How To Tell If Houseplants Need Repotting

I wish houseplants were a little more vocal. If they would only speak up a bit, their care would be easier. “I’m thirsty!” “I’m hungry!” “It’s too dark in here!” “What’s to eat?” “This pot’s too tight!”

Actual plant care is a little more subtle, but they do let us know what they need, they just don’t scream it out. For example, there are ways to tell if a houseplant needs repotting. Look for the following clues when deciding if a redo would benefit a plant.

  • If the plant has been in the same pot and soil for two years or more, it probably needs repotting. Some plants can often go many years without repotting, but fresh soil every few years increases the health of most plants.
  • If the soil appears packed or hard, repotting into high quality potting mix will help.
  • If the plant is drying out more frequently than it used to, or more often than your other plants it may be ready for repotting.
  • When roots have completely filled and circled the soil, a plant is called “potbound” or “rootbound.” Examine plants by gently lifting them out of their pot and examine the rootball. Slicing a knife between soil and pot will make removal easier. Tip the pot on it’s side, or invert, and the rootball will usually slide out of the pot.
  • If roots are growing out the bottom of the pot, it indicates repotting would benefit the plant.
  • If the soil has a whitish-gray appearance there may be salt buildup from watering. Repotting into fresh soil eliminates this.
There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether to repot a plant.
  • Repotting doesn’t always require a larger pot. Sometimes the same pot size is fine, just fresh soil is needed.
  • If the plant is “potbound,” repot into a pot size 1 or 2 inches larger in diameter. Don’t go too large. Plants flounder in too large a pot, and overwatering can result.
  • If a small plant is in a too-large pot, repotting into a smaller pot might be needed. Plants like to fill up a small pot first, and then gradually be moved into large sizes. Err o n the side of smaller, rather than larger.
  • If a plant has been overwatered, with the soil staying continually too moist, repotting into fresh soil and a slightly smaller pot will often help.

Quick tips if a repotting is in order:

  • Always use high-quality potting mix, like Miracle Gro Potting Mix, or one recommended by local garden center.
  • Choose a pot only slightly larger than the root mass.  
  • Moisten mix slightly and stir slightly before using it. Roots don’t like to be exposed to bone-dry soil mix.
  • Don’t put a layer of stones in the bottom of the pot. The layer of change actually impeded drainage.
  • Tap the pot against the table to settle the soil. Pressing the soil by hand can pack it too heavily.

Until next time “Happy Gardening!”