How to Repot a Plant (and How to Know When It's Time to Do So)
You know what plant parents say: “they grow up so fast,” and if you have a few seedlings yourself, chances are you get it. So, if those buds are already outgrowing their pots or you’re prepping for that day to come, repotting your plants is crucial to ensure your plants thrive.
Here’s how to repot a plant, broken down in easy-to-follow steps so that anyone can master it (yes, even if you can’t seem to keep cacti alive). We’re rooting for you.
Signs It’s Time to Repot Your Plant
Shayla Owodunni, Founder of The Plant Penthouse, recommends looking out for these five things:
- Roots are visibly appearing from your planter
- The plant in question is unusually thirsty
- The leaves are turning yellow or brown even though you’re doing everything right
- It’s been about 12 to 18 months since you last repotted
- Bugs or insects are making themselves at home in the soil
Not noticing any of the above signs? Owodunni prefers to wait until the springtime to align repotting with growing season (approximately April/May through September/October). But if you do notice any of the five signs above, don’t wait! You’re ready to proceed.
Materials Needed to Repot a Plant
- Potting soil
- Perlite or lava rocks (optional)
- Gardening gloves
- Pruning shears (or sharp scissors)
- Gardening bucket (or trash can)
Before we get to it, Owodunni breaks down the instructions into the “three Ps” to make it easy to remember what to do, and it’s honestly ingenious:
- Plant Prep
- Pot Prep
- Proper Positioning
1. Lay out newspaper or a cloth to work on for easier cleanup
Things are going to get a little dirty, so covering your work surface beforehand is key.
2. Remove the plant from the old pot
Since your plant has likely absorbed a majority of the nutrients from the soil it’s already in, it’s important to replace most of the old soil with fresh mix when repotting. Instead of pulling the plant out from the top, though, tip smaller plants over and slide them out. Lightly brush away excess soil over a gardening bucket (a trash can works too) to expose the roots as best you can.
Tip: Because your plant absorbs nutrients over time, Kat Nein, founder of Palm + Ninth, agrees with Owodunni that repotting your plants at least every year or two is key, even if just to add fresh mix to the same pot. “Just like how some people get facials or haircuts,” she shares, repotting “gives your plant new soil to work with to be refreshed for another few years!”
3. Prune and trim roots wherever necessary
When you remove the plant from its current pot, gently shake off most of the old soil and loosen the roots wherever necessary, especially if they’ve begun to coil. From there, prune back any thin, overgrow, or crispy roots by trimming them with pruning shears or sharp scissors.
4. Prep your new planter
Now that your plant is groomed, it’s time to begin prepping your new planter. “If the pot doesn’t have a drainage hole,” Owodunni notes, “start by adding a layer of lava rocks to the bottom.” Then pack in a mixed layer of soil and perlite [a volcanic glass that helps aerate soil] like you’re “making a bread bowl.” Finally, The Plant Penthouse founder suggests filling the pot about one-third full of just soil (no perlite), making sure there is soil along the sides of the pot too.
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Tip: When choosing a pot for an overgrown plant, Shayla suggests upsizing 1 to 2 inches from its current planter size.
5. Place the pruned plant in the new pot
Once you’ve loosened and pruned the plant’s roots, it’s officially time for its new pot. Gently place the plant in the center and tuck it in by adding fresh soil around it with a trowel.
Tip: Avoid compacting the soil in the pot so that air and water can easily flow to the roots.
6. Water it
Now it’s time to make sure the soil is moist for optimum growth. Nein recommends watering the repotted plant until water runs through the bottom of the pot. “I recommend doing this once, just so the roots start to form a relationship with the new soil. After that, you can take it back to its normal watering schedule,” she explains.