How To Repot Your Houseplants So They're Happy All Summer Long

mbg Contributor By Erin Marino
mbg Contributor
Erin Marino is the PR and Marketing Manager at The Sill.

Photo by Stocksy/ Marcel

Calling all plant parents! As the days continue to grow longer, all that sunshine is causing your greenery to grow rapidly and it might be time for a repotting.

Now, keep in mind that repotting does not necessarily mean changing a plant’s planter, but rather, changing its potting mix. Fresh soil means new nutrients for your plant! This is great news if you love your current planter, but if you’re looking to purchase a new one that’s fine, too. Your plant will eventually need a bigger home to sustain the fresh, new growth that will come as a result of the new potting mix so you’re better off giving it both a new home and new mix in one go. Less movement and repotting means less stress for your plant in the long run.

Most common houseplants need to be repotted every 12 to 18 months, but some slow growers like cacti can call the same pot home for years. “Do I have to repot this?” is a question we hear often here at The Sill, the NYC-based plant store I work with.

Here are some signs that it’s definitely time to repot your plant.

  1. It’s still in the plastic nursery pot you bought it in. Even I’m guilty of keeping some plants in their nursery pots and placing those inside a larger, more attractive planters. But it’s important to keep in mind that overgrown plants look full and fresh when you purchase them, but without a proper-sized pot they can die back overtime.
  2. The plant’s roots are growing through the drainage hole at the bottom of its current planter and/or pushing the plant up and out of the planter.
  3. The plant is growing noticeably slower than normal, even though it’s not its dormant season.
  4. The plant is extremely top-heavy, and falls over easily in its current planter. The ‘aboveground’ part of the plant takes up more than three times the space of the planter.
  5. The potting mix your plant is in dries out much more quickly than usual, and your plant requires more frequent waterings.
  6. There is noticeable salt and mineral buildup on the plant or planter that you’re able to remove with a little soap and water.
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Repotting tips to keep your plants happy and healthy:

1. Make sure your new planter is the right size.

When changing planters, try to keep the size no more than 3″ larger in diameter for tabletop planters (the smaller the plant, the smaller the increase in pot diameter should be), and no more than 6″ larger in diameter for floor planters. If your plant is ‘swimming’ in potting mix in its new planter, chances are you’re going to overwater it.

2. Choose one with proper drainage.

To help combat overwatering, you should also make sure your planter has proper drainage. Look for one that has drainage holes on the bottom and a matching saucer, or line the bottom of the planter with a layer of porous lava rocks before adding your potting mix.

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3. Make sure you have the right tools

Now that you’ve chosen your planter to pot into, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Here's your checklist:

A foolproof routine for successful repotting

  1. Water your plant thoroughly a few days before you plan to repot it.
  2. Pre-moisten the new potting soil if it feels dry (optional).
  3. Turn your plant sideways, hold it gently by the stems, and tap the bottom of its current container until the plant slides out. You can give it a bit of help with a couple gentle tugs on the base of the stems.
  4. With your hands, loosen the roots and prune any that are head or extra long.
  5. If your plant is root bound—with footings growing in tight circles around the base of the plant—unbind them as best you can and give them a little trim. You may find yourself tearing them a little if you cannot finesse them apart. Be gentle! Try not to damage buds or stems.
  6. Remove about 1/3 of the old potting mix from around the plant’s roots.
  7. Pour a layer of fresh, pre-moistened mix into the planter and pack it down.
  8. Set plant on top of the fresh layer of mix in the planter, making sure it's centered.
  9. Add potting mix around the plant until it is secure and sitting upright. Be sure not to pack too much soil into the planter, as you want the roots to breathe. Leave some space below the lip of the planter, about an inch or so for larger planters. Avoid piling soil all the way up to the top of the pot. You will not be able to water it properly, as water will rush off the sides of the pot without ever soaking in.
  10. Even out the potting soil on top, making sure to leave the soil line an inch or so from the top. Water well and let it drain.

And voila! You’ve repotted your houseplant.

Will this be the summer you finally go for that fiddle leaf fig? Be sure to check out Erin's care guide for larger houseplants first.

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