No matter how many gardening tips you read up on, or how tune with your inner Mother Nature you might be, caring for a houseplant is not an if-then kind of undertaking. What we know: Watering is good (with restraint), and sunlight is good (depending on what kind of world your plant's ancestors grew up in). But when branches droop or shrivel, what else can be done?
Repotting—the act of finding your houseplant a new home—isn't always the solution, but it's an important form of houseplant maintenance that's often overlooked. (Potting up, or "up potting", is the act of moving your plant to a larger home; more on that later.) With a little help from Jesse Waldman at Pistils Nursery in Portland (who once taught us how to make a terrarium that would actually stay alive), we learned all about why it's worth your time—and how to do it.
First things first, what's the point of this activity? If your plant's looking a little sad despite your religious devotion to its proper watering and sun cycles, repotting it might just be the way to perk it up. "There are a ton of reasons it could be getting droopy," Jesse concedes, "but repotting [including pruning the roots] is going to promote fresh root growth, and you'll be adding fresh soil, which adds nutrients."
In the wild, plants can spread their roots as much as they please (or at least until they run into competing roots). But in a pot, a plant's growth is hampered, and as a result, there's a chance that your plant is root-bound: "When you pull your plant out of its pot, or at the nursery, and there’s a lot of white roots wrapping around and around, it's root-bound," Jesse explains. Certain plants, like those in the Philodendron family (including monstera deliciosa) are especially prone to this condition—though they don't seem to mind it. The problem with root-bound plants is that watering them effectively is nearly impossible. And this could mean that your plant isn't getting any water, and that its roots are wet, which encourages fungi to grow. Not an ideal environment!
In a case of root-bind, roots grow thick and tough and wiry within the pot, creating a lot of air pockets in the soil; when you add water to a root-bound plant, it drops right through without actually moistening the roots. When you're watering, does the water go straight through the soil and out the bottom of the planter? Your plant might be root-bound. (Succulents and cacti—or plants like Steighorn Ferns or Jungle Cacti—aren't as prone to the condition, as their roots serve the plant differently than other houseplants.)
Now relax. At first, your plant might not look perkier—"it's likely in a little shock!"—but give it time to adjust to its new home before worrying.
Maybe your plant is starting to look a little ridiculous in the pot you've got it in (Jesse's even had plants topple over because their foliage was so much heavier than their pot). In this case, you'll want to find your plant a slightly larger home: "As a general rule of thumb, you want to move your plant really gradually," Jesse cautions, recommending a pot that's only one or two inches larger than its current container. "You don’t want to take something form a 4-inch pot to a 10-inch pot," he says, "as all that extra soil with no roots [to drink up all the water] will stay really wet and rot your plant."
How do you tend to droopy plants? Share your go-to remedies in the comments.