Indoor Plant Repotting Guide: When and How

* Image sources: All images used in this post are from the author

When is it time to repot indoor plants? Is it difficult to do it right? Not at all, I can assure you! In this post, you will learn why and when to repot plants and how to do it.

Repot indoor plants if experiencing overgrowth, subpar soil, or top-heaviness. Utilize fresh, well-draining soil. Opt for repotting during spring for optimal results, avoiding winter months.

Get ready to repot, because while reading this post you can start right away!

Why Repotting Indoor Plants Is Necessary: Mimicking the Natural Cycle

The pot of your indoor plants serves the function of mimicking the natural soil they would be growing in in their habitat. In nature, there is a constant organic nutrient cycle at play that fills the soil with fresh nutrients and materials. In a pot, we as human caretakers of the plant have to mimic such a cycle.

It’s like a rejuvenation for your houseplant, spurring its growth and making it strong and resistent through fresh soil.

By respecting a plant type’s water and light requirements as well as providing it with an appropriate soil that suits its needs, we ensure our indoor plant’s wellbeing and growth.

Repotting an indoor plant makes up one part of providing your indoor plants with living conditions that best mimic its natural habitat and nutrient cycle. The fresh soil brings in new organic material that better retains moisture and nutrients in the pot around your plant’s roots.

Good to know: Many plant types are also able to grow in just water. This is called hydroponics or hydroculture and is easily done. Read more about how to grow plants in water and find out about 7 plant types suitable for hydroculture!

When Should You Repot Indoor Plants?

How do you know if your houseplant needs repotting? The main reasons to repot a plant are:

  • It has outgrown its pot
  • It has become too top-heavy
  • It needs fresh soil
  • You want to switch up its look by changing the pot
  • You want to get rid of bugs in the soil

Repotting your plants is best done in spring, when plants naturally start growing because of the increased daylight hours and humidity.

Tip: There is also a lot of talk about whether or not to repot plants immediately after buying them. I am not a fan of repotting after buying. Find out why in my post about this linked here!

How to Repot An Indoor Plant: Easy Guide

Providing your green housemates with a new beautiful pot to grow in is not difficult at all, and most common houseplants easily regrow well even if repotting them did not completely go according to plan.

I think one of the things that I learned through keeping houseplants is that plants are a miracle when it comes to growing. So often I was surprised that even the tiniest cutting of a branch regrows plenty of roots and can turn into a whole new plant. When repotting your indoor plants, you can watch that regrowth when the plant starts making new leaves and branches in a bigger container.

What you need for repotting a plant:

  • Fresh soil mix (including some well-draining material)
  • A new plant pot (optional – see description of the first step below)
  • Some newspaper to cover the floor or table that you will be working on
  • Some water and a spray or mister (if at hand)
  • A small scoop (for bigger plants)

Tip: Do you have an outdoor space available? Then repot your plants outside to avoid making a mess indoors!

Here’s how to go about repotting your indoor plants:

Choose A New Plant Pot If Needed

Repotting is the perfect occasion to choose a new plant pot for your green fellow. Plant pots are an eye-catching decorative element in your home. Whenever you change your interior decoration, you may want to switch some of the plant pots, too.

However, I find it essential to keep in mind that the main purpose of repotting your plant is not switching your home’s vibes but giving your plant more fresh soil and/or more space. Though as I said, if you want to switch the pot, then repotting is the occasion to do so.

Tip: Personally, I like terracotta or ceramic pots. They just have this timeless, elegant look that fits into any room and among any type of home decor. Another plus is that you don’t have to spend a fortune on terracotta pots (ceramic pots can be a bit more pricey).

The new plant pot doesn’t always have to be bigger than the old one. You can also repot your plant in the same pot. If overgrown, then trim the plant down a little to give it more space again and to promote new growth.

Combining ceramic pots just looks stunning, and many can easily be found at thrift shops. Reusing is always better than buying new!

Spread Out Newspapers On Your Working Space

Wherever you decide to repot your plants, prepare your workspace by spreading some old newspapers or a plastic sheet to avoid making a complete mess with the soil and water.

Prepare the Fresh Soil: Add Drainage Matter And Mix It In A Container

The main reason you repot your plant is to give it fresh soil. Not only are there plenty of fresh nutrients in new soil, but it also gives the plant renewed stability, and better drainage and is a healthy way to get rid of any build-ups of unwanted substances that may be present in the old soil.

You don’t even need any extravagant or super expensive soil mix for each of your plants. Most houseplants are completely fine with standard indoor plant soil. What I recommend is mainly to add some extra drainage matter to the standard soil.

Good, affordable, and sustainable drainage matter can be shredded wood or bark as well as sand. For the bark, you can buy orchid soil and mix it into the standard indoor soil. For adding some sand, you can just buy regular bird sand and mix a handful into the soil mix.

Use a plastic container to mix your soil with the drainage matter. Here I have added orchid bark to a standard indoor soil.

