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  • Writer's pictureW. H. Perron

Re-Potting Interior Plants

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

A plant can be a few months and sometimes years in the same container, but in time, its roots take all the available space. The soil, trying to keep the water intake and nutriments, is almost nonexistent.

Even with good fertilization, repotting is justified when the plant's growth slows down, old leaves turn yellow and fall off. To enable the best growth for your plants, you should repot every year the youngest plants and every two years the most mature ones.

Why is it recommended to repot plants?

Organic contents in the soil are indispensable for the plant, but are not unlimited. The plant uses them to nourish itself, but watering will bring them to the bottom of the container and finally eliminate them.

Repotting allows re-nourishing the plant, with fresh organic content, and giving it more space to grow.

How to determine if your plant needs to be repotted.

If the roots come out of the container, if the plant capsizes of its own weight or if you need to water your plants 2 to 3 times more often than usual, it is time to repot your plant.

The best method to confirm the diagnosis is by examining the roots.

When taking the plant out of its container, observe the roots; you will know instantly that it is time to re-pot if they are compacted into a solid mass.

Repotting is not necessary in the case where the soil detaches easily and that few roots appear around the clump. In such a case, simply wait for a few months more.

Carefully clean your containers and treat the sick plants before transplantation in order to prevent any transplant shock that could be fatal to your plant.

When to Repot ?

The best time to repot is at the beginning of spring before the plant enters its vegetative period.

It is also recommended to repot any plant you just bought. In general, when the plant is sold, it has reached its maximum size for the container in which it is sold.

How to Choose the Right Container for your Plant

  • It must be large enough to let grow the plant and you must never have to «push» the roots in.

  • The container must allow the roots to grow and leave room for the plant to grow at least 0,5 cm to 1 cm, even more for plants with roots that grow quickly.

  • If you buy a small plant, you must foresee to buy more containers to gradually follow its growth.If, on the other hand, you buy a plant already at its mature size, you may not need to buy more containers for it.

  • For the plant to keep a good balance and for esthetics, a container must be in proportion to the plant, generally corresponding to 1/3rd of its height. However, this rule can be infringed with a very heavy container, for a plant with very large roots or for a decorative reason.

A container that is too large can represent some threats

  • If not very cautious with watering, the roots could rot in a soil that never dries, which happens quite often.

  • The plant can be leggy because of too much fertilizer and water for her needs.

Follow the rules …

For containers of 30 cm or less:increase the size by 2 cm to 4 cm in diameter.

For containers larger than 30 cm:increase the size by 5 cm to 10 cm in diameter.

For very large containers, surfacing is in order (see method at bottom).

  • Generally, all containers must have holes at the bottom allowing for water surplus to drain, otherwise the roots will rot and the plant will die.

  • In some cases, it can be acceptable to put some gravel or beads in the bottom of a container that has no holes, but you must be very careful with watering and let the soil dry completely before adding more water.It can be risky and sometimes it is not such a good choice.

  • It is sometimes better to have an un-expensive container with holes in the bottom and invest in an aesthetic container holder, in which you slide the container.You raise the container inside the holder to avoid any excess of water in the plant.It is better to remove any excess water .

  • Under a container with holes, you must place a saucer to recover any water surplus and protect your furniture.You must empty excess water in the saucer 30 minutes after watering.

  • The weight of large containers is important because you will need to move them to clean up, wash the plant or any other reason.It is better, for large plants, to choose plastic or fibreglass containers.There are some very elegant for which the only difference is the weight.

  • Container holders must be approximately 3 cm wider than the container inside.

  • Containers with a water reservoir are becoming very popular for plants outdoors, but except for people regularly absent for long periods, they are of little benefit inside the home.

Aesthetic containers and holders

Some containers or holders can represent an important investment, generally more than the plant they hold. You must find a container or holder that will match with the plant and the house décor.

  • Traditional, glass, porcelain or terracotta containers will fit well in a more colonial or Victorian decor.

  • Wooden, unpainted orange terracotta, wicker basket type of containers or holders will usually fit in rustic decor.

  • Plain with no embellishment, square or rectangular, very tall and narrow containers or holders will fit better in contemporary décor, especially if made in gray metal.

  • Very colourful and heavily decorated containers or holders will find their place in a «funky» décor.

