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How to Repot a Plant: Safe & Easy Method to Keep them Alive

How often should I repot my plant? What kind of soil should I use? Should I water or fertilize it?

These questions are common when caring for houseplants, and to take care of them properly, you need to know how to repot them when the time comes.

Plants need sunlight, water, nutritious soil, and enough space to thrive. When you repot your plant, you give it new life.

The goal is to ensure that the roots remain strong and healthy long after repotting.

This article will explain everything you can do to safely repot a plant and the downloadable repotting checklist we use.

How to Repot a Plant

Material Checklist for Repotting a Plant:

  • Pot That is 2 inches larger in diameter
  • Potting Soil or Potting Mix
  • Slow Release Fertilizer
  • Scissors or Shares
  • Potting Sheet (to minimize the mess)
  • Water

10 Easy Steps to Safely Repot a Plant:

  1. Prepare the New Pot
    • Put holes at the bottom
    • Wash/Sterilize the pot
    • Add stones at the Bottom of the pot (for drainage and stability)
  2. Prep the Potting Soil or Soil Mix
    • Determine the volume of soil Needed
    • Add amendments eg. perlite, and Vermiculite
    • Add Organic material
    • Add Slow Release Fertilizer (optional)
  3. Remove the Plant from the Old Pot
    • Squeeze Container to release the plant and Remove it from the Old pot
  4. Remove old Soil from Roots
  5. Wash/ Rinse and sterilize Plant Roots
  6. Suspend the plant in the new pot when adding soil
  7. Center the plant in the pot
  8. Fill soil around the plant roots, up until 1.5 – 2 inches below the top of the pot
  9. Water Lightly and place in indirect sunlight to sit for a while.
  10. Clean Up

4 Reasons Why a Plant Should Be Repotted

  1. To change nutrient-deficient Soil
  2. To Save a Dying Plant
  3. To Prevent a Plant from Becoming Rootbound
  4. Remove Disease and fungus from the plant.

9 Things to Consider When Repotting Plants

1. Type Of Plant

Houseplants

The plant being repotted will require special care depending on the type of plant. Hardy plants will be more resilient and can handle the rigors of the repotting process.

These plants include:

Pothos Golden (Devil’s Ivy)Philodendron ‘Birkin’
ZZ PlantSnake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
Monstera DeliciosaRubber Plant (Ficus elastica)
Pencil CactusAloe Vera (Aloe barbadensis)
Spider Plant VariegatedSpider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

However, regardless of the plant, repotting can cause some stress to the plant, which we will explain further in this article.

2. The Size of the New Pot or Planter

repotting Syngonium (Arrowhead Plant)

Plant in a Pot 2 to 4 Inches Larger

The recommended pot size for transplanting is between 2 to 4 inches larger in diameter from the pot that the plant was planted in. This gives the roots enough space to spread and absorb more water and nutrients. Excessively larger Pots will have higher water retention and require more nutrients for plants to grow.

The average potted plant is planted in a container that is circular or cylindrical in shape. This means that an increase in diameter of 4 inches would add two inches all the way around the plant.

For larger pots 10 and greater in diameter, an increase of 2 would be too small and would not provide much substantial spacing for the plant to progress in growth, and you would have to transplant again in a shorter period of time.

Depending on other factors considered in root growth. Generally, roots need larger pots to grow and take in many nutrients for the plants.

Bigger pots mean more root spaces, significantly when the right quantity of organic nutrients is amended into the soil before planting.

Consider Splitting the Plant (For plants with Multiple Shoots)

Diving a plant with multiple shoots

Repotting Gives the Perfect Opportunity to Divide a Plant to Get More of the Same Plants, Which Can Be Shared or Add More Greenery to the Space

When you repot a plant, you give it a fresh start. New soil, new roots, and a completely clean slate. Repotting helps plants grow better by allowing them to breathe properly and preventing it from being too clustered (if your plant has many shoots).

