this is the case, you are ready to repot your plant!

What Do I Need?

When you are getting ready to repot your houseplant, you will need a few things in order to get the job done:

  • New soil that is appropriate for the type of plant you are repotting
  • A pot that is 1-2 inches larger than the pot you are repotting from
  • A flat surface
  • A place to dispose of or repurpose the old soil. (Avoid reusing old houseplant soils if your plant experienced rot of any kind. This can harm and even infect any plants you decide to plant in the same medium. The outdoors is a great place to dispose of your old soils!)
  • Gloves (unless you enjoy getting your hands dirty!)
How to Repot Your Houseplant

Follow these steps to repot your houseplant.

  1. When you are ready to up-pot your houseplant, the first thing you want to do is loosen the roots. If you are taking the plant out of a plastic nursery pot, you can do this by lightly squeezing all sides of the pot. If you are repotting from terracotta or a ceramic planter, use a utensil to carefully separate the roots from the interior walls. Plant roots will often cement themselves to porous surfaces, so be very gentle! If you are nervous about this part of the process, water your plant 1-2 days prior to removing the plant from its planter.
  2. Once the plant is loose within the pot, carefully grip the plant at its base and slowly pull it out. You may have to move the root ball in circular motions within the pot to fully release it from the inside of the pot. If you are indoors, be sure to have a bin or newspaper laid out to catch any debris.
  3. Now that you have your plant in hand, ask yourself what kind of roots you are looking at. If you are seeing a lot of tight roots with very little soil, avoid any heavy loosening. This could cause breakage and shock to the plant. Oftentimes, the root system will work itself out when given more soil to grow in.
  4. In most cases, you can pat the sides to shake some of the soil free. Some intermediate plant parents will go as far as removing all remnants of old soil, so they are able to rinse or wash the roots of any potential lingering pests or place them into a soilless growing medium. This is a part of the plant craft that is based on preference, so do what feels right for you and your plant.
  5. Before placing your plant into its new reservoir, place enough soil at the bottom of the pot so all of the foliage is visible over the rim of your planter. Fill the rest of the pot with your soil medium of choice. Be sure to leave about 1-2 inches of space from the surface of the soil to the rim of the pot in order to have space for watering.
  6. Sprinkle Osmocote granular fertilizer to the top layer of the soil for an easy way to feed your plants!