Updated: Apr 18, 2022
When is it time to repot a houseplant? Many new plant owners eagerly fill a large ceramic pot with heavy potting soil and then wait expectantly for their new plant to fill out its new home, only to find that it begins to droop, the leaves turn yellow, and it slowly begins dying. I certainly made this mistake a few times when I was first learning to care for indoor plants. But over time I’ve found repotting too soon to be one of the biggest mistakes people make while growing houseplants.
Don't drown your plant by repotting too soon
Why is this? Most indoor houseplants are species indigenous to tropical environments (think of places like Costa Rica) that are very warm, with constant air circulation, all year long. Most of us keep our homes, on the other hand, in the 60’s or 70’s with much less air circulation.
When we keep tropical plants in our homes, a large volume of heavy potting soil, cool temperatures, and low airflow are perfect conditions for root rot, as the soil stays wet far too long. A houseplant owner, once beaming with pride, can soon get very frustrated after making this mistake. His or her confidence fades, attributing the results to a black thumb. This always makes me sad to hear because I know none of my customers truly have a black thumb. They just didn’t understand how easily root rot can occur. I have had this exact conversation with new houseplant owners a thousand times. So I am going to teach you how and when to repot a plant.
Most houseplants do not need to be repotted when first brought home. They can easily live in the nursery pot they came in for at least a year. When the roots fill the pot (most people call this ‘root bound’) the houseplant is at its happiest. If you want to give your plant a prettier home, instead of transplanting it to a large ceramic pot, simply place the nursery pot into your ceramic pot.
This large snake plant is happily root bound in 4" pot. Rather than repotting, simply place the nursery pot in a pretty ceramic pot.
So how do I know when to repot?
The key is not the size of the plant relative to its pot, but how often it needs to be watered. Most plants should dry out between waterings. Plants will tell you when they need to be watered. Some of the indicators are leaves that are soft, thin, papery, wilted, or wrinkled. If this happens, you haven’t killed your plant. It’s just letting you know it’s time to water. If the plant is in appropriately sized pot this should take seven to ten days. Once you begin needing to water more frequently than every four to five days, that's when it’s time to repot.
A step-by-step guide, when it is time to repot
When it’s time to repot, here is what to do next:
Use a nursery pot no more than an inch wider in diameter than the one the plant is currently in. (Nursery pots are the plastic pots with drain holes that plants are grown in.) If it’s in a 4-inch pot then go up to a 5-inch pot and so on.
Pull the root ball out of the old nursery pot. You may loosen up the roots a little bit but don’t completely break up the root ball. If you disturb the roots too much you may put the plant into shock.
Use a mixture of indoor potting mix and perlite to repot your plant. (Perlite is a substance consisting of white styrofoam pieces you sometimes see in potting soil.) My preference is a 50/50 mix. There are other ways to create well-draining soil but I like to make things simple and affordable. When you add half perlite to your soil mixture it creates light, airy soil that your houseplant will love!
Add a thin layer of the 50/50 mix to the bottom of the new nursery pot.
Place your root ball into the center of the nursery pot and fill the sides up with the soil mixture. Put a thin layer of new soil on the top.
You can find a new, pretty ceramic pot to place your nursery pot into and water well.
50/50 mix of potting soil and perlite
If you don't have perlite, consider using a repotting kit from The Plant House, which includes a gallon-size bag of 50/50 mix and a few nursery pots.
It will take a couple weeks for your plant to adjust to its new pot, but you’ll find this will help your plant grow into its new home much more effectively than putting it into a large pot with heavy soil.
Thank you for stopping by and checking out my first houseplant blog. This will be my first of many. Those that know me know how much I love to talk about plant care and how much I love sharing my experience so you can be successful!
When considering a new pot for your plant, it's important to consider the breathability of the kind of pot your plant sits in since this determines how quickly the soil dries out. Here are a few rules of thumb I've found helpful to choose whether to keep your plant in its nursery pot or whether it's safe to take it out of the nursery pot and put it directly into the new pot. Each pot in our pottery collection includes in the description whether the plant will need to be kept in its nursery pot or whether It's safe to take it out of the nursery pot. We use these rules of thumb:
The new pot is either made of terra cotta, clay, or plastic.
The new pot should be okay, regardless of the material, if it's smaller than 3" in diameter and has drain holes.
The plant is being kept outside in warm weather.