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Repotting houseplants in 9 easy steps

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When is the best time for repotting houseplants? What do I need to do to get it done? That’s a question we get around here when our Denver-area gardeners have hung up their rakes and trowels for the winter and turned their attention to their indoor greenery. Just as we amend the soil in our outdoor beds, we’ve got to make sure our container-grown plants have the right nutrients, aeration, moisture, and room to grow. That’s why we recommend replacing the soil and, as necessary, “stepping up” the pot size for most houseplant species every 12 to 18 months. 

Early spring is the ideal time for repotting houseplants, but if you think they’re overdue, there’s no bad time to get the job done… unless you jump into it without making some essential preparations. Plan ahead, and follow these easy houseplant repotting steps to keep your plants healthy and happy.

1. Water your houseplant

Moving is stressful on everyone, plants included. Well-hydrated houseplants tolerate sudden environmental changes, from temperature swings to repotting and root ball division. Thoroughly water your houseplant 24 to 48 hours before the Big Day for the best outcome. 

2. Choose (and prepare) the right pot for your houseplant

If you’re unsure whether your houseplant needs a larger pot, or if you only need to refresh the soil in its existing container, give yourself some size options. If you think your plant might be ready for division, have an extra pot or two. Don’t overwhelm your plant with too much space; stick with a 2″ maximum diameter and depth increase so the roots can grow, but remember that too much unused soil space can remain damp too long, encouraging root rot. 

We recommend you select a pot with a drainage hole at the bottom. This reduces the likelihood of “wet feet” due to overwatering, lets oxygen access the soil, and allows you the option of bottom-watering your houseplant. Cover the hole with a bit of scrap window screen or a coffee filter to keep the soil in the pot while allowing air and water to flow through. 

Are you moving your houseplant to a previously-used container? Time to clean house! Remove debris and mineral buildup with a soap-free scrubbing pad, and soak the pot for 24 hours in a weak (1:10) bleach solution. Rinse the pot well and let it air-dry in the sun to neutralize any remaining bleach. 

3. Select the right potting soil for your plant species

Most indoor plants, including many succulents, thrive on high-quality all-purpose potting mixes. Select potting soil mixed with peat moss or Perlite—those white crumbly “pebbles”—to reduce soil compaction and facilitate drainage. Packaged potting soil should be moist, not dry and dusty, so if you’ve got an old, half-opened bag in your shed or garage, send it to your compost pile and start fresh. 

If you’re unsure about the type of soil your plant species needs, ask your nursery expert to help you make your selection.

4. Get your tools and work area ready

You don’t need a deluxe potting bench if you’ve got space on your kitchen counter. Cover your work surface with a few sheets of newspaper, and set out an old roasting pan or shallow tub to catch any spilled material. Have a second container on hand in which to dispose of used soil. 

These will also come in handy: 

  • A butter knife
  • A small spoon (teaspoons work great)
  • A pair of sharp, clean micro-tip pruning shears
  • A dustpan and brush
  • A bottle of rubbing alcohol

5. Remove the plant from its pot

Run the butter knife between the soil and pot wall. Next, place your hand flat across the top of the pot with your fingers around the plant’s stem, and gently tip the pot over. A few gentle taps around the outside and bottom of the pot should dislodge the old soil and root ball. 

6. Inspect and prune roots

Use your fingers to brush away the soil and loosen the root ball. Avoid damaging the thick taproots, but trim away up to a third of the thinner roots—especially those that are black and dead. Always wipe down your tools with rubbing alcohol before moving on to the next plant. Is it time to divide your plant? Gently separate the taproots and crown. 

7. Let the repotting begin

Add about two inches of potting soil to the bottom of the pot with a little mound in the center. Arrange the plant roots so they’re evenly fanned out, using your spoon to fill in the spaces between layers of roots. Gently tamp down the soil as you go. 

The plant’s crown should end up about a half-inch from the top of the pot once you’re done. Keep in mind that the soil will settle after the first watering, giving you a good inch of space between the pot rim and the soil surface. 

8. Allow your houseplant to recover

Even if you do everything right, your houseplant will have experienced a bit of root shock. Place it in filtered sunlight and hold off on watering for a few days to a week. Then, replace it to its favorite spot and return to your regular maintenance routine. 

9. Speaking of watering…

We recommend bottom-watering newly-repotted and established houseplants to stimulate healthy root growth. Place the container in a couple of inches of water for up to an hour. Sprinkle a little water on the top to reach the upper roots, but go lightly. Every fourth watering, generously water your houseplant from the top to help flush out accumulated minerals. It’s best to water early in the day, as sunlight triggers the plant’s moisture uptake and photosynthesis. 

Need help? Come to us!

Country Fair Garden Center is the Rocky Mountain West’s resource for gardening supplies, locally-raised nursery plants, and seasoned advice tailored to Colorado’s unique climates. We’ve been here to help out local gardeners for more than 70 years, and we’re here for you. Call us or visit our Denver location anytime you (or your houseplants) need a little expert guidance to thrive!


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