It is important to take into consideration the and your decoration intention.Do you want to put the plant forward or the container/holder? If you want to put forward the plant, you should find a soberer container or of a colour that will blend in with the back scene (wall, curtain, etc.).If on the contrary, you want to put the container up front, you should select a simpler plant and put in front of a neutral décor, putting all the emphasis on the holder.A magnificent holder can be a fabulous decorative element, even without a plant.

The ideal situation is to have the plant and the container/holder perfectly in harmony conjugating the colours and shapes with the back scene.

The location of the container or holder is also quite important to create a good harmony. You must verify the looks for it from all angles, even from above. Certain plants will be more attractive if seen from above, some from the sides, etc. All these details should be taken into consideration when purchasing a container or holder. For example, it is quite advantageous to see Echeveria from above: you must then choose a container with decorations around the top that could be slightly closed in. On the contrary, with a candelabra cactus is at its best if seen from the side.

Maintenance - containers and holders

Most containers and holders require very little maintenance. Simply wipe off any dust on the exterior of porcelain, ceramic, painted terracotta, plastic, fibreglass, etc., containers. Once in a while disinfect the inside of the container, while repotting for example, or when you need to treat a sick or infected plant.

However, some require more often an intervention, mainly those containers made in non-painted terracotta, metal, wood, and wicker.

Unpainted terracotta containers and holders retain mineral salts and fertilizers which end up by staining the container. It is important to regularly soak and scrub these containers/holders to keep them in good condition.

Metal containers and holders can easily rust. They must be sanded or even paint them to keep them in top shape.

Wooden containers and holders must be regularly oiled or painted to keep them looking good.

Wicker containers and holders will simply age without doing something.

Selecting the right substrate to ensure the growth of your plants?

It is important to adapt the substrate you will use to the type of plant you have. Many mixes are possible starting with brown earth, peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. To facilitate the work, merchants offer their clientele, many types of prepared mixed soils.

Potting soil

Especially blended is ideal for most cultivated plants (indoors and outdoors).

Potting soil for African violet (and Gesneriaceae): A mix that will perfectly satisfy the requirements of the African violet, the Gloxinia, Streptocarpus, Episcia, Aeschynanthus, and Columnea.

Potting soil for cactuses: A mix basically composed of horticultural sand specially formulated for cactuses and succulent plants.

Potting soil for orchids: Made of Maritime pine extract, peat, coco fibre rock wool or perlite.

Potting Method

Prepare a large workspace in order to facilitate the repotting task. A table covered with plastic or an old tablecloth will do. Have all the elements on hand before starting: soil, clean containers, pruning shears, gravel, etc.

Water the plants a few hours before repotting.

  • Remove the plant from its container by holding the base with one hand and give a sharp tug on the side of the container with the other hand.

  • Decompress the clump with a fork or a wooden stick.If the roots are rolled up at the base, cut them with a sharp knife about 2 to 4 cm of the lower part of the clump.

  • Put 2 cm of gravel in the bottom to ensure good drainage.

  • Put earth in the bottom of the new container so that the upper part of the clump is about 3 cm under the edge of the container.Do not completely fill the container with the earth.Leave a bit of space between the edge of the container and the substrate to add enough water without overflowing on the sides.

  • Centre the plant well and add earth all around it.Lightly press the breeding soil without compacting it.

  • Water after repotting in order to remove air pockets that could dry up the roots.

When and How to Resurface ?

Resurfacing consist of renewing part of the surface earth with a new mix without digging up the clump.

Whom it may concern …

All plants. Once a plant gets too voluminous and their container is too heavy to manipulate should be resurfaced. Mainly: ficus, des caoutchoucs, des dracænas, palm trees, philodendrons, overwintered plants (citrus, bougainvillea, dentelaires du Cap, solanums), scheffleras, yuccas, spatiphyllums, clivias…


You should resurface every year, in February or March.

How to resurface ?

Scrape the top of the clump with a claw and remove as much as possible of the old mix without injuring the roots. It does not matter if ever you break a few small roots. Spread a mix of soil and compost or soil with commercial organic amendment. Slightly press and water. Surfacing replaces repotting but ultimately will not dispense you of fertilizing. Start about one month later until the end of September.

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