When to Repot Plants: 7 Helpful Steps

Understanding when to repot plants is crucial to being a responsible plant parent. The process for how to repot a plant is typically the same for all plant types. But the actual materials, steps, and techniques for repotting plants vary slightly based on plant species. 

It took me a long time to realize that it’s necessary to repot houseplants into larger pots, much like you have to give your children new clothes and shoes as they grow. Luckily, some visual signs can tell you that your plants are ready for repotting. Keep reading to learn how to repot a plant and how to know when it’s time to repot plants.

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When is the Best Time to Repot Plants?

plant taken out of existing pot

It’s important to wait until the right time of year to repot plants if you don’t want to stunt the plant’s growth. Repotting is best done in the spring, as the plant’s growth becomes active. 

The roots are fresh and young, so they’re able to recuperate quickly versus trying to repot when the plant enters its slow growth during dormancy in the fall or winter. That’s not to say that there is anything forbidding you from repotting your plant in cooler months. It can just take longer for your plant to regain its full vitality. 

In most cases, you should only repot your plants once a year or when they outgrow their current housing or become rootbound.

Plants that are young or have a fast growth rate can require potting every six months for up to one year. Slower growing, older plants can sometimes go a few years without needing a new home.

What are Signs That It’s Time to Repot?

Unless your plant specifically requires yearly repottings, leaving the specimens in their current home as long as possible is best. Wait until you see signs that your plant is ready to move out before you upgrade to a new pot.

What signs do you need to see to know that your plants are ready for repotting? Yellowing, salt buildup, or wilted leaves can be one outward sign of a problem with your plant’s growth. So watch for these plant repotting signs.

  • Soil that dries out fast and stays dry
  • Plants that shed their leaves while still actively growing
  • Slowed or stalled growth during the active season, even with fertilizer
  • Roots blocking or poking out of drainage holes
  • Leaves or dirt forms salt
  • Drooping and yellowing leaves
  • Soil medium starts to change colors 

How to Repot Plants?

a variety of plants ready to repot

Knowing when to repot your plants isn’t good if you don’t know how to pot a plant properly. It may seem intimidating when you think about repotting a houseplant. But it’s not as scary as it sounds. 

Step 1 – Picking the Proper Pot

You must choose the right kind of pot for your plants. The pot’s appearance should be second to function. There are several criteria to consider when shopping for a replacement pot for repotting. 

What Size Do You Need?

The first criterion to weigh when choosing a pot for repotting your plants is what size you’ll need. Hold back the urge to choose an overly large pot so you won’t have to repot again for longer. Too much room can cause your plants to get waterlogged and experience fungal growth, leading to issues like root rot. 

Your best size option would be a pot that is no more than 2″ bigger than your plant’s existing pot. Not only will an over-large pot put your plants at risk of developing diseases, but it can also make them look aesthetically disproportionate.  

Which Material is Best?

You can get flower pots in several materials, textures, shapes, and colors. The plant you’re growing and the planting medium inside the pot can affect which material you choose. But you also want to pick a potting material that complements the look of your plant. Pot materials include:

  • Terra cotta – this material is best for succulents and plants to prefer dry soil due to the way that unglazed terra cotta pulls excess water out of potting soil
  • Plastic – there are several benefits to this material, including its lightweight, large range of colors, ability to hold moisture, and affordability. However, the downside is that most pots don’t have proper drainage holes. You may have to make your own – don’t forget to add a saucer or tray underneath the pot to collect draining water
  • Glazed ceramic – what you gain in the visual aesthetic appeal you typically sacrifice in terms of durability, as glazed ceramics look pretty as decor. Still, they’re easy to chip or break with minor use. And most ceramic pots don’t have drainage holes, with no way to make any without risking damaging the material.

Does It Have the Right Drainage?

clay pots with in build drainage holes

All potted plants require proper drainage to keep the soil from turning soggy. Soil left moist with no circulation can experience issues like root rot, bacteria, mold, mildew, leaf wilt, fungus gnats, other pests, and other problems. 

You can give your potted plants proper drainage in several ways. Of course, the easiest way is to choose an appropriate material pot with drainage holes already drilled out. But if you find a pot you love that doesn’t already have holes, you can create holes with a nail and hammer or a drill – depending on the material. 

You should use a saucer or other container underneath the pot so that all the water drains go into the pan, which continues to water the plants from the bottom up. 

Another option is to do a pot-within-a-pot (cachepot) method. This technique consists of adding your plant to a pot with drainage holes and then placing that pot into a larger pot that doesn’t have holes. 

Cleanliness Matters for Pots

Despite your plants growing in dirt, they prefer a clean pot. So be sure to thoroughly clean any pots – especially those that you’ve already used or are upcycling – before repotting your plant. 

Used pots can contain bacteria, pathogens, and other microscopic organisms that can harm your plants. Scrubbing used pots with a solution of 90% water to 10% bleach, a scouring brush, and clean water to rinse can create good sterilization. 

