If you’ve been caring for a plant that’s been in the same pot for a year or longer, you’re probably wondering if it needs to be repotted or even how often you should repot it. Knowing when to repot your beloved plant can be the difference between seeing your plant thrive and flourish versus having to see it struggling to live a long and healthy life. But, how often do you repot a plant?
Generally, houseplants should be repotted every 12 to 18 months, but not necessarily. For instance, if your plant is a succulent or a slow-growing plant, repotting the plant every two to four years is a better timeline.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into all things plant repotting. From determining when it’s time to do so, choosing the right season to repot, and the steps for repotting, by the time you’re done reading, you’ll feel much more comfortable repotting your plant into its new home.
How Do You Know When it’s Time to Repot a Plant?
There is no one hard and fast rule for when it’s time to repot your houseplant. If you blindly repot all your plants every year because that’s what other people do, you could stress the plant out and actually cause more harm than good.
You need to know a bit about your houseplant before you determine when the most appropriate time to move your plant into its new home. As I mentioned earlier, if your plant naturally grows slowly, then repotting your plant between every 24 and 48 months can be completely acceptable.
If your houseplant has more rapid growth, then you may find you have to repot it even more often than 12 months, perhaps every nine months or so. Faster growing plants will need more space sooner than other slower growing plants.
Another factor to consider when it comes to fast-growing plants is that they tend to also use up the soil’s nutrients faster. So the need for space as well as nutrients can arise quicker than most other plants.
For a detailed list of the fastest growing indoor plants you should read my article titled: The Fastest Growing Houseplants
Rather than use arbitrary numbers that may or may not apply to your houseplant, there are more definitive signs that tell you that your plant needs a new environment. If your houseplant exhibits one or more of these tell-tale signs, then no matter how quickly it usually grows, it’s time for a change.
5 Signs it’s Time to Repot your Plant
Accumulation of Minerals and Nutrients
Each time you fertilize your houseplant, some leftover residue accumulate on the soil’s surface or close to it. With time, you might see these minerals and nutrients crust on the top layer of the soil. This buildup of minerals and salts does not let water penetrate deep into the houseplant’s roots, thus starving it of the water it needs for survival.
You try to avoid getting the houseplant leaves wet, as most plants don’t really like that. Besides, the water is supposed to get to the roots. It can’t do that when it’s sitting on the top of the hardened soil, yet that’s where most of the water ends up lately.
This is because your plant is having a hard time absorbing water. More than likely, that’s due to old & compacted soil, so repotting the plant with new soil is ideal.
Compacted soil that prevents the water from getting down into the roots often forms faster when people add new soil on top of older soil that’s been drained of its nutrients. Often when you pour water on top of compacted potting soil, it just sits on the top until it eventually evaporates leaving just a small amount of water to soak just below the surface, giving the appearance that your plant has been watered when it hasn’t.
Your Plant Is Too Big
Yes, sometimes it really is as obvious as determining whether your plant outsizes the pot it’s in. If you can’t even see the pot anymore because your indoor plant has grown such rich, thick foliage, then it needs a bigger environment.
Otherwise, it’s at risk of tipping or falling over at any time because it’s grown too top heavy. This spill could cause some serious damage to your plant and possibly break the pot that it’s in.
Here’s a Related Article You Might Like: Peace Lily Too Big Here’s What to Do
Drainage Hole is Blocked
A healthy root system is desirable for any plant you own, but if what if those roots get too big? They’ll try to expand as your houseplant does, but if the roots have nowhere to go, they’ll poke out of the drainage holes on the bottom of your pot.
The hole in the bottom of your container being blocked leaves the water nowhere to go and causes it to backup in the bottom of the pot. This dilemma is a common cause of root rot, so if you can see visible white roots out of any of your pot’s drainage holes, or the water isn’t running out of the bottom after a good watering, don’t delay repotting your plant ASAP.
Your Plant Is Growing up, Not Out
There’s something weird about your houseplant lately, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. It’s growing more upward than it is wide, but it’s not really tall. Instead, it’s like the plant is levitating above the pot.
It could be that it is! When your plant doesn’t have enough room to grow, the roots can begin pushing upward on your houseplant, giving it that strange, tall appearance. This isn’t great, either, as the behavior puts a lot of pressure on the roots.
When Is the Best Season for Repotting Your Plant?
Okay, so you’ve reviewed the above signs and studied your own houseplant closely. It’s definitely exhibiting a few of the symptoms we just described. This has you concerned that you’ve waited too long to repot. You want to fix your mistakes ASAP, but are there certain times of the year that are better for repotting than others?
After all, if your houseplant is like most plants, then it probably grows most abundantly in the spring or summer. If you were to repot it then, wouldn’t you potentially interrupt the growing process? If you have a houseplant that takes a very long time to reach full maturity, such as a cactus (think upwards of two decades or longer), then you really don’t want to impact its growth in any way.
