How to repot a plant
In the wild, plants are always receiving natural fertilizer like fallen leaves, bugs, and other organic matter. They depend on this in order to nourish themselves and grow.
This means that your potted plants will likewise need you to provide them with fresh, nutritious soil. To do this, you will need to repot them regularly. So, when should you repot your plants? And how can you do it properly?
Below, we will cover:
- How Often to Repot Plants
- When to Repot Plants
- The Kind of Soil
- The Size of the New Pot
- Repotting Techniques
- Advice for Popular Types of Plants
- Common Issues with Repotting
How Often to Repot Plants
How often to repot a plant depends partly on the type of plant. Is it a fast-growing pothos or a slow-growing aloe vera? Fast-growing plants can use repotting as much as once a year. Slow-growing plants, on the other hand, may not require repotting for 2-3 years, and the slowest growers can go without repotting for 4-5 years (although they may need a partial refresh of soil every couple of years or so).
Most plants appreciate a repot every 1-2 years, and no longer. This gives them room to stretch their roots out, so the foliage can grow, as well as replenishes nutrient-sapped soil.
That being said, when it comes to how often to repot, time is not the only factor. There are other things that can make repotting necessary, and the most common are:
- Foliage bursting out of the pot (overgrown). If the foliage of the plant is no longer fitting into its pot, it’s a safe bet that the roots aren’t, either. This means it’s time for a newer and bigger pot altogether.
- Roots outgrowing the pot. You will be able to tell that a plant’s roots have filled a pot when the soil level drops, and the plant begins to grow in a tight, hungry cluster. They will need more room as soon as possible.
- Offsets crowding the pot. Some plants drop offsets, which will ultimately need their own little pots in which to grow.
- Root rot. When a plant develops root rot, the only way to potentially save it is to get rid of the rotten portions of the plant and wash it in fungicide, and then repot it in fresh, clean soil.
When to Repot Plants
Plants should be repotted right before their growing season, as this is when they are naturally preparing to regrow. They will be able to bounce back and make themselves at home in their new pots much faster.
The growing season for most plants is in the early spring or late winter. There are exceptions, like the poinsettia, or the Thanksgiving cactus, which are the opposite - dormant in the spring-summer and active in the autumn-winter.
The Kind of Soil
Different plants prefer different types of soil, but a good general rule is that you will always want relatively well-draining soil. Even the most water-loving plants can develop root rot if they’re allowed to soak (a dreaded, often fatal fungal disease).
Well-draining soil can go a long way to reducing this danger.
Some plants - like the African Violet - need peat in their soil, so it will still retain a little bit of water. Others - like cacti - prefer sand, perlite, and even gravel, which serve to keep the soil much drier.
The Size of the New Pot
When repotting a plant, the size of the new pot is something that you’ll need to consider. The plant should be cozy, yet have a bit of room to grow, which means that no more than an additional inch of space is called for.
Avoid overly large pots, as they can cause root rot to become a risk by holding onto excessive water.
When repotting a plant, you don’t just want to dump it out of its pot and pop it into the nearest container. Plants are delicate, and a transplant is a kind of surgery for them - you’ll want to make it as easy as possible for them to recover.
- Gently remove the plant from its pot. Never tug a plant out of its pot by the leaf or stalk, as these will easily break. Instead, carefully coax the plant and its entire root system out (which will hold onto a bit of soil). If the plant is really stuck, you may find it necessary to dig around the edge with a spoon or garden shovel.
- Loosen the roots. Next, gently un-clump and stretch out the roots a bit, so they will have more freedom for maneuverability and can reform themselves to the new pot faster.
- Prune the roots. Just as pruning the leaves of most plants will stimulate them to grow, cutting off the tips of several of the roots can do the same!
- Replant back in the same pot, or in a new container. How do you decide whether to place your plant back in the same pot, or a new one? Well, ask yourself: does your plant appear to need additional space? Or just a refresh in its soil? There’s your answer!
Advice for Popular Types of Plants
You can refresh a succulent’s soil every 1-2 years or so. Succulents are usually slow-growers, and yours probably won’t need to graduate to a new pot for roughly 3-5 years. These cactus-like plants should have especially well-draining potting soil mixed with sand, perlite, or gravel.
Cactus roots do not expand very quickly, so you can generally wait 2-3 years to repot them; you will know it’s time to repot your cactus right away if the roots have begun to stick out the drainage holes on the bottom (holes every plant pot should have).
Like succulents, cacti require an exceptionally well-draining soil mix!
Ferns will need to be moved up a pot size every 2, maybe 3 years, max! You wouldn’t want them to become rootbound as they grow. Refresh the soil as much as once a year.
Common Issues With Repotting
Using the Wrong Soil
It’s an innocent enough mistake to think that, for any plant, you can use yard dirt or a universal potting soil. Actually, plants are pretty picky about their soil. If the soil is too dry, the plant will dry, and if the soil drains poorly, and the plant is allowed to soak, it will develop root rot (the latter being more common).
Adding Fertilizer Too Soon
When you repot a plant, it experiences tears in its root system that can be burned by fertilizer. Before fertilizing a repotted plant, you will want to give it at least 1 month for its roots to recover.
Exposing to Direct Sunlight Too Quickly
When freshly repotted, plants go into shock and become temporarily weaker. They should be protected from direct sunlight for at least a couple of weeks, as during this time, they will burn or scald much easier.