Can Plants be Left in the Container It Came in? Here’s Why


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When a plant is bought, it usually comes in a small pot. It can stay in that pot for a period of time before it needs to be repotted. However, there are symptoms to look for to know when to repot before the plant becomes stressed.

Plants can remain for a period of 2 to 4 months in the container it came in. However, plants of larger species will have to be repotted much faster than small species plants. Repotting should be done when the plant starts to show signs of being rootbound to prevent plant stress and root disease.

What I have found is that it pays to repot a plant 1 week after it is bought. One reason being is that it gives the plant enough time to acclimatize to the environment of your home. 

Secondly, after repotting the plant starts to grow quickly and with more vibrancy. So you now have a larger and healthier plant in your hands.

When repotting I use a specially formulated Miracle grow potting mix from amazon which helps my plants thrive long after. You can find it by clicking here.

Can You Leave plants in their Nursery pot?

Repotting plant from nursery container

When plants are bought from the nursery, the length of time a plant can stay in its pot depends mainly on three factors –

1. The container,
2. The potting mix,
3. The plant species.

1. Container size 

The size of the container used in the nursery is usually very small for the plant that’s in it. This is because it will be bad business to place a plant in a large container regardless of the species or growth rate.

Larger containers = more soil and More fertilizer which equates to a higher cost for the nursery.

So it’s economically feasible to have the plants in smaller containers laced with fertilizer so they can stay there for a long time before being sold. 

For this reason, I do recommend repotting 1 week after purchasing a plant from the nursery.

When repotting, bring a touch of modern to your home with this affordable listing of beautiful planters from amazon.

2. Potting Mix

Potting mix can be expensive when it comes to propagating plants on a large scale for nurseries. 

They often develop their own mix which would help the plant to stay in the container for a long period before being sold.

I do suggest that you monitor the growth of your plant before considering leaving them in the nursery container.

We often have the misconception that we should repot newly bought plants into a larger pot filled with new soil and fertilizer. But, what if we tell you that immediate repotting can actually damage your plant. 

3. Plant Species

Plants of different species will grow at different paces. A plant of a larger species will tend to overcome the size of the container much earlier than a smaller plant species within the same time frame. 

So, it can be of some importance to note the type of plant that you have purchased and what is expected of the plant over a certain period of time.

So a general rule of thumb is that larger plant species be repotted sooner than smaller plant species.

This will prevent symptoms of rootbound and any plant disease caused by compacted roots.

Repotting Plants From Nursery:

Repotting rootbound plant

Ordinary houseplants, indoor and decorative foliage plants can be left in their original pots for a period of 2 to 4 months. 

Generally speaking, all these types of plants come in plastic pots with drainage holes in the bottom, and they all are in a lightweight potting mix that allows good drainage. 

Slow-release fertilizer is also added so that it can survive in the pot for a long time until it is sold.

Have you ever come across those yellow or green balls in soil and wondered what was that? Well, it’s a slow-release fertilizer called Osmocote. It works really well for keeping plants healthy for long periods.

You can find it on amazon by clicking here.

Osmocoat fertilizer

We have written a detailed article on yellow balls in soil here.

Repotting the plants into the new container when it is not needed can lead to quick plant failure. 

There is no need to repot new plants as there’s nothing wrong with the soil that nurseries use, and the plants have also been heavily fertilized to get maximum growth and shelf life as well. 

Therefore, there is no need to add additional fertilizer or nutrients to the pot.

Plants can be left alone for at least 4 months. The best practice is to only re-pot when they start to become rootbound. 

Fertilizing should be done only 1 – 4 times a year, depending on the growth rate of the plant you bought.

How Long Can It Take For Plants To Become Rootbound?

It can take a plant up to 4 months before they start showing signs of being rootbound. Plants can grow in the pot that they came in until their roots begin to show. At this point, the plant should be repotted to prevent nutrient deficiencies and other plant diseases.

The term rootbound means that the plant roots have grown to an extent such that it takes up the majority of space within the pot and creates a dense web of roots. 

When removed, the roots maintain the shape of the pot, hugging the soil in place.

All plants (including vegetables and flowers) need enough space to grow their roots properly. Therefore, if the container in which the plant came in is small, the plant may not get enough space for the growth of their roots. 

When the roots don’t get the space that they want, roots will get bound in the container. This situation is known as ‘rootbound’.

Additionally, the roots may start to show at the top of the container as well as the bottom of the pot. This is because the roots grow out in search of water and nutrients as the plant grows larger.