If you’ve ever had a plant die after being neglected or left alone for too long, you know just how important this step is. So when you repot, you give them everything they need to thrive again.

3. Removing Old Leaves

Dead leaves, dormant stems, or brown parts of leaves can be removed when repotting.

Old leaves can be removed by hand when possible, however, don’t pull too hard, or you may damage the healthy part of your plant.

Use scissors or pruning shears for more rigid stems or to remove brown leaf tips and edges.

Removal of old or dying leaves can help the plant grow healthy because if left on the plant, they will use nutrients that could have been redirected for the growth of other healthier leaves.

4. Root Care

Remove Old Soil from Roots When Repotting

The benefits of Removing Soil When Repotting

When old soil is removed from the plant roots, it directly affects the vitality of the plants growing in pots.

Removing old soil from roots when repotting will eliminate salt buildup around the roots and ensure the roots are surrounded by new soil, which will be rich in minerals and nutrients.

Exposing the roots will also allow the opportunity for root sterilization to remove unwanted fungus or disease before repotting.

If the whole or part of the soil around the roots is infected, the best thing to do is to remove it completely.

Washing the roots of your plants is simple and very easy to do. Just pour water! But be very careful because choosing the right time to wash can be crucial.

Start removing the soil from the bottom and gently pulling the roots away from the current structure they have created within the pot or ground.

You can remove the excess soil around the edge of the root ball by hand or with a toothpick.

A toothpick is an ideal tool to gently remove any bags of hardened soil around the roots. Next, carefully rinse the root ball using a gentle stream of water.

Remember that “removing the soil”, or even a simple transplant, will damage the roots. You will want to minimize root damage as much as possible.

Therefore, you need to balance “removing the soil” with damage. In such a situation, the ultimate solution is to break away the edges of the soil and note the “central core”.

The latter could cause a lot of damage to the plant.

While repotting a plant in a pot and removing the soil from the roots, you can remove up to a quarter of the roots.

You can see our article on how long a plant can survive outside a pot to gauge which plants are more resilient to having their roots exposed.

5. Preparing The Soil for Repotting

Use Soil Amendments

Adding soil amendments

When soil amendments are used correctly the soil becomes enriched with essential nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that promote plant health.

There are many types of soil amendments available, but here we’ll focus on three: compost, peat moss, and vermiculite.

Compost

Compost is one of the most effective ways to enrich soil with organic matter. It’s a natural process that breaks down dead organic material into a nutrient-rich humus.

Peat Moss

Peat moss is a great way to add moisture retention and improve drainage. It has a high percentage of air space that allows oxygen to reach the roots.

Vermiculite

Vermiculites are mineral particles that hold large amounts of water. They are often added to soils to increase humidity levels and reduce evaporation rates.

Balanced Potting Mix

Balanced potting mix

A Balanced soil mixis a mixture of equal parts of each type of soil amendment listed above.

For example, if you were to use 1/3 compost, 1/3 peat moss, and 1/3 vermiculite, then you would create a balanced soil mix.

This ensures that all the benefits of each ingredient are present in the final product.

Potting mix is a blend of sand, perlite, and peat moss. This combination makes it lightweight and aerated so that roots don’t get weighed down when watered.

When potting soil is amended with the said amendments it becomes a super mix that will ensure your plant survive any condition.

6. Mix in Fertilizer when Adding Soil

Vegetable fertilizer used on houseplants

Use slow-release fertilizer

Slow-release fertilizers will feed the plants within the soil as it is watered over time. The good thing about this is that it does cause any damage to the roots of the plants, even if the plant has just been repotted.

Nurseries adopt the practice of mixing slow-release fertilizers into the soil when repotting to ensure that the plant will be thoroughly fed for a long time when they are placed into a nursery pot.

For this reason, plants can remain in a nursery pot before placing into larger or Nicer pots. Additionally, some people often report that they find yellow balls in the soil, thinking its snails or insect eggs. However, that’s not the case, it’s simply slow-release fertilizer.