This is a very short explanation of how to mix your soil. Check out my post on how to mix your indoor soil and what makes indoor soil good to learn more about the soil your plants need!

Take the Plant Out Of Its Pot And Remove the Old Soil

Now that the workspace and the soil are prepared, you can take your plant gently out of the old pot and crumble away as much of the old soil as you can without damaging the root ball too much.

If the soil is very compact and attached to the pot, gently press the plastic pot all around to loosen the soil and get the plant out of the pot.

Leave some soil around the root ball to prevent damaging the plant too much.

Add Fresh Soil To the Bottom Of the Pot

When done with removing the old soil, lay the plant on the side for a moment and start filling the new nursery pot with a couple of inches of fresh soil. If you are reusing the same pot, then clean out any leftovers of the old soil before doing this.

Before filling the pot with soil, I recommend placing some small shells or rocks at the bottom of the nursery pot over the rainage holes. This helps prevent a compacting of the soil in the future and increases the overall drainage, and it is a great way to make use of all these shells and stones that you collect on holidays or when travelling (at least I collect lots of them…).

Tip: Rocks in plant pots is a debated topic. If you want to learn more about when and how rocks at the bottom of plant pots make sense and have a positive effect, check out my post linked here.

For collected shells and rocks, sterilize them with boiling water before use to make sure you don’t add any unwanted bacteria or bugs to your soil.

Why is drainage so essential for houseplants? Do you have some pots that have no drainage holes but you really like their look and want to use them for your plants? In my post on why houseplants need drainage I explain how you can use any type of pot and still create appropriate drainage for your plants. Check it out!

Hold the Plant In the Middle Of the Pot And Fill Up With Soil

After filling the bottom part with soil, hold the plant in the middle of the pot, just about where the lower part of the stem meets the rim of the pot. The plant should later on be in the middle and the beginning of the stem should be covered with soil.

Start filling up the pot with soil while readjusting the plant to the middle of the pot every now and then. I use my hands to do this and for bigger plants sometimes a big spoon or a scoop. You can use whichever you prefer. If you don’t want your hands to get dirty, you can also wear thin gloves.

Fill the pot up until you have at least the width of one finger left to the rim. Having this extra space there will make it much easier to water your plant.

Tip: You may wonder why my Monstera plant in the images has no old soil left around its roots? That is because I had grown it in water before. This is called hydroponics or hydroculture and I explain how growing plants in water works right here!

Water Your Plant

The repotting is almost done! The only thing left to do is to water your newly potted plant.

First check the soil moisture. Is it sticky and moist? Then only give it a little bit of water and let the excess water flow out the bottom of the pot. If the soil is very dry, I recommend misting the surface layer first before giving it a rinse. This way the water flows down more evenly through the pot instead of being repelled and flowing down mainly on the sides.

Misting the surface layer of the soil helps the water flow down more evenly through the pot.

Let the Plant Acclimatize For 2-3 Weeks

Now the only thing left to do is to put the plant back in its spot and let it acclimatize for a couple of weeks. One week after repotting you can start your normal watering routine and check the plant’s health as well.

For a regular health check, check out my step-by-step houseplant health check linked here.

For building up a good watering routine to water your plants just right, check out my complete watering guide.

Can I Repot Houseplants In Winter?

I do not recommend repotting houseplants in winter. It is always best to wait until spring. In winter, the natural cycle of most plants goes into a dormant phase as there is less light and less humidity available. Repotting them in winter disturbs this cycle as the fresh soil and trimming of the root ball promotes growth in the plant.

Repotting is preferably done in spring when the plant wakes up from its dormant phase and naturally starts growing again.

Should You Remove Old Soil When Repotting?

A big part of the old soil is removed when repotting an indoor plant. Most of the soil in the pot around the plant can be discarded. As for the soil that is entangled in the root ball of the plant, only gently try to crumble it out a little to avoid damaging the root ball of your houseplant.

Tip: The most gentle way to loosen the old soil around the plant’s root ball is to hold it in the air at its stems and gently shake it. Loose bits and pieces will automatically fall out. Of course, this method works only with plants of smaller size. For bigger plants, lay them down on the side and wiggle through the root ball with your fingers to loosen up the soil.

On some plant blogs, you might have read that you need to wash the root ball clean of the old soil. I recommend not doing this. Why? Because the fine hairs on the tips of the roots are attached to bits of soil around them. If you meticulously wash away all the soil, then these fine hairs are damaged. This will make it much more stressful for your houseplant in the first phase after repotting as it has to regrow these hairs and attach them to the new soil particles.

For the sole purpose of repotting, it is more than enough to crumble away what you can of the old soil, and then move the root ball like that into the new pot with fresh, nutritious soil.

The only reason there is to wash away all the old soil is when there are pests in the soil and repotting is your last resort to try and get rid of the pest. In that case, clearing all the old soil is important as many bugs tend to lay their eggs in the soil close to the roots because their larvae feed off the roots.

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