How to Tell If Your Houseplant Needs Repotting

Many indoor plants are low maintenance, but unless your flowers are more plastic and silk than stems and petals, you’ll have to do some upkeep from time to time. Repotting a plant that’s ready for a new home isn’t too difficult, but how do you know when it’s time to give your aloe or ivy plant a fresh start?

Three Reasons to Repot a Houseplant

1. The plant is having health issues.

If your hen-and-chicks plant looks like it tried crossing the road but didn’t make it to the other side, you might want to consider transplanting it into a new pot with fresh, clean soil. There are a host of plant illnesses that can be resolved via repotting ¾ root and crown rot, overfertilizing and overwatering, to name a few.

If you have a problem plant and you think a repotting is in order, remember that not all potting mix is created equal. Some potting mixes are designed for plants that need well-drained soil while others are designed to retain water. Pay attention to labels as you’re shopping, and be sure to read what type of plants the soil is recommended for. After all, if you put water-loving ferns in a soil designed for drought-tolerant succulents, your fronded friend might not get the moisture it needs to thrive.

2. The plant has outgrown its container.

If you’re facing this problem, good news: your plant is thriving under your care. Way to go! A plant outgrowing its current home is one of the main reasons you’ll need to transfer it to fancy new digs. How can you tell that a plant has outgrown its current container?

First, check the roots. Can you see them poking out the top? Are they creeping out the drain holes at the bottom? If you remove the plant from the pot, do you want to exclaim, “Wow! That’s a crazy number of roots!”? All these are signs that the plant is hitting a wall, literally and figuratively, in its current pot. Your fave fern’s roots need room to stretch out and grow. If they’re too cramped, your plant’s health could suffer.

Next, take a gander at the size of the plant relative to the size of the pot. Is your plant top-heavy? Has it branched out massively compared to the circumference of its container? A rule of thumb is if your plant looks like it’s about to tip over, it’s time to repot. Not only will a larger pot help keep the roots healthy, the mass of the additional soil will help provide a more stable base as your plant continues to grow.

3. The soil is used up.

Here’s a quick lesson in plant nutrition for you: plants require nine major nutrients in order to thrive. Three of these (carbon, oxygen and hydrogen) can be pulled from the air, but the rest (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium and magnesium) have to come from the soil. That means your plant relies on the potting mix you choose to provide almost everything it needs to thrive. You can use fertilizer (primarily a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, or NPK) to feed your plant as it grows, but eventually it will use up all the available nutrients in the soil and start looking sickly.

When it’s time to replace worn-out soil, do some research on the type of soil your plant needs to thrive. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, ask experts at your local garden center or reach out to your country’s agricultural extension to talk to the true pros of plant care. When you’re shopping, look for a potting mix that not only contains all the right ingredients but also has them in the right proportions.

Repotting your plant in the perfect soil and a beautiful new container could be just the thing to add a little life to your favorite ficus and a healthy, natural ambiance to your indoor living space. 

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