One of the most exciting parts about buying a new plant is bringing it home and putting it in its new home.
There are a few other reasons to repot a plant, like if it’s grown too big for its pot, it looks like it’s suffering or maybe you just bought some beautiful new concrete plant pots and you want to put them to use 👀
Generally speaking spring is the best time for repotting. This gives plenty of time for your plants to get their roots established before beginning to rest in the colder months.
This guide will run you through the whole process of repotting a houseplant - from the tools you need, to the type of potting soil. We’ll also show you the signs that mean your plant needs a bigger home.
First, why are you repotting?
Plants get a bit stressed out when they get repotted so it’s best not to do it more than you need. Aim for once a year at the most.
Before you get going it’s a good idea to ask yourself why you’re repotting. This will indicate the size of pot you need (if you’re potting into a new one) and whether you need to pay attention to any particular aspects of your plant’s health.
1. You bought it in a plastic (nursery) pot and want to give it a more permanent home
Use a pot about the same size as the plastic one (unless the plant is pot-bound, see point 2 for this). For example, a plant in a 12 cm diameter plastic pot should be repotted into a 12cm diameter decorative pot.
2. You think the plant looks too big for the pot it’s in.
Most houseplants can thrive in pots that look too small. If your plant isn’t pot-bound (aka root-bound) and looks generally healthy it’s probably best not to repot at this stage.
How to tell if your plant is pot-bound (too big for the pot that it’s in)
If you answer yes to some or all of these questions you’ve probably got a pot-bound plant:
- Is the plant growing more slowly than it used to, despite it being the growing season?
- Does the plant always seem thirsty and wilting despite diligent watering?
- Turn the pot upside down - are the roots sticking out of the drainage hole(s)?
- When you pull the pot off, are there a lot of matted pale roots in the shape of the pot?
If you think your plant is pot-bound it’s time to up size its home, a couple of centimetres bigger should be about right.
3. The soil looks dry and no longer soaks up water
Most houseplants are at their happiest in a nutrient-rich environment. Over time the plant will use all those lovely nutrients and you’ll need to change things up. A plant’s soil needs replenishing when it is no longer soaking up the water and is clumped together in dry lumps.
How often to replenish soil depends on the type of plant - pothos for instance will benefit from annual repotting whereas a snake plant or cactus may only need a refresh every few years.
4. The soil seems too compact, or you haven’t repotted it for a few years
When you water your plants you should hear the crackle of water filtering filling little air pockets in the soil. These air pockets keep your plants happy by letting the roots breathe.
In a natural environment the air pockets are created by the hundreds of little insects and worms that burrow their way through the soil and around the roots.
Unfortunately we don’t have the help of these little critters with our houseplants. Over time the potting soil compacts more and more and the little gaps in the soil disappear. It’s a good idea to repot plants every year or so (depending on the varietal) to ensure they’re not too squished.
If you think your soil might be too compact but you want to avoid the palaver of repotting, you can easily aerate the soil with a skewer (a moisture metre or chopstick will also do fine). Carefully poke it into the soil in a few different places, while trying to avoid damaging the roots. Repeat every now and again and you should be all good.
5. You bought some amazing new pots from a really cool plant pot company
We get it, sometimes you just have to repot for reasons that aren’t to do with the plant. In this case be super gentle so you disturb your plant as little as possible. Using a similar size pot makes this easier.
How to repot a houseplant
Now you’ve figured out whether you need to repot let’s crack on with how!
Step 1: Water your plant a couple of days beforehand
A day or two before repotting water the plant thoroughly - this will make the whole process easier. The roots will be more malleable and the potting soil nice and moist.
Step 2: Gather your tools
Here are the tools you need to repot a plant:
A pot that’s the right size for your plant
If your plant is pot-bound go up by a few cms in diameter, or if the roots look fine use a pot of a similar size. Ideally your pot will have a drainage hole, but if not a planter without will do - we’ll talk you through using both.
Potting soil or compost
Houseplants are grown in special mixtures called potting soil or compost (or potting mix, or… It’s got a lot of names). You can get different types of potting soil for different types of plants, but in most cases a bag of “multipurpose compost” from your local garden centre will do fine.
