Houseplant Potting 101
With spring just around the corner, now’s the perfect time of year to consider giving your houseplants plants a little refresh. Give them a fresh start this season with some new soil and maybe even a larger container. So, gather up your plants, a bag of potting mix, and let’s get messy! (Your plants will thank you!)
Repot vs. Refresh
Before you immediately start hunting down larger pots for all of your houseplants, consider whether your plant actually needs it. Sometimes “repotting” can just involve refreshing your plant’s soil, and not necessarily putting it in a new container. Since plants can deplete the nutrients found in soil over time, just replacing the soil occasionally can actually be quite beneficial.
When to Repot
We frequently get asked how often you should be repotting your houseplants into a new container. Typically, you can expect to repot approximately every twelve to eighteen months depending on how quickly your plant grows. That said, there are some slow-growing plants that will be happy in the same container for many years before it’s time for a larger pot.
So how can you tell when it’s time to go for a larger container? Keep an eye out for some of these signs:
- Roots growing out of drainage holes.
- Roots pushing your plant out of the container.
- Slower than normal growth (not counting winter dormancy).
- Your plant is drying out more quickly than usual.
- Considerable salt and mineral build-up on the plant or container.
Still not sure? Push your finger into the soil and run it around the inside edge of the container. If you can go all the way around without hitting a root, you can hold off on upsizing.
Choosing your Pot
If your plant does need a larger container, generally you shouldn’t go more than 1-2” larger than the current one. You simply want a little extra room for your plant to grow into.
You might think that jumping up a few sizes will save you time in the long run but going to too large of a pot will lead to a few problems for your plant. When a houseplant has lots of extra space in the pot, the plant will focus its energy on growing new roots to fill the space which can adversely affect growth above the soil. Additionally, too much extra soil around the roots can actually absorb too much water, potentially leading to root rot.
When choosing your container, in addition to paying attention to the size, you should also be looking for containers that have drainage holes at the bottom, and a saucer to catch any excess water. Too much water collecting at the bottom of your container without a way out can also cause root rot, which is why we always recommend having containers with good drainage.
You should also be mindful of the material of your container. Something like terracotta, which is absorbent, will soak up water, meaning you may have to water more frequently. If you tend to overwater, or if your plant likes more of a dry environment (like cacti) this may actually be a beneficial material to use. Glazed ceramic containers on the other hand aren’t absorbent at all, so any excess water will either be absorbed by the soil or will drain to the bottom of the container. Plants that like a moist environment (like peace lilies) may do better in a glazed container. Be sure to check out our watering guide for additional watering tricks.
Choosing your Soil
Be sure to use the appropriate soil for your plant. We recommend our own Van Wilgen’s Professional Potting Mix for most containers, though with some finicky plants you might need a plant-specific potting mix, especially for orchids, cacti, succulents, and African violets. The main difference is how quickly the soil will drain. Potting soils tend to be “heavier” since they retain water, while cactus mixes, for example, are “lighter” since they’re more porous and don’t absorb as much water. For this reason, we would also recommend against using something like garden soil since it’s much heavier and can actually smother your houseplant’s roots.
How to Re-pot
Steps to Re-pot:
- Carefully remove the plant from its container by tilting it sideways and gently pulling on the base of the plant until it slides out. If the container is a thinner nursery pot, you may be able to squeeze from the bottom of the pot to easily remove it.
- Remove old potting mix from around the root system. We recommend removing about one-third of the soil that’s in the pot.
- Take a few moments to loosen up the plant’s roots. If the plant has been in a too-small container for too long, you may notice that the plant is root-bound. Carefully pull apart tight coils of roots, especially along the bottom of the plant. If you happen to notice any signs of root rot, carefully clip away affected areas, making sure to clean your tools in between cuts.
- Add a few inches of fresh potting mix to the bottom of your container, and then carefully set your plant atop the new soil, making sure it’s straight and centered. Add additional potting mix around the sides until it’s stable. Avoid packing the soil too tightly in order to let the roots breathe
- Give your plant a drink, until you see water draining from the bottom of the pot. Even out the soil at the top of the container, and if necessary, top off with some additional soil.