3 Easy Steps for Repotting Root-Bound Plants for More Indoor Greenery

Give your indoor plants some more room so they'll keep on thriving.

Many houseplants require repotting into a larger container every so often to help them continue growing in a healthy way. It may seem a little intimidating to wrangle your favorite plant out of its pot and plunk it into another one. But don't worry, most popular, easy-care houseplants such as peace lilies and philodendrons will tolerate the transition just fine, as long as you handle them gently. It may take a few days to adjust, but your plant will soon settle into its roomier digs and produce new growth again.

And not only does repotting root-bound plants freshen up your greenery, but it's also an opportunity to update your decor with a stylish container. These tips will help you repot all your houseplants successfully.

houseplants on side table
Marty Baldwin

How to Tell If Your Houseplant Needs Repotting

Not sure when it's time to repot? Plants give you several clues when they're getting too cramped (a problem that's often referred to as pot-bound or root-bound). Roots starting to poke out of the pot's drainage holes is a sure sign. Water immediately running through the pot instead of getting absorbed could signal its repotting time.

To check, tip the pot on its side, squeeze or tap the outside of the pot gently to loosen the root ball, then slide the whole plant out so you can see the roots. If they appear to be circling around and around, with very little soil between them, you've got a root-bound plant in need of repotting.

Other signs a plant could use a larger container include: It has become too top-heavy for its container and topples easily, it wilts soon after watering, it develops new leaves in decreasing sizes, or it displays yellowing lower leaves. You should also consider repotting houseplants that have become infested with insects. Some pests, like fungus gnats, hide in potting soil so refreshing that can help control the bugs.

How to Repot a Houseplant

Once you've figured out which houseplants need repotting, it's a good idea to water them well the day before you plan to upgrade their containers. A thirsty plant is a stressed plant, and already unhappy plants won't adjust well to the move. Plus, a damp root ball will be easier to work with than a dry one.

You'll need a new pot that's 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the plant's root ball. Going too much larger just wastes potting mix and can throw off the proportions of the plant to the container. The container also should be a couple of inches deeper than your plant's current pot, both to encourage roots to expand and to ensure you can position the top of the root ball an inch or so below the rim of the new pot to help hold in water until it can soak into the soil.

When you're ready to start repotting root-bound plants, you may want to take your plant outside to minimize the indoor mess. However, if that's not possible or the weather is below 50°F, you can keep the mess contained by covering your work surface with newspaper or using an indoor gardening mat. Then, follow these simple steps to repot your houseplant.

1. Remove Your Plant from Its Pot and Loosen Roots

lifting root ball of houseplant up
Peter Krumhardt

Grasp your plant close to the soil level and gently pull the whole root ball out of the old pot. Then, loosen tightly bound roots with your fingers. It's okay if some roots break off or soil falls away from the root ball as you work. This is also a good time to divide a multi-stemmed plant if you want to make more to share or expand your collection.

2. Position Plant in New Pot and Add Fresh Soil

Fill the new pot with enough fresh potting mix to keep the top of the root ball an inch or two below the rim of the new container. Position your plant by centering it and adjusting the height as needed, then add more potting mix to fill in between the root ball and the sides of the container. Gently press down on the soil and tuck in any stray roots. Add slow-release plant food if you wish.

3. Water Well

Water thoroughly after repotting to help the soil settle around your plant's roots. Plenty of moisture will also help your plant recover from the move better. If you have a saucer under the pot, make sure to empty it, so your plant doesn't get too soggy.

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