How to Tell When a Plant Needs Repotted

How to Tell When a Plant Needs Repotted

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Houseplants, porch planters, and greenhouse potted plants are fantastically space-saving alternatives for many of us without the extra garden and landscape space! While for others, these containerized plants bring new dimension, height, and beauty to our landscapes by elevating plants and extending our enjoyment of these green leafy ‘plant pets’ both indoors and out! Allowing us to keep our green thumbs throughout the winter months!

One important aspect of Container Gardening and growing plants in pots is knowing when it's time to divide and repot your plants!

Know the Signs

There are many reasons why you might wish to repot your plant. From decorative reasons to pure necessity, transferring a plant from one container to another is very simple and easy to do! infographic

Regular moisture and regular fertilizer applications can only do so much to sustain a plant that has its roots enclosed in a closed-environment that doesn’t benefit from natural composting and soil recycling cycles that in-ground plants benefit from!

You’ll enjoy happier healthier plants when you regularly repot container plants at least every 12-18 months to refresh the soil and nutritional components and moisture-retaining properties of your potted plant.

  • It’s been 1-2 years since the plant was repotted
  • The plant seems to dry out very quickly between waterings
  • You can physically lift the plant out of the pot and see more roots than soil
  • You see roots poking out through the drainage holes
  • When repotting a plant into a new pot or container
  • You are transplanting a new plant from its nursery container
  • The soil in the old pot is old or was overly soggy and the roots began to rot
  • Your plant has outgrown its current home
  • Leaves are not as green, or are yellowing/falling off while still green
  • Water runs straight through and doesn’t seem to absorb at all along the way
  • Your plant has circling roots at the bottom
  • Your plant just isn’t putting on any new growth or blooming as well as it can
  • You see crusty salt/calcium/hard water build up on the soil surface or around the inside rim of the pot

Soil only holds so many nutrients and organic matter in the soil gets used by your plant over time and plants naturally grow and expand both above ground and below!

When to Go Up a Pot Size

You can tell your plant is due for a container size upgrade when the top looks disproportionately larger than the bottom, is top heavygoing up a pot size (double to three times as large as its pot), has yellowing leaves or the foliage is wilting quicker between waterings. You can also tell it's time to upgrade when you can pull the plant free of its pot and see more roots than soil, conforming to the shape of the planter they just came out of!

It’s important to remember when repotting for size increases to only go up one planter size at a time for small plants (4-inch to 6-inch pot for example) or two sizes for much larger plants and fast-growing plant types. Going up too large too fast leaves those roots surrounded by soil that can hold too much moisture and begin rotting or suffocating them in an anaerobic location. Alternatively, not going up large enough will have those roots running out of room quickly and have you back in the same situation as before in a hurry.

When It's Time for a Soil Refresh

Plant roots dissolve the nutrients in the soil and absorb what they need as the organic matter breaks down. In nature, these nutrientssoil refresh are replenished by the soil cycle and natural processes going on under your feet. But container plants, especially blooming plants, use up their finite resources quickly and with the absence of newly added organic matter from leaves and microorganisms breaking things down, they run out of nutrients fast to support themselves.

At least yearly, it's important to give it a fresh boost of quality soil, stir in some compost, or completely change out its potting medium to give it the environment those roots need to support growth and flowering.

You can tell it's time because those flowers just won’t be as numerous or as large as they used to be. Growth just isn’t as vigorous, and the leaf color is no longer as vibrant.

When to Completely Change Out the Soil

Plants use different amounts of water throughout the year and plants need good drainage to have happy roots. Soggy, poor quality, contaminated, or changes in drainage (blocked drainagerepotting because of roots holes, changes in soil quality) can result in plant roots sitting in water and therefore rotting. Overly wet soil has less oxygen and air, literally suffocating them!

Maybe the pot got left out in a rain storm and saturated the soil, or maybe you weren’t paying attention the last time you watered your houseplants, but regardless of the reason, you now have a dirt soup that will kill the roots.

You’ll notice leaves falling off while still green, the plant wilting even though you just watered it, leaves turning yellow, and you may notice a distinct rotting smell from the soil. It’s time for a complete soil refresh!

