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How to repot a plant without killing it

You needn't have a green thumb to repot a plant well. Learn from the world's best plant whisperers at the Royal Horticultural Society to help you and your greens thrive, no matter the pot they're in

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By House & Garden | March 13, 2023 | Gardens

Whether you've moving house, received a leafy housewarming gift or impulse-bought some fresh herbs at the grocer, it is impossible to escape the inevitability that is repotting your plant. Whilst notoriously a tricky task, choosing the right pot for your plant is important for their health – and, not to mention, essential for those seeking to upgrade their plants' external aesthetics.

How do I know if my plant needs repotting?

Aside from the obvious – moving house or the plant arriving throwaway plastic pot – there are plenty of other lesser-known reasons why your plant needs repotting.

Waterlogging: Waterlogged compost may be the first sign that a plant's pot has little to no drainage. If this is the case, the Royal Horticultural Society recommends replacing the original pot with one with drainage holes.

Root breakthrough: If roots are growing through the pot's drainage holes, your plant is root-bound (also referred to as pot-bound).

Bunched-up roots: If roots are tightly encircling the sides of the root ball when you tip it out, your plant is in need of repotting. However, of course, note that some plants prefer to be confined, so do research your plant's profile before repotting!

Discoloured leaves: Should your plant's leaves begin to pale or yellow, it is high time to repot your plant, as its roots are congested and likely not efficiently taking up nutrients.

Plant wilt: If one's plant is wilting, this may be a sign that its roots are congested which necessitates a repot.

Time's up: Most plants need to be repotted every two to three years, so it simply may be high time to move your plant to a pot better suited to its growing roots.

How to choose the right pot?

“A good container should offer plenty of drainage,” say the Royal Horticultural Society, “and will need to be replaced every few years as the plant grows, to avoid its roots becoming congested and ‘root-bound’". After analysing your plant and its needs, you are well-enough informed to purchase the proper pot in which your plant can be repotted.

Also, the RHS recommends option for a pot “one size larger than the container in which it is currently housed, with drainage holes at the bottom to allow excess water to filter out”. When it comes to decorative pots, the RHS says that so long as they come with drainage holes and a waterproof saucer to collect overspill, they are a great and good-looking home for your plant. Another method, too, is to use a plain plastic pot for repotting purposes, which can be “hidden in a prettier waterproof container, known as a ‘sleeve’,” says the RHA.

How to repot your plant, step by step

Materials needed

Your root-bound plant

Pot one size larger than the original, fit with drainage holes at the bottom

Compost to suit the plant

Watering can (if necessary, fitted with a rose attachment)

Optional: a decorative waterproof container

Steps for repotting

Find a suitable pot and water the plant: Choose a pot that is both wide and deep enough to fit your plant's root ball. Make sure there is some space around the edges, too, to allow for optimum space for watering. About a half an hour before repotting, the RHA recommends watering the plant well.

Add new compost to your new pot: After adding a new layer of suitable compost to the bottom of your new pot, carefully remove the plant from its original container. Gently tease out any tightly-packed roots caked along the edges of the original pot and set the plant on the new compost layer. Check to see if the top is sitting about 1cm below the rim; this allows space for water to collect at the top – essential for filtering the compost.

Fill in the gaps: With new compost, fill in around the roots, pressing it down gently to remove any rogue pockets of air. Be careful to not bury the stems or any aerial roots. Your repotted plant should be at the same depth as it was in its original pot.

Water your new plant: Welcome your plant to its new home with a gentle water, taking care to keep its leaves dry.

Written by Antonia Bentel

This article originally appeared on House and Garden UK