Step 2 – Care about the Dirty Details in the Soil

succulent ready to be repotted in clay pot

You might think dirt is dirt, and it doesn’t matter where it comes from or the type. But you’d be wrong; your plants will blame you for ruining their lives. 

While that may seem a bit dramatic, the fact is that using the wrong soil can cause harm to your plants. In extreme cases, it can even cause your plant to die. Therefore, you should never use soil from your garden or yard to fill pots before planting or repotting. 

The density of garden soil makes it a poor solution that causes soggy soil. Instead, look for a potted plant soil mixture. These forms of lightweight potting mix give you better drainage while containing nutrients that your pot-bound plants require for healthy growth.

A good potting mix for most potted plants is a 70/30 mix of coarse peat moss with perlite – the small white specks you see in store-bought planting mediums.

Step 3 – Provide Your Plants with Hydration

Once you’ve picked out the appropriate container and filled it with the proper growing mix, it’s a good idea to prepare your plant for repotting. Start by liberally supplying your plant with water in its existing pot. Then let the pot rest for one hour. 

This process will reduce the chance that your plant will go into transplant shock once you move it to a new location. And it can also make the plant easier to remove so there’s no damage or trauma to the specimen.

man watering plants upwards 

Step 4 – Remove the Plant from Its Existing Pot

After you’ve given the plant time to loosen in the soil, you can remove it from the existing pot and move it to its new home. But wait!

Never, ever grab a plant from the stem, which can cause harm to your plant. Instead, flip the pot upside down to take a plant out of the pot. Keep your hand spread over the plant, so it doesn’t fall out. If the plant doesn’t slide out easily, you can tap the pot against a hard surface to help knock the roots loose. 

Step 5 – Tidy Up Your Plants

Once you have your plant out of its former pot, you need to do some grooming before you move it into its new home. 

For this part, you will need clean, sterilized sharp shears, scissors, or a knife. Never use dirty utensils or items you’ve used on other plants. You can cause cross-contamination of illnesses. 

Use your tool to break apart any roots clumped into a dense mat, wound around the plant, or look damaged. Also, remove any unhealthy, yellowing, or wilted leaves and stems from the plant.

You want all the roots to be loose and untangled, which you can do with your hands. Just use care not to damage the sensitive fibers. You may also want to use a soft rag, your fingers, or give the plant a delicate shake. 

Step 6 – Put Your Plant in Its New Pot

You’re finally ready to introduce your plant to its new home once you’ve taken it out of its old house and given it a makeover. 

Dampen the potting mix you’ll use to keep the plant from sinking in once you get your flower potted. Then add some soil into the new pot to cover the bottom until the pot’s about ⅓ full.

Next, add your plant, making sure the root ball rests an inch under the pot’s rim directly in the center of the pot. You’ll need a bigger pot if the root ball sticks out above the rim. But if the root ball sinks too low into the pot with too much room around it, you might want to go down a pot size. 

Stack dirt around the plant, filling in the sides and top. Please give it a delicate pat to tamp the loose soil down. You can use two fingers to push the ground down until it’s tight enough that your finger doesn’t sink through the dirt. 

succulent with exposed roots ready to be repotted

Step 7 – Give a Final Drink of Water

Once your plant has moved into its new house with dirt all around it, you’ll need to serve one final round of drinks as a welcome home. First, apply light water around the plant’s stem to encourage root development. 

At a minimum, you won’t need to water your repotted plant again for a week. But keep an eye on your plants to ensure they don’t dry out before the next watering.

FAQ About When to Repot Plants

Can I repot a plant anytime?

It’s possible to repot a plant at any time of year, especially if it has become root bound or needs a soil change. But repotting a plant typically causes the specimen to stall in growth for several months as it recuperates. The more active the plant is in its growing season, the longer it will take to rebound once transplanted. 

What month should I repot my plants?

The best months to repot your plants are late winter to early spring, from December through April. 

What happens if you don’t repot a plant?

The consequences of not potting plants depend on the specimen’s age and growth rate. Young plants can have stunted growth and start losing leaves. Older plants might be okay without repotting, as long as the existing pot is the right size. 

When should you not repot plants?

You should not repot plants outdoors in the winter or cold weather. If transplanting during this time, do it inside. And hold off repotting your plants while they flower or produce buds. Repotting will cause them to fall off prematurely. 

Is It Time to Repot YOUR Plants? 

Repotting your plants is crucial for young, actively growing specimens and plants with a fast growth rate – once a year or as often as every six months. Older, established plants do not need repotting as often – every two to three years. Repotting of plants should be done before the plant starts to grow in the spring – for most plants actively. It’s important to pick the right pot material, size, and potting medium. 

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Sara Trimble
Sara Trimble was the lady who could kill a cactus. Today, she’s the fun and fabulous expert plant mom who rocks at growing the coolest, trickiest plants. Her favorites to grow are orchids, roses, succulents, and luscious vines. Sara has grown – and killed – hundreds of plants and she shares her green-thumb successes and failures to help other plant murderers discover correct plant care. In her spare time, she raises four kids, two dogs, and a husband.

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