Best Repotting Methods

It’s important to be careful with plant root systems when repotting and planting, they are how most plants get all their water, anchorage in the soil, and take up nutrients. The best way to repot your plants, large or small, indoors or out, is all pretty simple and straightforward.

1. Gather a pot or planter that is one size larger than the current pot. Ensure it has great drainage and a tray large enough to catch any water that drains. Avoid using gravel in the bottom offamily repotting a tree the pot as these can actually block the drainage holes and not allow excess moisture to escape! A good dribble tray is all you need.

2. Prepare a work surface to protect it from soil and water damage and gather tools:

  • Box Cutter, Scissors, or Garden knife
  • New soil or potting medium
  • Trowel or another suitable tool
  • Garden fork
  • Garden gloves - its a bit messy on the manicure
  • Nature Hills Root Booster (optional)
  • A water source

3. Lay your plant down on its side on the prepared work area. Gently pry your plant free of its container, you may need to run a knife or thin, long utensil around to dislodge stubborn roots from the inside of the pot. Sometimes gently tapping on the outside of the pot all around helps dislodge it. Remove the root ball as intact as possible and inspect it for circling/girdling roots

4. Gently remove loose old soil from around the root ball and fluff up the root system slightly. Root washing is a common method of removing old soil. Soak the root ball if the plant is verywoman switching out nursery container for own planter dehydrated or encrusted in hard water, clay, or other caked-on debris. Using a sharp knife or garden spade, slice off about 2 inches of any circling roots from the bottom. Cut away or remove any rotten, dead, or dying roots and plant matter.

If you are dividing your plant at this time, use a sharp spade or knife to cut it into even sections. Division is recommended for many plants every 3-5 years, or whenever they are outgrowing their containers.

5. Add a few inches of sterile potting mix into the bottom of your new container and situate the plant's roots onto it, centering it as best as possible. Backfill with the new potting mix, gently tamping down as you go to ensure there are no excessively large air pockets and settling. Ensure the top of your root system is situated at the same depth as it was previously! Too deep and your roots will smother, but too shallow or exposed at the surface, and they will dry out and die back!

6. Water well, ensuring excess moisture runs out of the drainage holes but also that the whole pot has been hydrated. Fill any settling areasrepotting indoor plants with more soil. We recommend the Finger-Test method. Monitor moisture levels carefully and remove drained water so it doesn’t sit in it and end up rotting your fresh soil.

Now just baby your plant for a few days by keeping it out of direct sunlight and watching how much moisture it needs while the roots are acclimating to their new environment. Some plants are sensitive to changes and you may see some additional leaf drop, or leaf yellowing as they adjust.

Tips & Tricks

Optional additions to your soil can include:

Adding a slow-release fertilizer (not liquid or granular fertilizers that are instantly available because they may shock the roots). young man repotting a tree

Dusting the root ball with Nature Hills Root Booster to help them better get over any planting shock, increase feeder root formation, and foster a life-long symbiotic relationship between mycorrhizal fungi and your plant. This formula improves micronutrient and water absorption too! 

Plants that spend a lot of time outside in the heat and sun appreciate a layer of mulch or florist moss over the surface. This not only enhances the look of your planting and dresses them up, but acts as a barrier to stop moisture evaporation and keeps roots cooler.

For outdoor plants in the sun and heat appreciate having some Vermiculite, Sphagnum (peat) moss, or Coconut coir mixed into the soil to help hold in moisture more consistently. You cancouple repotting outdoor plants together also add a special moisture-absorbing product known as water gel crystals or water-absorbing crystals (similar to what is in babies' diapers) that absorb excess moisture and then release it slowly as the soil around them dries out. This helps reduce the frequency you need to be outdoors watering.

For plants that need especially good drainage, such as Orchids, Cactus and Succulents, mixing bark chips, sand, perlite, and even fine gravel into their potting medium can help improve the drainage of a basic potting soil mixture.

Happy Potted Plants!

Like a fresh pair of new kicks or that first sip of a perfect cup of coffee, a fresh pot of soil is a luxury to a pot-bound plant! Keep your plants happy, and healthy, and keep them blooming vigorously by refreshing their growing medium often!

Happy plants make for happy plant parents and beautiful gardens! Keep your container plants happy and healthy with the help of Nature Hills Nursery!

Happy Planting!

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