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Tips for Repotting Your Houseplant

When your plant’s roots fill its container and begin growing out the bottom – it’s time to repot and provide more growing space.

If you’re wondering what size the new pot should be, a good rule of thumb is one to two siazes larger than your current pot. For example, if you have a five-inch pot, pick up one that’s six or seven inches. Why not just step up to a much larger pot and save interim repotting? A pot that’s too large can cause problems. The extra space will accommodate excess soil, which will hold more water than the roots can absorb. This encourages root rot. (Did you know that the most common cause of houseplant demise is over watering?)

Most pots are made of clay, ceramic, plastic or metal. Here are the pros and cons of each.



Though breakable, pots made of clay provide excellent aeration for the roots, which is essential for some plants such as orchids. The containers’ porous walls absorb and release moisture, helping to avoid over  watering issues. On the flip side, because the pots’ surfaces release moisture, clay containers dry out fast. You’ll need to water plants in terracotta more often than those in other types of pots. All this watering necessitates drainage holes in the bottom; make sure the pots you choose have these.



Ceramic pots typically have a glazed surface and this thin layer of glass keeps water from evaporating through the sides. Because of this, glazed ceramic pots need to be watered less frequently than terracotta ones. On the down side, ceramic containers, especially large ones, can be quite heavy. One way to manage ceramic containers is to plant in a plastic liner pot and slip that inside the ceramic. Should you need to move your plants from one window to the another seasonally, the liner approach lets your move the two pieces separately, which is easier.



The increasingly popular plastic containers are cheaper and lighter than clay or ceramic pots. With much less porous walls, plastic pots cut down the watering needs and are unlikely to crack or split if left outside in cold weather. Another reason for the popularity is the pots are available in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes.



Decorative metal pots offer attractive, lightweight options for houseplant containers. However, when placed in full sun, metal containers tend to over heat, cooking the soil and the roots that are growing near the sides of the pot. Not good. The best way to mange this is to plant in plastic and slip the plastic pot inside the metal one. When using a metal exterior pot, also known as a cachepot, be aware that the absence of a drainage hole can cause water to collect inside. Avoid letting this happen because standing water is likely to rot roots.


Repotting Steps

  1. Choose potting medium that offers a balance of good drainage and water retention properties. Plain garden soil usually isn’t ideal. It tends to pack down, leaving insufficient space for oxygen around roots. Choose potting soil instead.
  2. Put gravel or other drainage material in the bottom of the pot. Cover that layer with potting soil.
  3. To remove the plant from its current pot, cover the soil with one hand, slipping the plant between the fore and middle fingers. Holding the plant upside down, tap the edge of the container against a hard surface. Loosen and knock the plant out of the pot.
  4. If the plant is root bound, unwind the circular and entwined roots. If it’s impossible to untangle them, vertically cut them in several places, equidistant around the rootball and lightly loosen the bound roots. This is called “butterflying.”
  5. Place the plant in the new pot with the soil line an inch below the pot rim. Add soil below if necessary and fill in around the sides of the plant. Don’t add soil above the original soil line.
  6. Settle the soil by gently tapping the pot against the side of a table or using your fingers to lightly press the soil. Never pack the soil tightly.  Water well until excess water drains out of the pot.
10/22/2013    Gardening Know-How