When to repot houseplants?

Repotting is a “traumatic experience” for most plants, but if done at the right time and in the right way, it will have a very positive influence in the plant growth and vigour. Sooner or later, all plants require a change of substrate. A simple rule of thumb could be that all plants that are “comfortable” where they are located and growing require repotting every year or two. Some species grow faster than others and the environmental conditions influence as well. It is highly recommendable to investigate the particular biology of our plant and observe how it grows and looks.

This being said, ¿what do we have to keep in mind to know if it’s time for our plant to “move”? Let’s see…

When should we repot?

  • We can see roots creeping out of the drainage hole. The pot is too small!
This shouldn't be happening.
This shouldn’t be happening.
  • We can see roots above the surface level. This could happen as a result of soil erosion or excessive compaction. If we don’t see any more signs that the plant needs repotting, we can just extend a thin layer of potting mix covering the exposed roots. We must be careful though, not to bury part of the stems, in order to prevent rot.
  • We need to water way too often. This means the pot is too small to hold all the water our plant needs.
  • When the water stays on the surface for too long before infiltrating. The soil is extremely compacted. Repot ASAP!
  • If the soil is disgusting. By this I mean with saline deposits on the surface, mold, musk… Even a mushroom can grow in certain circumstances.
  • If the roots are coiled around the root ball or stacked at the bottom of the pot. It doesn’t fit. It’s as if you were wearing the same pants you used when you were 12 :0
This plant can still be in this pot for a couple of months or so, as the root/soil ratio is still OK, but, if we look closely, we can see roots starting to coil in the top part of the root ball.
  • If our plant doesn’t grow or sprout even being fertilized and in growing season. Maybe the nutrients have been already consumed or washed with the irrigation. Repotting and fresh potting mix should work wonders on our plant. It needs some food and it has no other way of telling you than stopping its growth ; )

When not to repot

  • If we don’t want the plant to get any bigger. Usually, plants get bigger and bigger until they fill the container they are planted in. If we don’t want them to grow bigger, then we shouldn’t repot them. Instead, we should keep them in the same pot fertilizing well and carefully changing the old soil for fresh potting mix, if necessary. We could even prune the roots to dwarf the plant more. But keep in mind that interfering so aggressively in the normal development of the plant would have a negative impact on its vigour. For this reason, we should be extra careful with it if we take this option. I do believe however, that root pruning (and even dwarf a plant in any way) is an unnecessary stress for it. I’d rather had healthy, happy plants and with plenty of room to develop their root system, even if I had to move them around my garden because they get too big. But this is just me and mi unlimited empathy for plants.
  • If the plant is sick. Repotting is necessary, but as I stated before, it’s a bit stressful for the plant. For this reason, if our plant is sick or plagued, it’s better not to stress it more and wait for it to get better before repotting. The more delicate species could die if repotted when sick.
  • If the plant is flowering or fructifying plenty. Producing flowers and fruits require A LOT of energy. When the plant is producing them, it usually means that it has not nutrient limitations on the soil at the moment. We should postpone repotting then. Besides, recovering from the stress of repotting could lessen the amount of flowers and fruits.
So many flowers indicate that the plant has enough nutrients.
So many flowers indicate that the plant has enough nutrients.

Did you know all this stuff? I used to repot just because, when I was in the mood to get my hands a little dirty, but years of garden madness and a lot of dead plants made me investigate a little bit on this subject ; )


Pin me! Repot or not to repot?
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Image credit: all images are my own.

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