Never Add Fertilizer Salts When Repotting

Tomato fertilizer

A common misconception often thought to be true is never to fertilize a plant that has been newly repotted because the roots are sensitive and can be burned by the fertilizer. However, that is true for inorganic fast fertilizer salts, which will release the nutrients or “salts” as soon as it is watered.

The damage comes from the salty nature of the fertilizer around the soft roots. Think about a slice of cucumber with a sprinkle of salt.

The salt will cause the cucumber slice to become soft and shriveled; the same happens with the roots, which will cause them to be “burnt” and die.

With slow-release fertilizers, the fertilizer and salts are released slowly over time as the soil is watered. This prevents the softening effect inorganic fertilizers have on exposed roots.

7. How to Safely Remove the Plant from the Old Plant pot.

Removing a plant from the pot

To safely remove the plant from the pot, you should gently squeeze the sides of the pot it is in to help free the old soil and roots that may be clinging to the inside walls of the pot. The plant can then be removed without damage to the roots by gently pulling it out of the old pot.

Safely removing the plant from the old pot is crucial in preventing damage to the plant and the roots when removing it from an old pot.

Sometimes you may never know what’s happening with the pot’s root system. A plant can be root bound; you may never know unless the roots are showing or coming out of the pot.

Rootbound plants can cling to the sides of the pot, making it very difficult to remove the plant. Any excessive force to remove the plant can cause damage.

8. Plant Placement and Positioning

Balanced potting mix

Repotting is a simple process; knowing how to position the plant correctly will ensure that it survives and looks good after you are done.

You don’t want to go through the process of repotting and then notice that the plant has been placed too much to the side of the pot or too deep.

Place the plant at the center of the pot

Having the plant properly centered ensures that the plant looks aesthetically pleasing after repotting. When the plant is not centered, it does look as good (that’s the OCD in me).

To prevent this, it is necessary that the plant be held at the center of the pot as the soil is being filled will soil.

Keep the Plant 2 inches below the top of the pot

Having the plant positioned such that the first root s on the stem is approximately 2 inches below the top of the pot will ensure that the soil and water do not over-flow when the plant is watered.

Keep the plant suspended

By suspending the plant as the soil is being filled will prevent the root ball from touching the bottom of the plant pot.

This allows the roots of the plant, when repotted, to have enough soil space to grow and move downwards.

9. Preparing The New Pot for Repotting

Wash and sterilize the pot

Washing the new plant pot will ensure that there is no dirt or debris left behind from the previous plant.

Sterilizing the pot will kill any bacteria or fungus present on the pot’s surface.

It also helps to keep the pot clean so that the roots of the plant aren’t affected by any contaminants.

Place Drainage holes at the bottom of the pot

Placing drainage holes at the bottom of the plant pot will ensure that when the plant is watered, the excess water leaves the pot.

Without drainage holes the water will pool inside the pot causing the soil to become waterlogged which will lead to root rot.

So its always a good idea to ensure that there are drainage holes present in new pots.

Place stones at the Bottom of the Pot

Using stones at the bottom of the plant pot will give the pot extra weight which will increase the stability of the plant.

Therefore, strong winds and playful pets will not pose a threat of pushing over the plant.

Additionally, the stones will help the drainage ability of the soil and prevent soil from coming from the drainage hole when the plant is watered.

Porous paper material like coffee filters can also be used to cover the holes and allow water out of the pot.

Transplant Shock and How to Prevent it?

Transplant shock

Transplant shock is a term that refers to the stresses a recently transplanted plant, shrub, or tree can experience. It can also be caused by harm to the plant roots during the transplanting process. The usual symptoms of transplant shock include wilting leaves (especially on recent transplants), yellowing, and leaf rolling or curling.

If you transplant the plant when it is in its healthy state, the transplant shock will be minimal. If it is a houseplant, transplant it when it is not flowering or vigorously putting on new growth.

