How and When to Repot Plants: The Ultimate Guide

A potted blueberry plant.

Potted plants are the perfect way to add color, texture and life to both indoor and outdoor spaces. But if you're caring for your plant properly and it's growing and thriving, you'll eventually need to repot it. Use this helpful guide to determine when to repot plants, along with step-by-step instructions for how to repot your plant so it can continue to flourish.

When to Repot Plants

Potted plants' growth slows during the fall and winter months. The optimal time to repot your plant is in the spring so its roots can quickly grow into their new potting mix. As a bonus, if it's a warm day, you can repot outside to reduce the mess in your house. If necessary, you can perform this task in the cooler months, but it may take longer for your plant to perk back up.

Know Whether to Repot or Not

You know the phrase "Let sleeping dogs lie"? The same philosophy applies to potted plants. If your plant shows no signs of being rootbound, is growing vigorously and has no yellowing or salty leaves, keep a good thing going by letting your plant be. Trust us — your plant will let you know when it's time.

Signs a Plant Needs Repotting

From the outside looking in, it can be tough to know whether your plant is ready for a bigger vessel. However, here are a few surefire signs it's time to size up:

  • Roots protruding from drainage holes

  • Growth has slowed or stalled, even when fertilized in the spring and summer

  • Soil dries out faster than before

  • Yellowing or drooping leaves

  • Salt forming on soil or leaves

Plants That Need Repotting More Often

As a general rule, expect to repot your plants every one to two years. However, some grow faster than others and may need more frequent moves. Examples include:

How to Repot Plants

Repotting plants can feel intimidating if you've never done it before, but all you need to do is follow a few simple steps to get your plant back on track.

1. Pick the Right Pot

Resist the urge to pick the flashiest or least expensive pot on the shelf. Here's how to find the Goldilocks of containers to serve as your plant's new home.

Consider the Size

While it may be tempting to go big or go home when picking a new pot, opt for one no more than 2 inches larger than the current vessel. Otherwise, you run the risk of root rot, where fungi and bacteria develop in waterlogged soil and begin to decay your plant's roots. And aesthetically speaking, a too-large container will make your otherwise beautiful plant look out of proportion.

Mind Your Material

Whichever option you choose, the container's color, texture and shape should complement your plant, not draw attention away from it. Here are a few popular container materials to consider:

  • Plastic: Available in a rainbow of colors, plastic pots are lightweight, virtually unbreakable, relatively inexpensive and hold moisture well. Note that they often lack proper drainage, so you may need to drill your own holes and place a saucer underneath.

  • Terra cotta: Unglazed terra cotta pots reduce the risk of soggy soil by pulling excess water from potting mix, making them a top choice for succulents and other plants that prefer life on the drier side. Their super-absorbing capabilities also mean you'll need to water more often.

  • Glazed ceramic: These pretty pots will turn any plant into a piece of decor. However, they're prone to chipping and breaking and may not have drainage holes.

Ensure Adequate Drainage

Pot-bound plants need a place for excess moisture to go, or you run the risk of root rot, leaf wilt, bacteria, fungus gnats and a host of other horticultural unpleasantries. Luckily, you can let H2O flow in several ways, including:

  • Purchasing a pot with pre-drilled holes and adding a saucer underneath

  • Drilling your own holes and adding a saucer underneath

  • Placing your plant in a pot with drainage, then putting that pot within a larger vessel without holes (also known as the cachepot or pot-within-a-pot method)

Keep It Clean

If you're reusing a pot or upcycling another vessel, give it a good clean to eliminate any pathogens, bacteria or other organisms that could harm your plant. Create a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water, and scrub the pot with a scouring brush before rinsing with water.

2. Be Persnickety About Soil

Now that you have your pot, you need to fill it with something. That leftover bag of soil you used to fill patches in your lawn should be fine, right? Not so fast. Garden soil is simply too dense for containers. Using it in pots could lead to soggy soil and all the problems that come with it.

Your best bet is a mix designed specifically for potted plants. Potting mix is typically lightweight, allows for proper drainage and includes nutrients container-bound plants need.

3. Give It a Good Drink

Now that you have your container and potting mix ready to go, water the plant in its current container and let it sit for an hour to help reduce the risk of transplant shock and make it easier to remove.

4. Remove Carefully

Repeat after us: Do not pull by the stems. You could break or damage the leaves' essential lifeline or even separate it from the roots entirely. Instead, tilt the pot upside down and place one hand over the plant and soil. Hold the plant between your fingers and gently tap the pot against the side of a table until the plant shakes loose.

5. Clean It Up

Now that your plant is free, cut back any yellow or unhealthy leaves. Using a sharp, sterile knife or scissors, break up any roots that are circling the plant or have formed a dense mat.

6. Add Soil and Place Your Plant

And now, the moment we've all been waiting for — putting your plant in its new home. First, moisten your new potting mix so it won't settle after you add it to the container. Add enough potting mix to the bottom, and place your plant so that the root ball sits roughly an inch below the top of the pot. Fill in the sides as well.

7. Give It Some More H2O

Give your newly repotted plant a final drink, place it in its proper location, then stand back and admire your work.

Now you have the know-how you need to repot any plant successfully. It's the perfect way to stretch your gardening skills, improve your plants' health — and of course, add a fun new piece to your pot collection.

For more information to help your garden thrive, visit Burpee's garden guide.

Written by Kelly Reilly,

Kelly's passion is empowering new gardeners to achieve their goals through accessible, easy-to-understand digital content.

December 22, 2021
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