How to Repot a Houseplant

One of the best ways to revive a weak, tired looking houseplant is to re-pot it. After several years in the same pot, in the same old potting soil, plants will often start looking less than happy. The potting soil has lost most of its nutrients, and probably has a build-up of salts if you've been using synthetic fertilizers. In addition, the plant has most likely also become root-bound, meaning that the roots have grown and filled a good portion of the pot. Two signs of a plant being root-bound are roots growing out of the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot and the plant needing frequent watering. Once you've gotten to this point, it's definitely time to re-pot.

You will need a few supplies:

  • A new pot, no larger than one inch in diameter bigger than the one you're currently using.
  • Fresh potting soil, any brand you like
  • A bucket of lukewarm water
  • A piece of broken flowerpot or small piece of window screen to cover drainage hole

The first step is to pull the plant out of the old pot. It is best to do this when the soil is a little on the dry side, because the plant will be a little more flexible if it's in need of water. If it is very root bound, this could be a bit trick. You may have to use a knife, running it between the root ball and the inner side of the pot to loosen everything. Pull the plant out gently, and swish the root ball around in the bucket of lukewarm water. This will remove the old soil from the roots. Once most of the soil is removed, it is time to get the new pot ready. Place the piece of broken pot or window screen over the drainage hole. This will let water drain through, but will prevent the soil from falling out of the pot. Put a couple of inches of fresh potting soil in the bottom, then place the plant into the pot. Arrange the roots, fanning them out as much as possible so they have plenty of room, and gently add more soil to the pot to fill in around the roots. You will want to make sure there are no air pockets around the roots, so use your fingertips to gently firm the soil down, and occasionally tap the pot down onto the tabletop so the soil will settle. The soil should come up to an inch below the top of the pot so that when you water, the water won't all spill out over the sides.

Once you've got the soil in, give the plant a good watering. Water it once and let the water drain through. Once it's done draining, do it again. This will ensure that your potting soil is perfectly moist. After repotting, it's a good idea to keep the plant out of direct sunlight for a few days while it recuperates.

This simple task will keep your houseplants happy and healthy for years to come.

If the roots of your plant look like this, it's definitely time to repot! Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland/Maryland Cooperative Extension.
If the roots of your plant look like this, it's definitely time to repot! Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland/Maryland Cooperative Extension.

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