KC Gardens

Repotting your houseplants


Tip of the Week

We gardeners love to grow plants, and as a result of this passion we probably have a few houseplants. If they are like mine they are perched in front of every sunny windowsill. And if yours are like mine (hopefully not) they are probably neglected, that is except for the occasional watering, fertilization and maybe dusting to remove the layer of settled dust. One chore that seems to forgotten the most is the need to repot.

Houseplants need repotting to help keep them healthy for several reasons. One, the soil grows tired over time. Vital nutrients are used, the organic matter breaks down and a buildup of salts from the fertilizers can affect growth. Two, as the plant matures the roots take up more space. Crowded roots will slow growth and reduce flowering, so it is a good idea to repot and freshen the soil to have nice plants to adorn the home.

As outdoor plants break dormancy and start to grow in response to the longer days and warmer spring temperatures, houseplants usually put on a spurt of growth as well. This growth spurt is the ideal time to repot houseplants.

Start by determining if your plants need to be repotted. Here are a few tips: Check to see if your plants are becoming root-bound and need a larger pot by inspecting the root system. Knock the plant out of its pot. Watering several hours before this operation will allow the plant to be removed more easily. For pots that are 8 inches in diameter or less, place one hand over the top of the pot with the stem of the plant passing between two fingers, and turn the plant upside down. Then rap the edge of the pot against a table. The root ball should come away from the pot. On pots that are more than 8 inches in diameter, a bit more encouragement may be needed. Place the pot on its side and rap the top edge of the pot with a rubber mallet or your palm. Turn and rotate plant and repeat the procedure until the root ball releases.

Once the plant is free, take a look at the root ball. If you see a network of fleshy white roots, the plant needs to be moved to a larger pot. Use these pot size recommendations as a guide: Pots less than 10 inches in diameter should be increased by 1 inch. Pots over 10 inches should be increased by 2 inches in diameter.
When selecting a new pot you will have a lot of choices, from traditional clay to all types of plastic. Keep in mind that only pots with ample drainage holes are recommended for houseplants. If you like, you can place a coffee filter or a small stone over the hole to help keep soil from washing out of the drainage holes. Never fill a container with rocks or pebbles, as this takes away valuable soil space for good growth.

If the roots are a twisted mass, gently tease them apart to help reduce this spiraling root effect. It is also important that the plant be set at the same level it was growing. Add enough potting mix to the bottom of the pot to ensure this. This mix will need to be firmed before the plant is placed on top of it so it doesn’t settle over time. After the plant is placed, fill in around the original root ball with potting soil. Again, firm this soil with your fingers or tap the bottom of the pot on the table.

Water the plant thoroughly after repotting, but be especially careful not to overwater for about two weeks. The new soil tends to stay wet until roots penetrate. Overwatering can lead to rot. Most plants need to be repotted annually, or every couple of years.

The conditions are right for houseplant repotting, and if you are like me, the warm winter days have started me thinking about spring and the urge to get my fingers in the soil. A houseplant may not seem like the garden, but it is certainly a way to help pass the time until spring’s arrival.


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