Repotting houseplants that are pot-bound isn’t all that different from potting other houseplants. But first, you need to know if, in fact, the plant has outgrown its pot. Sometimes, the signs are obvious. If the pot has split open and roots are growing through the cracks, it’s past time to repot the houseplant. If there are visible roots and hardly any soil, this is another clear indication for most types of houseplants. Without soil to retain moisture, there are often signs of underwatering including discoloration and weak growth. At the same time, you must know what type of plant you’re dealing with. Orchids, for example, live on other plant material rather than soil and have naturally exposed roots that look perpetually pot-bound even though the plant is perfectly healthy. Learn even more about how to tell if a houseplant is pot-bound.
How to Repot Houseplants that are Pot-Bound
- Prepare a Workspace: Make sure it’s no problem to get some dirt on. Have fresh potting mix that’s formulated for that type of houseplant, succulent or tropical. Have a full watering can and a new pot ready to go. You may also need a knife or sharp edge. If you’re using rocks or activated charcoal as a bottom layer, have these ready as well.
- Separate the Plant from the Pot: Turn the pot sideways or almost upside down. It helps to water the plant first and give the bottom of the pot a few whacks. Grasp the plant firmly by a major stem and give it a tug to see if you can dislodge the plant. If the plant is still stuck or if there’s no good stem to grab, you can gently scrape the inside of the pot a little ways, add more water, and try again. As a last resort, you may have to break the pot or dig out as much of the plant as you reasonably can.
- Agitate the Roots: Pot-bound plants will have a large root ball that needs to be agitated to disentangle the roots. If some of the root ends get destroyed in the process, it should be fine. You want to encourage the roots to grow in various directions when placed in their new pot. In fact, it’s better to cut off the bottom of the root ball, rather than leave the plant root-bound in its new pot. Cutting the roots is common for seriously pot-bound houseplants.
- Repot the Houseplant: Put a layer of fresh potting mix at the bottom. Gently tamp and compress the soil. Position the plant in the pot at a good height near the top of the pot but with sufficient room to give the houseplant water. Fill the remaining space with more potting mix and again tamp down the soil. You want to provide the plant with adequate physical support while also letting the roots easily penetrate through the soil. When you have the plant in a good position, all that’s left is to water generously and then monitor the plant’s progress and soil moisture level.
Fafard has one of the best online guides we’ve found for how to repot houseplants that are pot-bound.
Repotting Houseplants in the Same Pot
You may not want to put the plant in a bigger pot if it means it will no longer fit in that perfect spot in your home. The good news is that you can usually repot these plants in the same pot (or a new pot of the same size). The process is nearly identical. The key difference is that instead of agitating the root ball, you cut off the bottom third or quarter of the roots altogether. You should clean the inside of the pot, backfill the bottom with fresh potting mix, and then replace the houseplant.
When is the Best Time to Repot Houseplants that are Pot-Bound?
If your houseplant is showing serious, obvious signs of being pot-bound, there is no wrong time of year to repot your houseplant. If you’re not sure if a houseplant is pot-bound or it’s a borderline case, the best time to repot is in the spring when the plant is about to enter an active growth phase. So long as you stay diligent with houseplant care, it’s usually fine to repot a houseplant right away or wait till next year. Ignore the problem for too long, and the houseplant will eventually suffer and become vulnerable to even small mistakes with watering or soil consistency.