Keep your indoor greenery happy and healthy in new or refreshed pots.
Woman repotting plant in terracotta planter
Credit: Tom Merton/Getty

Like children who outgrow their clothes, there comes a time in many houseplants' lives when they outgrow their pots. Transplanting them into larger pots will help them grow better, bigger, and stronger. But growth isn't the only reason to repot: You may have a plant that looks a little sickly and in need of a nutrient boost, which it'll get when you add new soil to its current container. Before you attempt any repotting, be sure to make note of the following tips.

Signs That It's Time to Repot

Plants are not subtle when it comes to signaling they need a bigger or better place to live. They may start to look straggly, their leaves may turn yellow, they stop growing, and the roots begin poking out of the pot's drainage holes or wrap around themselves taking up half the pot. Another sign: Instead of the soil soaking up water, the water immediately pours out of the container's bottom or sits on top of the soil.

The Best Time to Repot

If you (and the plant) can wait until the spring to repot, then hold off. This is the period when the plants are getting ready to grow or are actively growing, so repotting can facilitate that. If a plant is in the midst of flowering, though, it's best to wait until it finishes before you repot, the experts at the New York Botanical Garden say.

Gather the Right Tools

All you need are a few basic things: a new pot that's two inches wider and has drainage holes, potting mix (never use garden soil, which is too dense), a trowel, scissors, and gloves.

The Transplanting Process

A few days before repotting, give the plant a good watering; this will help the root ball and soil slide out more easily and prevent the plant from getting dehydrated and going into shock. With one hand gently holding the main stem, use your other hand to carefully turn the plant upside down, and it should pop right out. If it isn't budging, use a butter knife around the sides to loosen the plant from the container. Gently tap a side of the pot on a countertop or table and the plant should slide out. This is also the time to inspect the roots-if they're tightly coiled, loosen them with your fingers; if any are dead, cut them. Set the plant aside. Next, pour some potting soil into the new pot, making sure to cover the drainage holes well. Place the plant in the new pot, adding soil so the plant is centered and upright. Water the plant lightly to help keep the soil moist.

How to Repot If the Plant Is Large and Unwieldy

Instead of putting it in a new pot, refresh the soil in its current home. Use a spoon and remove the top layer of soil (about one to two inches) and replace it with fresh soil.

A Too-Large Pot Can Foster Root Rot

The NYBG recommends upgrading to a pot that's one to two inches larger than the current size. Plants like to be snug in a pot, and if there's too much space, the soil will stay damp for too long, potentially causing the roots to rot and kill the plant.

Old Pots Need to Be Cleaned Before Reusing

Cleaning them will remove any fertilizer salts and diseases the pot may be harboring. The NYBG suggests soaking pots in one part bleach to nine parts water for 15 to 30 minutes then using a scrub brush and rinsing well.


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