The idea of repotting your favorite plants might make you anxious. While you know your green friend would be happier in a bigger home, you’re afraid moving it will kill it. But learning how to repot a plant is easier than you think, and helping it make the move is often better than keeping it as-is and hoping for the best.
Just prior to the new growing season, late winter or early spring is the time of the year to repot a plant, according to Susan Spanger, professional gardener and floral designer of Bloomful Floral Design. There’s a good chance yours needs it, too: “The general rule of thumb is that young and fast-growing plants will need to be repotted every six months to a year, and older plants need to be repotted every few years,” she says.
There are more reasons to repot a plant aside from its age, though—one of the biggest being that its roots desperately need some additional space in order to stay healthy and grow.
“If a plant’s root system is confined to a container for too long, it can become root-bound. Simply put, most root-bound plants are those that have grown too large for their container or pot,” she says. “You’ll know if this has happened if the roots have taken up too much space within the pot, forming a circular dense web of roots. Or, if the roots are protruding from the drainage holes or are too exposed with inadequate soil covering them.”
To make sure your plant thrives for years to come, follow these easy-to-follow instructions on how to repot a plant without killing it.
How to repot a plant without killing it
1. Choose the right pot
When you’re repotting your plant, you don’t necessarily need to move it to a bigger one. Sometimes your plant’s potting mix just needs to be refreshed to provide it with new nutrients. But if your plant is getting too big for its pot, choose a new one that’s only a little bigger. If you choose a pot that’s too big, you run the risk of overwatering and root rot (the most common killer!), which is more likely when a plant is swimming in potting mix.
Instead of repotting your plant directly into a decorative pot, Spanger recommends keeping it in a plastic grow pot—like the kind it had when you bought it—and placing that into your fancier container. That way, the plant has proper drainage. If you’ve had drainage problems in the past, she says you can also choose a taller pot over a shorter option.
2. Buy the right soil
If you’re unsure which type of potting soil to buy, Spanger recommends selecting one that consists of coarse-fibered peat moss (70 percent) combined with a high percentage of perlite (30 percent). “You’ll recognize perlite as the tiny, roundish white specks which introduce air into the soil amid the other components,” she says. You can buy bags online, or pick one up from a greenhouse, or home supply store, like Home Depot.
3. Inspect and loosen up the roots
Now that you have everything you need to repot your plant, you’re ready to get started. Spanger says your first step is inspecting and loosening up the roots. You can do so by gently untangling them with your fingers, starting at the bottom and working your way to the sides. However, if your plant is super root-bound with a really tight root ball, you might need to use a clean knife. Simply make a few cuts on the bottoms and sides of the plant that allow you to loosen the roots up.
4. Put your plant in its new home
After you loosen up your plant’s roots, it’s time to repot it. “After filling the pot to the base with fresh potting soil, place the root ball on top in the center. You need to make sure the surface of the root ball is below the rim so it’s covered sufficiently with soil,” says Spanger. “Once it’s correctly positioned in the pot, gently place soil around and over the roots, giving them the ability to move and grow.” Finish by lightly watering your plant, then don’t water it again for at least a week to give it time to adjust.
Here’s how to keep your plants alive, according to a professional gardener. Then learn the six most common mistakes people make with their indoor plants.