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When, How and Why to Move Plants to a Bigger Pot -A quick and easy guide.

Updated on November 26, 2013
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I need to move my plant to larger pot . . . and I fear for its safety!

Ok, that sounds like an exaggeration but it is true that the first time we repot a plant we get nervous because we don’t want to kill our little darling by doing something wrong. Don’t you worry (too much), this is something easy to do!

First thing first: when do you need to repot a plant?

You must do it when the plant is so cramped that it’s roots have no growing space. As a result it is growing slowly, losing leafs and not giving flowers, and when you water, it dries up really quickly.

If you turn your pot upside down, you may even see roots getting out from the drainage.

Or you may have enough space but you want a better looking pot, or maybe you have several plants in one big pot and you want to give away some as a gift, or just grow them on their own.


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Getting prepared:

  • If you live in a place with nice and even warm weather all year long, it doesn’t matter too much when you do this, but if you have extreme winters or very warm summers, the best time to repot is spring.
  • Chose a pot with enough room to keep your plant thriving at least a year (check how deep and wide this type of plant grows) so you don’t have to do this all over again in a few months.
  • That being said, I think it is a clever idea to move your plants to the pot you want them finally and forever, unless that is a very large pot and a hassle to keep until the plant grows into it.


These are pieces of brick at the bottom of the pot to improve drainage.
These are pieces of brick at the bottom of the pot to improve drainage. | Source

On the day before:

  • Check that the new pot or container has good drainage. It must have a good amount of holes on the bottom.
  • If you want, you can put small rocks or pieces of gravel, brick or similar material in the bottom, so that the earth won’t be compact too much and stopper the drainage holes.
  • Use fertile soil. I don’t think it is necessary to add extra fertilizer but the earth should have all the nutrients the plant needs.
  • After you put in the earth, water profusely so it settles and be moist the next day. Check also that the drainage is working.
  • Water your plant the day before repoting. Don’t do it the same day. The earth can get “sticky” and difficult to get out of the pot.

If you notice that it is not coming out, use a flat tool, like a knife or a spatula to loosen the earth on the inner wall of the pot.
If you notice that it is not coming out, use a flat tool, like a knife or a spatula to loosen the earth on the inner wall of the pot. | Source
To remove the plant, you must pull from the stem.
To remove the plant, you must pull from the stem. | Source
 It is a good practice to trim the root ball a little bit.
It is a good practice to trim the root ball a little bit. | Source
Water and keep it in a nice place where it can receive a little sunlight.
Water and keep it in a nice place where it can receive a little sunlight. | Source

Ready, Set, Go!

  1. It´s good to chose a day that is sunny but you can keep your plant in partial shade as well. It is best to do it in the morning or in the afternoon, not at noon.
  2. A cloudy day is also fine (but not a stormy day). Moving your plant to another pot is stressful in itself and we don’t want that it has also to endure heavy sun, an intense raining or hail.
  3. Dig a hole in the new pot. It should be wider and a little deeper than the plant's actual root ball. The earth you remove, will be used on top once the plant is set.
  4. To remove the plant, you must pull from the stem. But before pulling too hard, try with some gentle pulls. If you notice that it is not coming out, use a flat tool, like a knife or a spatula to loosen the earth on the inner wall of the pot. Hand tap a little bit if needed.
  5. When it is finally loose, get the root ball out and carefully place it in the hole you digged in the new pot. The plant should be a little deeper than it was in its former home. Cover it with earth as needed.
  6. Water very well, and check that it is draining correctly.
  7. It is possible that the first hour after repoting, your plant will be looking down and in bad shape. Keep it in a nice place where it can receive a little sunlight. Keep an eye on it and if it doesn’t recover after the first hour water again.


You may have some more doubts depending on a variety of situations:

You have waited too long!

  • You will probably have no problem getting the plant from its pot and after you do this you will find out that a thicket of roots are circling the root ball and has taken the shape of the pot.
  • If this is the case, it is a good practice to trim the root ball a little bit, to recover its natural shape and because it stimulates new root growth. To do it, gently cut or scratch the root ball surface with a knife or similar tool, and remove the outer roots you can release with your hand.
  • Do not overdo it (a good limit is to never take more than 30% of the roots).
  • Keep in mind that there is a “point of no return” and that your plant may not recover if you have waited too long. I hope this is not the case, but if it is do not despair, a lot of new gardeners have done it and have learned from their mistakes to ensure this never happen again.

You are moving a plant from a larger pot to a smaller one

  • You must figure out where the roots probably are and how deep they go and with the help of a tool loosen the earth around the plant.
  • Then, depending on how big and strong your plant is, pull from the stem or use a tool to remove the root ball.

You have several plants together

  • Well, it depends on how close together they are. Their roots can be mingled. If this is the case do the same as above, but may want to give preference to the stronger plant, to ensure that at least one survives.

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Oh no! the earth came off the root ball

  • Don’t panic. It happens sometimes.
  • Set the plant in the new pot right away and cover the roots with soil taking care that the plant is straight up and that the roots are not plastered together. Do this by slowly adding the earth.
  • Water and keep an eye on them.
  • It has happened to me in the past, and those plants survived as well as the others.

You are repoting a large bush, a small tree or a large plant

  • Do not fill the pot to the brim and then dig a hole. Just prepare and add the soil until where you expect the roots to be and after you move the plant just add the extra soil needed to fill the gap and water.

A video by HowdiniGuru showing how to repot a large plant

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Well, that's it!

As I said in the beginning, don't worry too much. You will do fine.

Like riding a bicycle, there is no better way to learn this than just doing it. And just like riding a bike, once you've learnt it you will never forget.

Good luck and have fun!

© 2013 Gabriela Hdez

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    • CandyTale profile image
      Author

      Gabriela Hdez 3 years ago from Valencia, Spain

      DDE,

      I'm glad you liked it.

      Thanx!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      When, How and Why to Move Plants to a Bigger Pot -A quick and easy guide. Great advice about these plants and such a pleasure to learn about plants thank you.

    • CandyTale profile image
      Author

      Gabriela Hdez 4 years ago from Valencia, Spain

      Thanks, I am glad you liked it.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 4 years ago from Tampa Bay

      I love the step by step photos. Nice writing style also! I have a couple of plants begging to move into a larger pot. Thanks for giving me the incentive!