Your intuition is correct in this case. Repotting in the middle of the growing season would be interruptive to your houseplant. Instead, it’s best to plan the move before the growing season, so either at the end of winter or even in the spring for some plant species.
Why Do You Have to Repot Your Houseplant?
The thought of repotting your plant does admittedly make you nervous. You know that if you rush the process or do it too soon that you could stress out your houseplant. This could lead to it wilting or yellowing and perhaps even kill it.
It makes you wonder, is it crucial that you repot your houseplant at all? Won’t your plant be okay even if its pot is too small and the soil is old? Here are some great reasons to get into the habit of repotting.
You Can’t Propagate New Plants in a Crowded Pot
When your houseplant sustains damage (such as a cactus arm falling off) or you wish to take what you have of your plant and use it to make new plants, you have the option to propagate. This is a really cool thing to do, as you get to take the old clippings and care for them so they establish new roots elsewhere.
The keyword is elsewhere. You can’t realistically expect to propagate new plants in the same pot with your current houseplant. It will be way too overcrowded in there. If the plant clippings can’t grow roots due to lack or space or if those roots have nowhere to cling to, then your propagation will fail. Instead, it’s better to have another pot, maybe even several, for your clippings.
Potting Soil Isn’t Good Forever
This has nothing to do with expiration dates or ingredients in your soil or anything like that. Even if the soil itself isn’t moldy or rotted, its condition can still change for the worse.
For instance, we’re sure you bought well-draining soil for your houseplant because that’s what most plants need for survival. Without it, water pools up in the soil and could cause root rot. With time, though, the soil becomes more compacted, losing its draining capabilities.
Also, if you give it long enough, pests can invade the soil, potentially causing plant disease or damage. The abovementioned issue where there’s a buildup of nutrients and minerals is also disadvantageous, as this hampers drainage.
Even if you don’t change pots for your plant every year, you should at the very least replace its soil annually.
You Want Your Plant to Grow Bigger
This may be a no-brainer, but without enough space, your houseplant cannot grow to its full potential. It’s locked in this little box that it’s grown to the size of and then some. Try as it may, it can’t get any bigger before it essentially suffocates itself with all the extra foliage. So, even though your plant would grow in any other setting, it stops doing so here.
Stunted growth can sometimes be repaired, but not in all cases. If the lack of growth persists for long enough, your plant may never reach full size.
How to Repot Your Plant Step by Step
The time has come to repot your houseplant. If this is the first time you’re doing so, then this is the section for you. The following steps will outline everything you need to know for a successful repotting.
Step 1: Determine Which Pot Size Is Most Appropriate
Some indoor gardeners, when repotting, take that term quite literally. Rather than upgrade their plant’s pot to a bigger one, they just take the plant out, replace its soil, and then plunk it back in the same pot. If your houseplant has yet to outgrow its current pot, then this is sometimes all you need to do, just as we said before.
If you’ve determined your plant needs a larger pot, then you may wonder how big to go. You want to calculate your houseplant’s current diameter and then add two to four inches to that diameter to get the new pot size. Don’t go too big, though. A pot that’s oversized for your plant means there’s that much more soil to dry out after watering, which puts your plant at risk of root rot.
Step 2: Hydrate the Plant
Your houseplant should always be hydrated before you repot. The day before the move, water the plant as you normally would. By keeping it hydrated, your indoor plant may not experience shock or stress during repotting.
Step 3: Pull the Plant Out
This is the hardest and most nerve-wracking part, so take it slow but steady. Hopefully, your houseplant has not become rootbound, where the roots stick to the sides or bottom of the pot. If that is the case, then you’ll need a butter knife to pry the plant loose from its container.
Plants that have not gone rootbound should come out with much less fuss. You don’t want to grip the foliage as you tug the plant free; hold onto the base of the houseplant instead.
Step 4: Tend to the Root Ball
Deep in the soil is your houseplant’s root ball. You want to find this now, clearing away dirt so you can see it clearly. If you notice the roots have turned brown (a possible sign of root rot) or look weak or damaged, you can cut them away with disinfected shears. Overly large root balls may need trimming as well even if they’re in good shape.
Step 5: Prepare the New Pot
If your indoor plant will stay in the same pot, then empty the pot so all the old soil is gone. Clean it out with water but not soap. If you’re moving your plant to a new pot, then put in your soil, filling the container to almost the rim.
Step 6: Add Your Houseplant
Now that the new pot is ready, you need to rehome your houseplant. Put it in the pot and then push soil around the plant. The roots should not be at all exposed. Next, water the plant so the soil is moistened and pliable. You’re all done!