Be sure you don’t cause much damage to the roots. To prevent transplant shock, note down the following points:

  • Always use a slightly larger pot than the old one when transplanting the plant. The ideal size is 1/3rd of the old one.
  • Always have all the materials needed for transplanting on hand to minimize the time the plant spends out of the potting medium.
  • Before transplanting, give your plant a dose of fertilizer.
  • After that, you can transplant it in the later evening or early morning.
  • Make sure to transplant your plants when they are still healthy and young.
  • Keep direct sunlight off the roots.
  • Never ever transplant your plant between drastic temperature differences.
  • Slightly water your plant right after the transplanting.
  • Lastly, allow the plant to sit for 2 to 3 days before moving to acclimate to its new environment.

If you do things right and your plant is healthy to start with, transplant shock shouldn’t last more than a day or two, a week at most.

Transplant shock recovery time depends on how bad the shock is. Very bad shocks may never be recovered from.

How Long Can the Plant Survive Outside of a Pot

How Long Can a Plant Survive out of a Pot

Houseplants can survive up to 24 hours out of a plant pot with their roots exposed. Having the roots wrapped in moist paper or a ball of soil can increase the time the plant survives before it can be repotted.

There isn’t a fixed time duration as different plant species have different survival rates when it comes to staying out of the pot.

The survival of the plant out of a pot primarily depends on the plant species and its root system.

What to Expect After a Plant is Repotted

After the plant is repotted, it is now in survival mode, which it will have to overcome to continue growing. This is called Repotting stress.

For most plants, stress after repotting does not last long as they adapt fast and start becoming used to the new environment.

The plant should be watered lightly and placed in indirect sunlight for a day or two to recover.

If the plant seems to be overstressed and wilted after repotting, you should move the plant to an environment that is better for growth. Excessive sunlight, rain, and wind can cause unnecessary stress on the plant.

With respect to the old plant pot, if it is going to be reused, it should be properly cleaned and sanitized to prevent any pest and disease from being transferred to the new plant.

After some time has passed, the soil in the pot may have to be topped up as it settles, and the organics within it have decomposed.

When this happens, the level will drop, which can potentially expose the extra stem and some of the roots. Simply adding new soil to the pot will solve that issue.

When does a Plant Need Repotting

Plant roots showing

Repotting is recommended every year on average. However, there are a few things to look for so you can make a better call about whether to repot the plant or not.

Usually, the signs that a plant needs repotting include the following:

  • Roots are coming out of the bottom of the pot. Look at the bottom of your plant. …
  • The plant-to-pot ratio is off.
  • Your plant is starting to yellow.
  • Your plant is losing a lot of leaves.
  • The roots are starting to show.
  • The Plant is starting to fall over.

What Happens If you Don’t Repot a Plant

rootbound plants

A few things can happen when a plant is not repotted in time:

  1. The Soil becomes depleted of nutrients
  2. The plant could become rootbound
  3. Leaves Begin to start yellowing.

As the plant grows, it uses nutrients from the soil, which is only of a finite amount. When the nutrients are depleted, the plant will start showing signs of nutrient deficiency based on what it is not getting.

Additionally, the roots can grow to the extent that the container that’s it in can not fully allow it to spread properly.

As a result, the root system became entangled with itself and formed a root ball, which we know as being root-bound.

A rootbound plant will prevent water from properly draining through as the roots take up all the air space. This can lead to root rot and, eventually, the death of the plant.

How to Choose a New Plant pot

There are many different types of containers, including clay pots, plastic pots, terrariums, hanging baskets, and even concrete planters. Each one offers benefits over others.

For example, clay pots are usually inexpensive but tend to crack easily. Plastic pots are durable, but they cost more than clay pots.

Terracotta pots are porous, allowing water to drain away quickly. And concrete pots are heavy, making them difficult to move.

Once you know what you want, it’s time to shop. Your choice may vary based on price, style, durability, and ease of use.

Repotting checklist

Download Repotting To-Do Checklist