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Tips for Repotting Houseplants

As March approaches April, I start dreaming of the warm, sunny day that my houseplants will make the annual trek to my back porch for the summer. Prior to them embarking on this sojourn, I like to check the condition of my plants and determine whether any need to be repotted.  This change will encourage healthy new growth, and help the plants maintain vigor during the warm months of the year.

Even if this change is good, it is not always easy. Repotting a houseplant can be quite stressful for the plant. The gardener knows for plants to thrive, they must leave the comforts of the nursery or greenhouse and extend their roots into new and larger volumes of soil. Even the most experience gardener may experience anxiety at the thought of tearing apart pot-bound roots or panic when the plant exhibits transplant shock. Trees may drop many of their leaves; houseplants may wilt and die back and flowering plants may drop their buds. However, given enough time, adequate water, and the right light, plants will once again establish a strong root system and perk back up.

Not every plant can tolerate transplanting as easily as others. Here are some tips to reduce transplant shock to your houseplants.

Repotting Houseplants

  • If you see roots growing out of the bottom drainage holes of the container, it is time to repot the plant. Don't see any drainage holes? Then it is also time to repot into a container that has drainage holes. Good drainage is essential to healthy plants.
  • Choose a new container that is two inches larger in diameter than the original. Selecting a larger pot can lead to root rot because the plant can't use the available water.
  • If you are reusing a pot, clean it thoroughly with a scouring brush and dip in a 10 percent bleach solution to kill any disease-causing organisms. Rinse with clean water.
  • Plant most houseplants in a soil-free potting mix. Most contain a combination of organic matter, such as peat moss or ground pine bark, and an inorganic material, such as washed sand, perlite or vermiculite. 
  • Make sure the plant is hydrated by watering an hour before repotting. This is a good time to remove any dead or unsightly foliage.
  • When repotting, break up any pot-bound or circling roots, so you no longer have a dense mat of roots on the outside of the root ball.
  • Place the plant in the pot at the same height it was in the original container. Fill in with soil around the edges and firm up the potting mix to give good contact with the roots and so there isn't much settling.
  • Leave a one-inch gap between the top of the potting mix and the top of the container for watering and plant growth.

Water the plant and place in its intended location. If indoors, allow water to drain into a saucer under the pot and then dump any excess water still present after 20 minutes. If placing plants outside, I typically will not use saucers under my containers unless I want to protect the surface where the container resides.

For more information about specific types of houseplants and houseplant care, follow the Douglas County Master Gardener Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/dcmastergardener) to receive announcements about upcoming Facebook Live houseplant education sessions.

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