How to Repot Houseplants
By Ellen Zachos
1. Find the Right Pot
First, choose a container one size bigger than your current pot. Pots come in standard sizes, labeled by diameter, usually in 2-inch increments. If your plant is in a 6-inch pot, the next size up would be an 8-inch pot, which would provide the rootball a full inch of fresh soil all the way around.
Resist the temptation to move your plant to a much bigger pot. You may think you’re saving yourself time because you won’t have to repot as often, but over-potting can kill a plant.
If you were to move a 6-inch rootball into a 12-inch pot, that would give the rootball 3 inches of fresh soil all the way around. Why would that be a bad thing? After you water a plant, the soil gradually dries out as the roots absorb water from the soil. This balance between wet and dry, oxygen and water, is crucial. Fresh soil with no roots in it will stay wet, keeping the roots wet for longer than they should be. The roots may rot, slowly killing the plant.
2. Remove the Plant
Get a bag of potting mix and a pottery shard (a broken piece of an old pot) or small piece of landscape cloth or screen. Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with the shard or cloth to keep soil from pouring out the bottom of the pot, then add an inch or two of soil.
Next, knock the plant out of its outgrown pot. To do this, tip the pot upside down, holding the stem loosely between your fingers. If the rootball doesn’t slip right out, knock the pot (hard) against the side of a table, or, if the pot is plastic, roll it on its side while pressing down hard. This should loosen the rootball so you can slide it out gently.
It’s not unheard of for a plant’s roots to attach themselves to the pot walls. You may need to crack a terra-cotta pot (try a hammer) and peel away the pieces. Or, for a plastic pot, cut it apart with scissors.
Take a look at the rootball once it’s exposed. An extremely overgrown plant may have roots that completely encircle the plant. If this is the case, poke your fingers in and among the roots, teasing the roots apart to loosen them up. (Notice how little room there is for soil?) Use the same strength of touch you’d use to untangle snarled hair: firm but kind.
3. Repot the Rootball
Place the rootball in the center of its new pot, holding it in place with one hand, then add soil around the edges with the other. Press the new soil in firmly (you may need to use a dowel or chopstick to really poke it down), adding more until the new soil meets the level of the existing soil. Always maintain the original potting level of the plant. This should be about 1/2 inch to 1 inch below the rim of the pot so water won’t splash out when you water.
4. Water Thoroughly
Bring the plant to the sink, and water it thoroughly. The soil may settle in a bit while you’re watering. If necessary, add more, pressing it in firmly and watering again.
If your newly transplanted plant looks droopy or wilted, keep it in a shady spot for about a week, away from air conditioners, radiators or fans. All three of these dry the air. After a week your plant should be perky again. Move it back to its regular place and resume normal care.
For more houseplant information visit:
• Keep Your Houseplants Happy
Adapted from Growing Healthy Houseplants (c) Ellen Zachos. Illustration by (c) Beverly Duncan. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.
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