DIY Flower Care Garden

How to Repot a Plant

plant in soil outside a pot being prepared to be replanted

Whether you enjoy roaming through your local nursery or it’s easier for you to order plants online, all plants need to be repotted from time to time. If you’re new to plant ownership, repotting a plant may seem a little daunting. After all, if you do it wrong, you could kill your flowers, vegetables, or medicinal plants and herbs.

With these tips, you’ll be repotting your plants like a professional in no time and watching them thrive in their new, larger homes. Read on for everything you need to know about how to repot a plant. (While you’re at it, learn how to plant an old bouquet and grow new blooms from a beloved arrangement after it wilts.)

When Should You Repot a Plant?

The best time of year to repot a plant is in the spring or summer, when the plant is actively growing. Since many plants go dormant during the winter, they may struggle to expand their roots and thrive in a new pot.

As far as how to tell when a plant needs to be repotted, here are some classic signs:

  • The soil is drying out faster than usual
  • Your plant is yellow, looks limp, or has stopped growing
  • Roots are growing through the drainage hole
  • It’s losing a lot of leaves
  • The plant-to-pot ratio is off (a good ratio is ⅔ plant height to ⅓ pot)

Some plants benefit from a new pot every 6 months, while others can go for 2-3 years between new pots. You may want to try repotting all your plants once a year, keeping in mind that some of your plants will need a pot the same as their current size rather than a larger one.

Why Is it Important to Repot Plants?

There are 2 main reasons to repot plants: to give the plant more room to grow and to refresh soil that has lost nutrients over time. Plants that spend too much time in one pot can become root bound and fail to thrive.

Supplies for Repotting a Plant

Here’s what you need to repot a plant:

  • New pot, typically 1-2” larger than the current pot
  • Coffee filter (to prevent soil from coming out through the drainage hole)
  • Potting mix
  • Gardening gloves
  • Trowel
  • Sharp scissors
  • Watering can
  • Newspaper, tarp, or a surface you can easily clean

How Do You Repot a Plant for Beginners?

Here’s how to repot a plant:

  1. Remove it from its current pot by lightly grasping the plant’s base and tipping the pot upside down
  2. Gently loosen the roots and trim extra-long roots
  3. Remove at least 1/3 of the original soil
  4. Pack down a layer of potting mix in the new pot
  5. Put the plant in the pot and add more soil
  6. Water well

How Do You Repot a Plant Without Killing it?

How to repot a plant without killing it:

  • Water your plant a few days before repotting it
  • Choose a pot no more than 2-3” larger than the current pot
  • Use the right soil
  • Untangle and loosen up the roots
  • Make sure the root ball is well below the rim of the new pot
  • Water your plant really well

Should You Water a Plant as Soon as You Repot it?

Yes, you should water your plant well as soon as you repot it. Newly repotted plants suffer from stress and need water immediately. Use a “rain” head on your watering can for a gentle soak until water runs out of the drainage hole.

After that, your plant may need less watering for the first few weeks since it has more soil to absorb moisture.

Should You Remove Old Soil When Repotting?

Yes, you should remove about a third of the old soil. Removing too much soil from around the roots can stress the plant, but a significant part of repotting a plant is providing fresh soil, which contains more nutrients. Use your hands or a gardening knife to gently remove some of the old soil from the plant without damaging the roots.

How to Select a Pot for Your Plant

Choosing the right pot for your plant can be fun, but you should keep some things in mind for the best results.

Select the Right Size

If your plant simply needs fresh soil and hasn’t outgrown its current pot, choose a pot the same size as the current one.

For most plants, though, you’ll want to choose a pot 1-2” larger than the current one to give it room to grow without it looking dinky in an oversized pot. If the plant is large (like a small tree) or you expect it to grow quickly, you can choose a pot up to 4” larger than the current pot.

Standard Pot Sizes

Measured by their diameter, here are some of the most common pot sizes and ideas for what to plant in them:

  • 10” pots hold up to 3 gallons of potting soil and are well-suited for herbs, succulents, most flowers, small carrots, beets, turnips, strawberries, and leaf lettuce.
  • 14” pots are excellent for chard, kale, collard greens, spinach, large carrots, peas, and cabbage.
  • 18” pots are perfect for cacti, berries, shrubs, dwarf citrus trees, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, broccoli, zucchini, and cauliflower.
  • 24” pots hold 24 gallons of soil and are ideal for fiddle leaf fig, dwarf peach, apple, and pomegranate trees.
  • 30” pots are typically used as nursery pots for trees that will eventually be planted in the ground, although they can also hold plum, apple, and pear trees for their entire lives as long as they are properly fertilized.

Make Sure it Has a Drainage Hole

Plants can develop root rot if they sit in water for too long, so your new pot should have a hole at the bottom to allow excess water to drain out. Found a pot you love without drainage holes? You can also place several inches of lava rocks in the bottom of the pot to keep excess moisture away from your plant’s roots.

Consider the Material

Although you can choose a pot simply based on its appearance, you should know how each material may affect the plant’s health.

Terracotta

Since terracotta absorbs water, then dries out, terracotta pots work best with drought-tolerant species like succulents. Otherwise, plan on doing a little extra watering.

Plastic

Lightweight, low-cost, and available in any color you can imagine, plastic pots are best for indoor plants because they can absorb heat and cook a plant’s roots when left outdoors (especially pots that are black and other dark colors). Ultra-thin plastic can degrade in strong sunlight, so keep that in mind, too, when choosing pots.

Hanging Baskets

With plenty of drainage, hanging baskets are best kept outdoors, above something you don’t mind getting wet (perhaps plants in a different type of pot).

Glazed Ceramic

Although they’re more expensive than other pot types and have a tendency to crack in freezing temperatures, glazed ceramic pots are suitable for just about any type of plant. These heavy, sturdy pots are glazed in numerous colors, so you can find one for any aesthetic.

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