Q: What steps should I follow when repotting a houseplant?
A: Many people have houseplants in the home or office to make an indoor area more pleasant and attractive. Some have a few houseplants placed in front of windows or in areas of a room that need brightening up. Other homeowners have areas like sunrooms or indoor porches connected to their home that they can fill full of houseplants. No matter what the situation, eventually those houseplants will need to be repotted. Eventually houseplants will out grow the pot or container they are in and will need to be replanted into larger containers. Spring is the best time for repotting houseplants so that the roots will have plenty of time to become established before the onset of the resting season during the winter.
The first step of repotting is to determine if it is actually time to repot a houseplant. There are several signs or symptoms that will let you know when it is time to repot into a larger container. Some of these symptoms include: the soil drying out quickly, lower leaves turning yellow, or if the plant is growing very slowly even when fertilized in the spring and summer. A sure sign that it is time to repot is when plant roots appear from the drainage holes or from the soil surface.
When starting to repot a houseplant, the first step is to remove the plant from the pot. Pulling the plant by the stem is not recommended because the stem could be damaged or separated from the plant roots. Most plants can be removed easily if the pot is held upside-down while tapping the rim on the edge of a table. Have your hand over the soil, holding the plant between your fingers while knocking it out of the container.
The container selected for repotting should be no more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the container that the plant is currently in. If the pot has been used before it should be cleaned to prevent any diseases or pests that could be hanging around from the last plant that was in the container. Pots can be washed in a solution of one part liquid bleach to nine parts water. Rinse off the bleach solution thoroughly before using the container. Clay pots may have soluble salts that have collected on the inside rims, which can be removed using water and a scrub brush.
The pot selected for repotting the houseplant should have drainage holes in the bottom to allow for good water drainage. Often times gravel or stones are placed in the bottom of the pot before planting with the idea that this will improve drainage. Research has shown that placing such items under the soil actually decreases drainage. Water will not move into the gravel layer until after the soil above it becomes saturated.
When repotting, use professional or premium potting soil. Do not take soil straight from the garden because it will not provide good drainage and may contain pests and diseases. Before repotting, the potting media should be moistened.
If the plant has become root-bound it will be necessary to cut and unwind roots that have circled the plant, otherwise the roots will never develop normally. If the old soil surface has accumulated salts, the top inch should be removed.
Place potting soil in the bottom of the new container. The top of the rootball should sit an inch below the rim. Set the rootball in the middle of the new soil to see where the top of the rootball sits. If necessary, remove the plant and add more potting media until the rootball sits an inch below the container rim. After getting the plant at the right depth, fill soil around the sides between the rootball and pot. Do not add soil above the original level on the rootball, unless the roots are exposed or if it has been necessary to remove some of the surface soil. Do not pack the soil around the plant, instead firm or settle the soil by tapping the pot on a level surface or gently press the soil with your fingers. After applying all the needed soil, water the plant thoroughly until water is seen running through the drainage holes. Never pack media after it is wet since it can reduce air space and lead to root problems.
Houseplants can be a great way to bring some of the outdoors into a home or office and add a more pleasant appearance. Repotting when needed, about every year or two, will help keep houseplants looking healthy and attractive.
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Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to Jessica.Strickland@waynegov.com.