There is no fixed time for how long it takes for a plant to become root-bound as every plant has its own pace towards maturity. 

Some plants may become root-bound in a month or some may last in the same pot even for a year. Plants like tomatoes that are annuals don’t have the same problems with it as something like a tree or shrub.

List of Plants that Like and Don’t like Being Root Bound

Can be Left Root BoundCannot be Left Root Bound
Peace LilyMonstera Deliciosa
Spider PlantZanzibar Gem
Snake PlantLaceleaf
Jade PlantWeeping Fig
HoyaMaranta Leuconeura
Aloe Vera
Boston Ferns
Philodendron
Succulents

How To Determine If a Plant is Rootbound?

Through visual symptoms, one can not easily tell about the plant whether it is rootbound or not. The symptoms of the rootbound plant are similar to those plants which are suffering from low water stress.

In root bound, plant pots get pretty much filled up with roots growing in them. The reason why that happens is when you are growing a plant in a pot or a container, there is only a restricted amount of space for the roots. 

Therefore, as the plant grows, its roots reach out and they eventually hit the side of the pot. The roots grow down and coil around the pot. As a result, the pot begins to fill with roots.

This is not bad at first. However, over time your plant will start to grow more slowly and you’ll also need to water it more. 

These are the first two signs that your plant is root-bound. Another sign is that the roots will, sometimes, start to sneak out the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot looking for more room. 

Additional symptoms may include yellow or brown leaves. In plants that are root bound, you may notice some dying leaves, present at the bottom of the plant.

Hence, if you happen to notice any such signs in one of your plants,  you need to get that plant out of its little pot and transfer it into a bigger one. 

To be more certain about whether your plant is rootbound or not, you can simply pull the plant out of the container and take note of the roots’ condition. 

If the roots are coiled around each other, you will face difficulty in pulling over the rootbound plant out of the container. 

The plants in which the rootbound condition has reached a severe level will crack the container due to the pressure exerted by the roots. 

NOTE: When purchasing new plants for your garden don’t forget to check the drainage holes of the pots. If the roots are coming out of the hole, the plant is rootbound. 

Repot rootbound plant

How To Safely Re-pot The Plant?

Over time, the soil will wash out through the bottom of the pot. If a vigorously growing plant stays in the same pot for several years you could end up with a pot full of roots and not much soil, making it appear that the plant “eats up” the soil.

Here’s an overview of how to safely repot the plant:

Obtain Potting mix. Keep in mind the type of plant that you are repotting; indoor container plants or outdoor plants.

Our recommendation:

Remove the plant from its old container and use a spoon or chopstick to knock as much of the old soil off the roots as you can and try not to damage the roots. This is messy so you’ll want to do it outside if possible. 

You can spread it out in your garden outside. If there are wrinkled and contracted roots that come off when you pull gently, remove them. These are old rotted roots and you’re better off getting rid of them.

If there is a clump of compacted soil in the center of the root ball it’s important to carefully loosen this, taking care to minimize damage to the roots. Roots cannot breathe in compacted soil so remove the clumps.

Now that you’ve got the rootball cleaned off it is time to compare the size of the root ball to the size of your pot. 

Use a pot that is 2 inches larger than the container the plant was in. If the roots were filling up the old pot, get a new pot that leaves an inch of space all around the root ball. Be sure to use a pot that has an open drain hole at the bottom.

Your plant should sit in the new pot such that the top of the root ball is just below the rim. Hold it over the rim of the empty pot to get a sense of the correct height. As you are holding it there, start adding soil with a spoon. 

As the soil starts going over the roots, fill in the areas between the roots and the center of the plant using your spoon. 

You want to fill in all the areas so that all the roots are contacting the soil. You can gently tamp down the soil with your spoon to remove air pockets but don’t pack it. The roots will need to breathe in there.

Lightly water the plant. Keep the plant out of the direct sun for a week or so. Don’t water it again until the soil has dried out.

Allow the plant to sit for a day or two before moving around to prevent transplant shock.

The Takeaway

Plants can stay in the pot that they came in for a period of time before they need repotting. Nursery plants are fed fertilizer so that they can have a long shelf life. 

This gives the nursery enough time to sell the plant before it has to be repotted.

Repotting can be done after the plant starts to exhibit signs of being rootbound where the roots start venturing out of the container.

So the next time you buy a plant from the nursery you may have up to 4 months to decide on whether to repot or not.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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