Crimson's Guidelines for Repotting Houseplants

If you’re like us when you bring home a beautiful new houseplant you will most likely want to put it in an equally beautiful planter. Today we are here to give you a few guidelines on how to repot your new houseplant.

Let’s start with choosing the correct pot. Most pots are made from plastic, ceramics or glazed ceramics. There are also more rare pots made from concrete, carved stone, wood, glass and even felt. Most of the houseplants you will find are tropical plants that will be happy in any of these containers so long as there is a drainage hole for excess water to escape. Possibly the most important factor about your planter is that it has at least one drainage hole. Planters that lack a drainage hole make watering very tricky in the long run. Pots made from porous materials (wood, unglazed ceramics, concrete, felt etc) will pull water from the soil helping the soil to dry out faster. This makes these types of pots a great choice for plants that like to dry out a bit or a lot between watering (e.g. orchids, epiphytes, succulents). Plants made from nonporous materials (glazed ceramics, glass, plastic) will not leach water from the soil maintaining a more moist soil environment. This means these types of pots are ideal for plants that like to stay moist or evenly moist such as many ferns, alocasias, aphelandras, calatheas and more.

Once you’ve chosen the type of planter you will use now you have to choose the correct size. In general it is recommended that you should never repot a plant into a container that is more than 2” larger in diameter than its current pot. This is especially true for smaller plants that come in 2”,4”, 6” and 8” pots. If your plant is of a type that likes to dry out considerably between watering then you should choose a pot that is similar in size to one it came in or that is only 1” larger in diameter.

With the correct planter chosen now it’s time to choose the correct soil. It is helpful to recognize that growing a plant in a pot is much different from growing a plant in the ground. Soil dug up from the ground does not generally make a good potting soil. The main purpose of a potting soil is to act as a sponge that holds the right amount of water, air and fertilizer that your plant requires. To this end the main component to most potting soils is a highly absorptive material such as peat moss or coco-fiber. This creates the spongy base material that will hold the water and fertilizer. Next many soil mixes add a light stone (like perlite or pumice) or bits of tree mulch. These additives create air pockets and allow for some water to drain through. For plants that like to stay moist there is generally more spongy material and less rocky material; for plants that like to dry out there is generally an even amount of spongy material to rocky material. For Xeric plants like cacti and many succulents there will be more rocky material than spongy material. Most tropical houseplants will be happy in a standard potting mix however we often recommend using better draining soils for houseplants. Since houseplants are generally kept in lower light then they would prefer, they do not use as much water. This makes it more difficult for their soil to dry, creating an ideal environment for bacteria and fungi.

Now that you have your plant, your pot and your soil it’s time to get down to business! First you want to prepare your pot. We like to use a small piece of drywall tape to cover the drainage hole as this will hold in the soil but allow water to pass easily through. You can also use a broken piece of pottery or a stone if they are at hand. Next put a small scoop of soil at the bottom of the pot and you are ready to prepare your plant.

Most tropical plants or other plants that like to have moist soil have fairly delicate roots. This is because beyond the roots that you can see with your naked eye they also have teeny tiny root hairs that sprout off into the soil to be able to reach every last corner of their pot. This means that even a little disturbance to the soil can damage these tiny delicate root hairs. For this reason we recommend gently squeezing the plastic pot your plant is in to loosen the soil then cradling the base of the plant in your hand and turning the pot on it’s side in order to slide the root ball out. If your plant is in a hard ceramic container you may want to slide a thin knife or trowel down between the soil and the inside of the pot to free the roots from the old pot.

Once your plant is unpotted take some time to look at the roots and smell the soil, yes I said smell the soil! You are looking for firm healthy roots snaking their way through the soil. If anything is mushy or smells like old produce left in your fridge then you are looking at a plant that has been over watered and is experiencing root rot. We will be writing soon with details on how to specifically deal with this issue. If your roots look healthy and your soil smells like soil ought to then we recommend gently dusting off any loose soil but leaving the root ball as intact as possible.

Now that your pot and your plant are ready gently set your plant in the pot on top of the soil. You want the top of the root ball to sit a half inch to an inch below the rim of the pot. If it’s too high you’ll need to remove some of the soil from the bottom of the pot; if it’s too low you’ll need to add more soil to bottom. Once your plant is at the right height then you can add soil to fill in along the sides of the pot. Be sure to gently tamp the soil into place to prevent any large pockets of air. Keep filling the sides until it is even with the top of the root ball then use just enough soil to lightly cover the top of the root ball. Do some final tamping to make sure everything is secure and you’re done! For most tropical plants it is advisable to gently water your plant to help it settle into it’s new soil. For many cacti and succulents it is advisable to wait a few days before watering to allow any damaged roots to heal before getting wet and inviting fungus or bacteria. If you have questions about how to water your houseplant see our next post that is about that very topic!