How to Repot Rootbound Houseplants

With all of the nurturing we do to encourage our houseplants to grow, accommodating that growth by repotting houseplants is surprisingly one of the most neglected parts of plant care. Just like your expanding family has probably outgrown a home or two over the years, our houseplants can grow too big to live in their potted homes. If you can remember what a cramped living situation feels like, it makes sense that they simply won't thrive in crowded containers.

If you're like many of the other plant parents who are nervous about the repotting process, don't worry! While repotting can cause your plants some minor stress, they'll definitely thank you for their spacious new living arrangements in the end. Take a look at our tips for repotting rootbound plants to keep the transition as smooth as possible.

When to Repot Houseplants

As plants grow larger and develop new foliage, their root system underneath the soil also expands. Eventually, they won't have anywhere else to go and will become rootbound, which stunts their growth and affects their ability to nourish themselves properly. In general, plants should be repotted with fresh soil every year or year and a half, but look out for these signs that indicate it might also be time to go up a pot size:

  • Roots are growing out of the container's drainage holes.
  • Roots are peeping up over the surface of the soil.
  • Roots are pushing your plant upwards, away from the pot.
  • Your plant is top-heavy, and the container falls over easily.
  • Your plant is growing at a slower rate.
  • Your plant requires excessive watering.
Keep in mind that some plants actually like to be rootbound! Just like some of us prefer the coziness of our tiny one-bedroom apartments, these guys are much more comfortable living in tight quarters. Boston ferns and African violets don't transplant well, so leaving them rootbound for a while is actually safer than repotting them. Some blooming houseplants, such as peace lilies and Christmas cacti, won't flower unless they're encouraged to do so by some sort of stress, like being rootbound. Spider plants, snake plants, and aloe vera also prefer cozy conditions.

Choosing a New Container


Choosing a New Container

The first step to repotting is, of course, choosing a larger container. It's essential to consider the needs of your plant when selecting their new home, especially in reference to size and moisture preferences.

Most houseplants require drainage holes to prevent their roots from becoming waterlogged. We know that design is also important-houseplants are a vital part of your indoor decor, after all! If your heart is set on a container that doesn't have drainage holes on the bottom, you have a few options: you can either drill holes through the bottom of the pot yourself, or you can use a smaller, more practical pot for planting and simply hide it inside the larger, nicer pot.

Also, consider the material of the pot itself. Porous materials, such as the classic terra cotta, absorb moisture from the soil. While this is great news for desert dwellers like cacti and succulents, it's not so great for other houseplants that need more moisture in their soils. Synthetic and ceramic containers are much better for houseplants that require consistently moist soils.

Finally, consider what size container will best suit your plant. As appealing as it may be to provide your plant with the container-equivalent of a mansion to prevent it from outgrowing its home again, this can actually be just as damaging as leaving it rootbound. Containers with excess soil and minimal roots tend to hold much more water and take much longer to dry out, putting houseplants at risk for mold and root rot. We suggest moving up just one pot size at a time.

If you're looking for new containers in the Bismarck area, come check the gorgeous indoor pottery in our home decor section.

How to Repot Rootbound Plants


How to Repot Rootbound Plants

After selecting an appropriate container, it's finally time to repot your plant! Here are our best tips for successfully moving a plant to its new home:

  • Repot early in the spring. There's a sweet spot during the first few weeks of spring when houseplants are still dormant, which makes the process less stressful, yet the growing season is just around the corner, which is a great time for the plant to repair itself if it gets damaged during the move.
  • Water your plant thoroughly before repotting. During the few days leading up to the big move, keep the roots well hydrated to prevent the stress of the move.
  • Fill your container with new, fresh potting soil. Instead of transferring over the same old soil that's been nourishing your plant for months or years, it's best to repot with fresh, sterile potting mix. This will start your plant off on the right foot (or, root?) and encourage optimal growth. Make sure you choose the best potting soil for your indoor plant!
  • Remove your plant gently. Hold your plant by the base and carefully begin to work it up out of the container by the stem. After it has loosened up a little, you should be able to tip the container, squeeze the sides, and pop the plant right out.
  • Brush away excess soil, but be careful with the root ball. Get rid of as much of the old soil as possible by gently teasing the root ball apart and untangling some of the roots. This will also help you to spread them out easier in their new container.
  • Place your plant in its new and improved pot! Place the plant's root ball in the new container and start to fill in the sides evenly so that the plant is standing upright. Be careful not to bury the lower leaves. When you're done, gently pack the soil down and water thoroughly. You might need to add another layer of soil over the next few days after everything has settled.
Repotting your houseplants can be a messy task, but the bottom line is that it's quite necessary if you want them to continue to thrive! With the right growing conditions, you can keep their foliage flourishing and their buds blooming for years to come. Still have questions about choosing new containers or repotting plants? Come visit us at Plant Perfect in Bismarck and allow our experienced staff to assist you!

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