How and when to repot a plant, according to a houseplant expert

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Lauren Geall
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A woman repotting a plant

Give your plants a new lease of life this growing season with this simple guide to repotting.    

Although the rollercoaster of weather the UK has experienced over the last week may make it hard to believe, spring is officially here. And with the arrival of spring comes another important transition: the arrival of growing season.

As the weather grows warmer and the sun shines more frequently, your plants will be gearing up to produce new growth.

However, to ensure that they grow as big and strong as they can, there are a series of other things you need to do – one of which is checking if they need repotting, and moving them to a new pot if they do. 

A rootbound plant which has been pulled from a pot and is being repotted into another.
Repotting a rootbound plant will help it to continue to grow.

The only problem? The process of repotting can seem pretty intimidating if you don’t know where to start – so much so that many people avoid repotting their plants altogether for fear of killing them during the process.

However, repotting is actually much easier than you think, so you don’t need to worry. And with the help of a few tips and tricks from the experts, you’ll be giving your plants the opportunity to grow big and strong and make the most of the sunnier months.  

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With all of this in mind, we put some of the most commonly asked questions about repotting to Meg Spink, Patch Plants’ resident plant doctor. 

From how you can tell when a plant needs repotting to everything you’ll need to get started, here’s everything you need to know. 

Why should you repot a plant?

Houseplants on a window sill
How to repot a plant: repotting allows your plant to expand its roots and continue to grow.

Repotting a plant simply means moving a plant from a smaller pot into a bigger one. There are a number of reasons why repotting a plant is a good idea: besides the fact that it gives the roots room to grow and expand (therefore causing the plant to grow) moving a plant to a bigger pot can give it more stability and stop it from tumbling over.

Repotting is also an opportunity to give your plant some new soil (which will ensure it gets all the nutrients it needs) and propagate it using root division.

If you don’t want your plant to grow bigger you can keep it in the same size pot, but be careful: if a plant becomes too root bound it can get in the way of water drainage, leaving the roots vulnerable to rot.

How to know when to repot your plant

Step one of the repotting process is working out whether your plants actually need to be repotted in the first place. According to Spink, the best way to tell whether or not you need to repot your plant is by checking out their roots.

“Happy, healthy plants will need repotting a year or two after purchase,” she explains. 

“The best way to tell whether your plant needs to be repotted is by checking the root structure. If the roots are visibly pushing through the drainage holes in the nursery pot or through the soil on top, it’s probably time.”

The best time of year to repot a plant is…

… during the warmer months, so you’re in luck!

“The best time to repot is in spring or summer – when the plant is actively growing,” Spink says. “In winter, plants tend to hibernate, so there’s little point in encouraging new growth.”

What tools do you need to repot a plant?

A plant being repotted
How to repot a plant: lay out all of your tools in front of you before you begin.

Having the right tools and space to repot your plant is a great way to guarantee success, but you don’t need much to get started.

“Ensure you have the right tools: a larger pot with drainage holes, compost, a trowel and enough newspaper and space, either inside or outside,” Spink says.

How to choose the right repotting pot

The whole point of repotting is to give your plant more space to expand its roots – but picking a pot which is much larger than the plant’s previous pot could be a recipe for disaster.

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“The new pot should be only slightly bigger than the existing pot – ideally two finger spaces larger in diameter,” Spink explains. 

“Any bigger, and the plant may develop shock; any smaller and there really isn’t much point in repotting!”

How to repot a plant

How to repot a plant: give your plants a good water after you've placed them in their new pots.

You’ve worked out your plant needs repotting, you’ve bought yourself a new pot and you’ve laid out your tools: now, all that’s left to do is the repotting itself. But how do you transfer your plant to its new pot without messing it up?

“Prepare the new pot with compost in the base and tease the plant from the existing pot before placing in the new pot,” Spink says. “This can be a bit fiddly and messy, so be sure to have newspaper or space outside.”

If your plant’s original pot is made out of a bendy material, try giving the pot a few squeezes to loosen the compost from the outside (you can put the plant’s roots between your fingers and tip it upside down to make the process easier). 

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“Fill the spaces with plenty of compost; the plant won’t need any new food for at least a few weeks,” Spink adds.

Once this is all done, give your plant a good watering and you’re all ready to go!

For more help on repotting your houseplants, you can check out Patch plants’ houseplant parenting tutorial.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

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