Repotting 101

Written by Natalie Anstey

Picture the scene: the sad, tiny houseplant that your mom said would never survive the winter is thriving. More than thriving in fact - it is bursting with roots from the top and bottom and is in desperate need of a bigger pot to live in.

You’re amazed, if secretly a little shocked. Your mom is openly shocked. You need to repot but repotting sounds scary. - Well don’t worry - Flora is here with a how to guide to help move and rehome your houseplant buddies! 

 In This Article:

Why Should I Repot? 

A healthy plant that is potted up usually needs to be repotted every two to three years unless it is showing signs before (we will come to that shortly).

The reason for this, is that as opposed to a plant in the ground, your potted plant has to take its nutrients from the same source which after a while depletes leaving a rather poor soil.

This poor soil will not provide the nutrients your houseplant needs and then you may have a rather sad looking plant on your hands.

 Let's say your plant needs repotting before this…how would you know it is time to repot?

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Don’t repot plants too often; if your plant is happy and it’s not been long since you’ve last repotted it then leave it - house moves are stressful and it's no different for a plant! 

How Do I Know When To Repot? 

01. Signs of Congestion - Probably the most obvious sign that your plant needs repotting! 
Check the bottom of the pot to see if roots are poking out of the drainage holes, or in the case of more congested pots, check if roots are even poking out of the top.

It’s worth mentioning that many houseplants like to fit snugly in their pot so it is really the root to soil ratio you need to check. If your pot is more root than soil then you definitely need to repot!

02.  The Soil Looks Unhealthy - Soil can look unhealthy if it looks dry and compacted, or begins to form a film of mold on the top! - It goes without saying that dry and compacted soil will not allow your plant to thrive, nor will mold on the top so it’s time for it to go!

Another reason the soil may not be healthy, could be down to some unwanted pests lurking beneath the surface. - Any sign of infestation means it is time to shake the soil of the roots and put it in its new home with fresh soil.

03. The Plant Looks Tired/Unhealthy or Growth Has Slowed - A sign that the plant has depleted the nutrients in the soil is that the growth slows down or the plant just looks tired or “off."

Sometimes this can be perfectly normal, such as in the case of winter, but if you notice a marked difference in how quickly and how well the plant is growing, then it might need new soil to give it a fresh start. 

04. Your Plant Keeps Falling Over - Now this is just physics! If your plant is becoming top heavy and falling over then it’s definitely time to repot! Your plant and floor will thank you for it! 

05.Your Plant is Dying & You've Tried Everything Else! - Perhaps a controversial option, but if you have truly tried everything and your plant is not thriving, then it might be a good option to pot it up with fresh soil.

It’s more “kill or cure” advice, but if you have tried everything else and your plant is not playing ball, then you have nothing to lose!

If your plant looks a little on the sick side, be sure to check out Flora's Plant Diagnosis feature to get smart recommendations on how to bring it back to health! 

Rule of (Green) Thumb: Even if you don’t think that your plant has any pests, it is still worth raking over the top of the soil with a fork as this will bring any eggs to the surface.

When Is The Right Time To Repot?

Repotting does cause plants stress, so it is best to do it in early spring when the plant is just coming out of dormancy and is well rested. This is also when it is about to put on new growth.

Sometimes plants will complain after being repotted and show signs of stress. The most common sign of stress is wilting. - Don’t let this dishearten you! Look after your plant as you normally would and within a few weeks it should overcome the shock of being repotted.

If you have recently bought a plant and think it needs repotting then it is best to wait a week or so before repotting!  This gives the plant time to acclimatize to its new surroundings before being uprooted into a new pot. - It will cause the plant the least amount of stress and you will see better results!

What Are The Steps For Repotting?

01. Remove Your Plant Very Carefully - It’s very important to repot carefully. A plant’s roots are very sensitive when being exposed so treat them gently.

Remove the plant from the pot and gently shake off as much of the excess soil as possible. Then you can softly tease as much soil away from the roots as possible.

It may now look as though you have a big mass of roots that are wrapped tightly like a ball and it is important to try and release these before you repot into fresh soil and/or a larger pot. 

02. Soak The Roots Before Moving - As the roots may be dry, they may not be as pliable as they would normally.

To combat this you can soak the roots in water and gently unwind the roots so that they can spread out in their new home. This will allow water to drain through more easily and create more air flow so the soil does not become compacted. 

03. Ensure Proper Drainage & Fresh Soil -  Once you are happy that your plant is ready to repot, place some gravel or croc in the bottom of your pot (make sure the pot has holes in the bottom) and start filling with fresh soil.

Position your plant in the pot and fill around it. Push the plant down gently to remove any air bubbles or gaps in the soil and give it water.

Rule of (Green) Thumb: After repotting, some plants can look a little sad and wilt; Don’t worry this is perfectly normal and is known as transplant shock! Look after your plant as you normally would and within a few weeks it should be absolutely fine.

What Size Pot Should I Use To Repot? 

It may seem like a good idea to just use the biggest pot possible so you don’t have to keep repotting, but quick fixes are not always the best when it comes to plants.

The soil can lose vigor within 2 years and many plants feel overwhelmed in a large pot. Most plants like to be slightly restricted and just moved up a pot size when they outgrow their current home. 

Rule of (Green) Thumb: It is the perfect time to divide and propagate when repotting which means you can make use of the smaller pots you have just moved your plants out of! 

Download the Flora App for detailed guides on how to care for your specific plants!