How (and when) to repot a houseplant, in 6 easy steps

If your houseplants have stopped growing, they might need repotting. Here’s how to do it right, according to the experts.

If, like us, you’re obsessed with houseplants, chances are you’ve found yourself with a growing army of leafy friends (we can’t be the only ones who have had a few too many plant deliveries during lockdown). However, while buying plants is all too easy, taking care of them is a little harder. 

We all know plants need water and light to survive, but when it comes to covering the extra bits – giving them food, for example – things become a little trickier. In fact, one of the areas of plant parenthood we’ve found most puzzling over the last couple of weeks has been working out how on earth to repot our plants.

We know that repotting our leafy friends is a great way to give them the chance to grow and thrive (and also gives us an excuse to invest in a gorgeous new pot), but the fear of doing it wrong and – dare we say it – killing them, is stopping us from taking the plunge.

With this in mind, we asked the experts over at Patch Plants to tell us how it’s done. From choosing the right size pot (it’s essential you get this right, apparently) to the tools you’ll need to get started, here’s everything you need to know about repotting your houseplants, in six easy steps.

Why should you repot a plant?

Repotting a plant simply means moving a plant from a smaller pot into a bigger one. There are a number of reasons why repotting a plant is a good idea: besides the fact that it gives the roots room to grow and expand (therefore causing the plant to grow) moving a plant to a bigger pot can give it more stability and stop it from tumbling over.

If you don’t want your plant to grow bigger you can keep it in the same size pot, but be careful: if a plant becomes too root bound it can get in the way of water drainage, leaving the roots vulnerable to rot.

How to know when to repot your plant

Step one of the repotting process is working out whether your plants actually need to be repotted in the first place. According to Meg Spink, Patch Plants’ resident plant doctor, the best way to tell whether or not you need to repot your plant is by checking out their roots.

“Happy, healthy plants will need repotting a year or two after purchase,” she explains. 

“The best way to tell whether your plant needs to be repotted is by checking the root structure. If the roots are visibly pushing through the drainage holes in the nursery pot or through the soil on top, it’s probably time.”

The best time of year to repot a plant is…

… during the warmer months, so you’re in luck!

The best time to repot is in spring or summer – when the plant is actively growing,” Spink says. “In winter, plants tend to hibernate, so there’s little point in encouraging new growth.”

What tools do you need to repot a plant?

Having the right tools and space to repot your plant is a great way to guarantee success, so don’t go repotting willy-nilly!

“Ensure you have the right tools: a larger pot with drainage holes, compost, a trowel and enough newspaper and space, either inside or outside,” Spink says.

How to choose the right repotting pot

The whole point of repotting is to give your plant more space to expand its roots – but picking a pot which is much larger than the plant’s previous pot could be a recipe for disaster.

“The new pot should be only slightly bigger than the existing pot – ideally two finger spaces larger in diameter,” Spink explains. 

“Any bigger, and the plant may develop shock; any smaller and there really isn’t much point in repotting!”

How to repot a plant

You’ve worked out your plant needs repotting, you’ve bought yourself a new pot and you’ve laid out your tools: now, all that’s left to do is the repotting itself. But how do you transfer your plant to its new pot without messing it up?

“Prepare the new pot with compost in the base and tease the plant from the existing pot before placing in the new pot,” Spink says. “This can be a bit fiddly and messy, so be sure to have newspaper or space outside.”

If your plant’s original pot is made out of a bendy material, try giving the pot a few squeezes to loosen the compost from the outside (you can put the plant’s roots between your fingers and tip it upside down to make the process easier). 

“Fill the spaces with plenty of compost; the plant won’t need any new food for at least a few weeks,” Spink adds.

Once this is all done, give your plant a good watering and you’re all ready to go!

For more help on repotting your houseplants, you can check out Patch plants’ houseplant parenting tutorial.

Images: Getty/Unsplash

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