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Early spring is a great time to repot houseplants since they’re getting ready to begin their growth spurt.  With the longer days of light and warmer temperatures ahead, plants will just want to grow! Here are a few tips on how to repot indoor plants to ensure they’re be happy and healthy.

How to determine the need?

For houseplants, the best way to verify the need to repot is by taking them out of their pots and examining their roots. I always tell customers that when it comes to plant health, the roots tell you the whole story. Plants with dark, sunken roots are experiencing root decay due to too frequent watering or a lack of oxygen in the root zone. Plants that have a lot of roots spiraling around their root mass, where there’s more root than soil, are root bound.  In either case, placing the plant into a new clean container with fresh, high quality potting mix will greatly improve the health and vigor of the plant.

What size pot?

The secret to success is selecting the right size pot. If your examination determines that your plant has root decay, cut off any bad sections of the root ball with a clean knife and then plant into a pot of the same size or just slightly smaller.  This will encourage the roots to fill the new soil rapidly. Root bound plants should be stepped up an inch or two in diameter depending on their current volume. For example, a small 4” potted plant would go into a 5-inch pot – ½ inch all around in new volume. Larger potted specimens can be increased by two inches. Generally, an additional inch of new soil all around the root ball will suffice. Jumping up to an oversized pot (over potting) may result in plant decline and possible root decay issues. Too much soil slows growth and can lead to root rot.  Other considerations involve pot depth and composition. If your houseplant is in a shallow container, where the height is ¾ its width, select a container that matches those proportions. If your container is ½ its width in height, then try to stick with a matching shape if you can.  

How to repot?

Always use the best quality potting mix you can.  We suggest our own private label Van Putte Potting Mix that comes in a large 1 cubic ft. bag.  It’s a compost-based, blended mixture that has moisture control properties and a mild fertilizer.  It’s excellent for any type of container and can be used indoors and out.  We also like the Espoma line of organic potting mixes.  They’re inoculated with beneficial mycorrhizal fungi which help plants grow. They offer several different mixtures (All Purpose, African Violet, Cactus & Succulent, and Orchid) depending upon your needs.

Before you start, remember to cover any drainage holes with pieces of screening or a disk of landscape fabric cut to fit the bottom of the pot. This keeps the soil in while allowing oxygen to infiltrate and water to drain. Drip coffee filters will work well too.  

Fill your pot with enough soil to elevate your houseplant so the top of its root ball will sit approximately inch below the rim of the container you’ve selected. This facilitates easy top watering.  Remove your plant from its current container and check out the roots. If they’re root bound, take a sharp knife and carefully & shallowly, score the roots ¼ inch deep from top to bottom on opposite sides of the root ball. Two cuts will suffice, there’s no need to “loosen the roots,” these two score marks will cause the roots to grow out into the new soil. Set the root mass down into the new pot and backfill around it, gently firming the soil as you go. Do not compact the soil, just press down enough to allow support of the root ball without collapsing the pore spaces. This allows water to percolate down and oxygen to infiltrate from the top and bottom of the pot.

What kind of pot?

Pot selection is up to you. Glazed ceramic pots with matching saucers (our most popular) are attractive, functional and offered in a myriad of textures, colors and shapes. Clay pots are porous and breath which makes them forgiving for those that tend to water a little too much or too often. Plastic pots are light weight and come in virtually limitless colors, sizes, shapes and styles. The aesthetic look is really up to you; beauty is in the eye of the beholder! Make sure that the container has good drainage and allows the root ball to breathe through the base of the pot.

Let us help!

Stop by Van Putte Gardens and let our green thumb staff assist you with any plant, pot and potting soil questions you may have. We carry hundreds of ceramic pots and saucers as well as an excellent selection of clay and plastic pots. Be sure to check out our private label Van Putte Potting Mix.  This is the soil mix we use in our very own greenhouses!

Written By: Rick Stecher / Horticulturalist

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