The moistness of your compost is important - as a general rule it should be slightly damp but still fluffy. If it’s too dry give it a quick spritz with a mister. If the soil is too wet we won’t get enough air pockets for the roots so you’ll need to let it dry out - place it in a bucket outside (or inside if it’s raining) for a few days until its damp but fluffy.
A word of warning: don’t use garden soil! Potting soil is different to the soil that you’ll find in your garden. Garden soil can be filled with diseases and pests that can hurt your houseplants… so don’t go digging up your yard to fill your pots!
Crocks (if you have them)
No, we’re not talking about the practical-person’s favourite footwear from last decade. Crocks in this context are broken up pieces of clay pot or brick.
Crocks are essential if your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole as you need to create a space at the bottom of your pot for water, so you don’t saturate the soil.
If your pot has a drainage hole, a crock or two will prevent soil from creeping through the hole when you water. This is important if your pot has eg. a 2cm hole, but but not essential for most of ours.
To create crocks pop some old terracotta pots into a bag and hit a few times with a hammer. You’re done once the bits are small enough to fit into a pot, but still big enough to cover the drainage hole (if it has one).
Or in the absence of a trowel: hands, tupperware - whatever gets the job done.
Particularly if you’re dealing with a spiky cactus or you’ve just had a mani 💅
A clear bit of space - indoor or outdoor
If you’re doing the repotting inside be sure you’ve covered up your carpet and any precious furniture. Also best to keep pets and small children away - things could get messy!
Step 3: Make sure the new pot is clean
If it’s been used before, scrub it with water - no soaps - and leave it to soak overnight.
Step 4: Cover the drainage hole (or bottom of the pot) with crocks
Cover the drainage hole with a couple of crocks. If you haven’t got any you’ll just get a bit of soil coming through to your saucer when you water. If this concerns you, coffee filter paper can be a good alternative.
If your pot doesn’t have a drainage hole at the bottom, you have two options:
Depending on what your pot is made of you might be able to drill a hole in it (about 8mm should suffice - drill a few holes if it’s a long pot). But be very careful, you could risk damaging the pot if not done correctly.
Put layer of crocks over the whole of the bottom of the pot, creating a space for the water to collect. You’ll still need to be very careful when watering! If that space overflows the soil will get waterlogged and root rot can begin!
Step 5: Add a thin layer of compost
Cover the crocks with an even layer of compost. This will give your plant a level surface to sit on and allow the lower roots to get some sustenance.
Step 6: Remove the old pot
Carefully (and ideally with gloves) turn the pot upside-down while covering the surface of the soil with the fingers of one hand. Use the other hand to dislodge the pot.
You might need to tap the rim of the pot or run a knife around the edge if it doesn’t come straight off.
Once it’s off remove any old crocks (if used) and very gently tease out some of the matted roots, being careful not to damage them.
If there’s a lot of root congestion it might be a bit tricky to remove the pot. You can carefully cut a plastic pot away, or if it’s tightly packed into a clay pot you may need to smash it and then prise it apart. Remember, if you do have to smash your pot the broken bits can be used as crocks - silver-lining!
Step 7: Insert your plant and fill it up!
Make sure the plant is centred nicely and start filling around the sides with potting soil.
Layer by layer gradually press the soil down with your thumbs until it’s level with the stem. Be careful not to press down too hard, so you don’t close up those essential air pockets.
Once done gently tap the pot on a surface 4 or 5 times to get the soil to settle.
Step 8: Give it a little drink and pop it in a shady spot
Water your newly potted plant, then find a place that’s not too bright for the first week. Repotting disturbs the roots, so we want to limit the amount of water evaporating from the leaves until those roots have had a chance to recover. The shady spot will help.
Spend the week working out the dream location to show off your plant. The exact spot will depend on what kind of plant you have - some like lots of bright sun, while others prefer to remain in places with lower light - and always make sure your plant is in a room with windows!
So there you have it! You’re now a total pro at repotting plants! The more you do it the better you will get at understanding when your plants need new pots, as well as things like how much pressure to apply when adding potting soil and what kinds of pots your plants prefer.
Looking for fresh pots? Check out our range of concrete plant pots - all with drainage holes and matching saucers — so you can be sure you’re giving your plants the best chance to thrive.