How Do You Know When a Plant Needs a Bigger Pot?


You’ve had your plant for a few months now, and thus far, it’s all been smooth sailing. The plant has grown and even seems to thrive in this environment. You’re starting to wonder though, has it gotten too big? Should you consider moving it to a new pot soon? We’ve done extensive research to provide you the answer.

How do you know when a plant needs a bigger pot? You’ll know a plant needs a bigger pot when you notice the following:

  • The soil condition has broken down and looks dry
  • The plant no longer absorbs water, it just remains there
  • The drainage holes now have roots as the plant tries to expand
  • It seems like too tight a fit

If you suspect your plant might have outgrown its pot because it meets the above criteria, then read on. We’ll explain each of those points in more detail. Also, we’ll share some advice for how to choose the right sized pot for your growing plant.

Let’s begin!

How Do You Know When a Plant Needs a Bigger Pot?

Poor Soil Condition

Potting soil doesn’t remain the same depending on how long you use it for your plant. For instance, it can compact if you’ve left the same soil in the pot for months or even years. When this happens, air and water can’t really get through to the plant’s roots as easily.

While the above isn’t a sign you need a new pot, if your soil has begun breaking down, that is. Disintegrating soil or that which seems dry no matter how much you water it is problematic. Try changing your soil first. If that doesn’t work, then you have to repot your plant.

Lack of Water Absorption

Once, when you watered your plant, it happily drank all you gave it. Now, more and more, you’re noticing the water sort of sits there on the leaves or flowers. The plant doesn’t seem to absorb the liquid, which makes you wonder how well your plant’s doing after all.

No Empty Drainage Holes

Drainage holes, as the name tells you, are designed for water to flow through. If you happen to overwater the plant or it gets too wet, these holes keep all that leftover fluid from soaking through the roots and soil and potentially damaging your plant.

Once the plant roots begin inching out of the drainage holes, that’s no good. The roots have nowhere else to go, so they’re struggling to get to whatever open areas they can.

A Tight Squeeze

Sometimes, you can tell whether your plant needs a bigger pot just by eyeballing it. If your plant seems to have grown to such proportions that its pot looks comically small by comparison, then you know what to do. It’s time to move your plant.

The Plant Has Never Been Repotted

Think back to when you first grew your plant. How long ago was that? Months? Years? How many times have you upgraded its pot since then? If you answered zero, then you could be long overdue for getting your plant repotted into a larger pot that fits it better.

Now, you don’t always know the age of a plant, especially if you found it or someone gave it to you. In that case, we refer you to the pointers above. Look for all those signs in your plant and then make a judgment call about whether you should move the plant elsewhere.

Even though younger plants that are still growing will do well to be repotted roughly every 9 to 24 months, older plants can sometimes be completely content in the same pot for years.

Selecting an Appropriately-Sized Pot for Your Plant

Okay, so you’re seriously beginning to suspect that your plant needs a new pot. Just how big should you go?

It might seem smart to get an ultra-large pot so you don’t have to move your plant again in a few months. Actually, doing so can hinder your plant’s progress. For one thing, the plant in its too-big pot is lopsided and risks falling over. Also, the unnecessarily bigger the pot, the longer it takes the soil to dry out. That could cause root rot, which would kill your plant pretty quickly.

You also don’t want a pot that’s overly small. Then you’re stuck with the opposite problem, where the soil dries in a snap. You’ll have to increase how often you water the plant as a result. This can lead to growth issues as well as the plant rooting to the pot and not coming out without great difficulty.

To get the perfect pot size, measure your plant’s diameter. Then, take that measurement and get a pot with a diameter that’s at least two inches more. Some plant owners go up to four inches bigger, but that’s entirely up to you.

Now, sometimes it’s not necessary to increase the diameter of your new pot by even two inches. That’s true if you have a plant that grows very slowly. In that case, you might boost the diameter of your new pot by only an inch. Remember, going too big can be detrimental.

How to Repot Your Plant

You just bought a new pot for your plant and you couldn’t be more excited. How do you go about moving your plant from the old, too-small pot to the newer, bigger one? Make sure you follow these steps.

  1. Use a coffee filter to block the drainage holes. This won’t be forever, but for now, you need your drainage holes covered in the new pot. Otherwise, the soil you put in will slip right through the holes.
  2. Add your soil. Speaking of soil, you need some of it in the pot. This lets the roots of your plant sink in and begin growing. You don’t want too much soil, though. If it’s coming out the sides when you put your plant in, then take the plant back out and get rid of some of the leftover soil.
  3. Hydrate your plant. You want to ensure your plant has adequate water ahead of moving it to a new pot. This keeps your roots in good shape as they make the transition.
  4. Take your plant out. Now’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Gently, grab the pot that houses your plant and flip it over. You want a hand on the pot, bracing it as you do this. Move the pot back and forth slowly. This should dislodge the plant from the pot in most instances. If it doesn’t, try a knife.
  5. Check the roots. Depending on how long your plant lived in the old pot, the roots might be a mess. Trim stray ones, untangle balls and knots of roots, and do other pruning until you’re pleased with the state of your plant’s roots.
  6. Set up your plant in the new pot. Once you’re ready, hold the plant on either side. Set it down in the new pot right in the middle. Put on some pressure as you do so—but not too much—so the plant settles in. Dump in some more soil as needed.
  7. Water some more. You may have just watered your plant, but you’ll have to do it again. By watering at this point, the soil will settle into the pot.

Related Questions

What type of pot is best for indoor plants?

Many people who grow indoor houseplants prefer using either plastic or clay pots. Plastic can withstand many indoor conditions, although not outdoor ones (the cold weather could crack it). Pots of this material also retain moisture better so you can go longer without watering your plant. You can find a plastic pot just about anywhere for not a lot of money.

Clay pots have great porosity. They do weigh more than plastic pots, and you can’t go by as long without watering your plants. That said, if you have succulents, orchids, ferns, cacti, or bromeliads, clay pots work especially well.

You may also get a plant cover made of a wealth of materials. These include glass, glazed pottery, treated wood, basketry, or metal.

How often should you repot a plant?

It depends on the type of plant you grow. As we said before, some plants don’t grow very much, and thus they need smaller pots. Such species of plants could remain in the same pot for years before they outgrow their space.

If you have a plant that grows at a normal rate or even faster, then make sure you repot it at least yearly. For some plants, you can get away with doing this on an 18-month basis.

Do plants grow bigger in bigger pots?

A plant will grow to accommodate its surroundings, so yes, you can theoretically get a bigger plant by putting it in a bigger pot. As you recall, though, this is rarely what’s best for the plant. A plant in this setup could fall over because the pot is too heavy.

You also risk root rot and even the development of mold since water stays in the soil longer. Some root diseases may be caused by such a setup as well. For the health of your plant, it’s better to put it in a pot that’s sized to the plant’s current size. Then, as it grows, keep upgrading pot size. You will eventually get a bigger plant that’s healthy, too.

Fred Zimmer

I'm a lover of plants, animals, photography, & people, not necessarily in that order. Currently, I'm focused on photographing indoor plants & chachkies. I write & rewrite articles about creating an environment where indoor plants can thrive. I'm good at listening to music but bad at shopping to muzak.

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