All the Signs That It’s Time To Repot Your Plant

Plus, how to actually re-home that pothos.

July 22, 2021
Photo by Cori Sears

There comes a time in every houseplant’s life when an upgrade in living accommodations is required, and it’s time for a repotting. This could be because your plant has outgrown its previous potting container or because it simply needs a soil refresh. Either way, repotting is an important part of keeping your plants happy and healthy long-term. Here’s what you need to know when it comes time to transfer your plant to a new home.

Signs It’s Time to Repot

When it comes to how often houseplants should be repotted, it’s unfortunately not an exact science. It varies depending on the plant, the age of the plant, and the conditions in your home. Generally, young plants will need to be repotted more often than mature, established plants, but timing can ultimately vary.

One of the easiest ways to tell that a plant needs repotting is to check and see if the roots are growing out of the drainage hole of the pot. If so, this is an indication that the roots have run out of room and your plant needs a larger pot. Similarly, you may begin to notice that your plant is being slowly pushed upwards out of the pot by its roots, which is also a sign that your plant needs some more space to grow.

Yellowing leaves and loss of leaves, while they can be indications of lots of different problems, are also telltale signs that your plant may be rootbound. In both cases, there is not enough soil for the roots to support a strong, healthy plant so the plant begins to sacrifice foliage in order to preserve energy. Unfortunately, repotting a stressed plant can sometimes worsen its condition, so it’s important to ensure that your plant is not displaying these signs because of some other issue—like overwatering, under watering, or lack of light—before repotting.

Choosing the Right Soil

Photo by Cori Sears

Believe it or not, not all soil is created equal, and this is especially true when it comes to choosing the right soil for repotting your plant. For example, cacti and succulents are drought-tolerant, easily susceptible to root rot, and can survive in low-quality soils, so they do best in well-draining, sandy soil mixtures that are low in organic matter. Conversely, plants in the aroid family (like pothos, ZZ plants, and monsteras) appreciate nutrient-rich soil that’s high in organic matter, moist but well-draining, and provides adequate aeration to the roots. Before repotting your plant, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research about your plant's unique needs and ensure that you have the correct soil to help your plant thrive.

Miracle-Gro 8 qt. Cactus Palm and Citrus Potting Soil Mix | Shop on The Home Depot, $4.97 Photo by The Home Depot
Organic Potting Mix | Shop on The Sill, $12 Photo by The Sill

All About Potting Containers

When it comes to potting containers, the choices can be overwhelming. Plastic or clay? Drainage hole or no drainage hole? Deep or shallow? Small or large? The answer ultimately depends on two things: your plant’s needs, and your own personal preferences and care style.

Clay or terracotta pots are great for moisture control as they quickly absorb excess moisture in the soil, and are often chosen for plants that enjoy dry conditions. Plastic pots, on the other hand, don’t provide any moisture control benefits, so are usually chosen for plants that enjoy moist conditions. Keep in mind that if you choose terracotta for a moisture-loving plant, you will need to water it far more regularly than if you choose plastic, and if you choose plastic for a plant that enjoys dry conditions, you will likely need to water less often than if you chose terracotta or clay.

Pennington 7.5 in. Cabo Flair Terra Cotta Clay Pot (Set of 1) | Shop on The Home Depot, $3.98 Photo by The Home Depot
Mkono 7.5" Plastic Plant Pots (Set of 5) | Shop on Amazon, $22.98 Photo by Amazon

Generally, most gardeners choose pots with drainage holes for their plants to prevent water logging and root rot, but that doesn’t mean you need to pass up those cute decorative pots without drainage holes. You can simply use these decorative pots as pot covers by placing your potted plant inside to cover the plastic or terracotta pot that your plant lives in.

When it comes to choosing the correct pot size for your plant, some plants need more space than others, but as a general rule you should plan to use a potting container that is at least one to two inches larger than its previous pot.

Making the Switch

Photo by Cori Sears

Once you’ve determined that your plant needs to be repotted, prepared the correct soil, and chosen your new potting container, it’s officially time to repot!

Start by removing the old pot from the roots of your plant by turning the plant sideways and squeezing or gently twisting the pot away from the root ball. For plants that are extremely root bound this may be a bit difficult, so take your time and try to break as few roots as possible.

Once you’ve removed your plant from its old pot, loosen the root ball as much as possible—without breaking roots—to remove any old soil. Then, place the root ball in the new pot and scoop the new soil in around the plant, patting it into place as you go. Water your plant thoroughly and place it back in the same location that it was living before being repotted.

Do you have any tips for repotting houseplants? Let us know in the comments below!

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Houseplant enthusiast & freelance writer.