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How to Avoid Common Repotting Problems

Repotting houseplants may seem like a simple task, but there is always a risk that your plants may not do well after repotting. What you need to understand is that repotting should not be done randomly or too frequently. There are many problems repotting can bring and you need to be aware of the risks. It's also important to know how to protect your plants and minimize potential harmful effects of repotting.

Repotting houseplants may seem like a simple task, but there is always a risk that your plants may not do well after repotting. What you need to understand is that repotting should not be done randomly or too frequently. There are many problems repotting can bring and you need to be aware of the risks. It’s also important to know how to protect your plants and minimize potential harmful effects of repotting.

Before Repotting

Before you decide to repot your plants, it’s important to ask yourself a few crucial questions about your plants. Examine your plants carefully and note how they’re doing. You shouldn’t repot your plants “just because”. Watch for certain signs so you’ll know when it’s time to repot them.

Repot your plants if:

  • The plant dries out quickly so more water is needed.
  • The plant experience slower than normal growth during the growing season.
  • Roots some out the bottom of the pot.
  • The roots are in a huge, tangled mass.
  • The plant has outgrown the top and is top heavy.
  • The pot doesn’t seem to be able to support the plant.
  • Water runs quickly through the pot and out the bottom. (It happens when there’s not enought soil to catch the moisture).
  • The top of the soil is stained. (This indicates a salt buildup, which can damage the roots).

If you experience some of these signs, it’s likely a good time to repot your plants. However, in order to avoid harmful effects of repotting, you need to follow certain rules and tips.

Repotting Guidelines

Here are some helpful guidelines for repotting houseplants.

  • Use a pot of the appropriate size. It’s very important to choose a pot that is of appropriate size for the plant. You should never pot a 6 inch plant into a 14 inch pot (the number refers to the top inside diameter of the pot). If you do this, you will end up with a compost heap. The new pot you choose should be only about 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter and depth than the current pot you’re using. This will give enough room for the roots to grow. At the same time, the soil will be able to dry down and won’t remain waterlogged for days (or even weeks) after watering.
  • Don’t forget about drainage. When repotting, drainage is probably the most important factor you should consider. It’s crucial for the health of the newly repotted plant. First of all, forget about simply adding two inches of clay pot shards or gravel on the bottom of the pot: it will just raise the wettest zone of the soil profile closer to the roots of the plant. It will actually increase the risk of root rot due to lack of oxygen. To ensure good drainage, it’s important that a pot has good drainage holes. If you really want to use beautiful and stylish decorative pots, use them as cache pots and plant your plants into and ordinary pot and place it inside a decorative one. Of course, you should make sure that the pot is slightly smaller than the container decorative pot. The bottom line is: never let a plant stand in water for more than a few hours – it will harm it or even kill it.
  • Choose the right soil. When it comes to soil requirements, it’s important to choose the type of soil suitable for the plant species and variety. In case you want to repot fleshy-rooted plants such as a Rubber Tree, many Dracenas or Yucca, it’s best to use a coarse-textured soil with large particles of drainage material (such as coarse Perlite or lava rock). Make sure that particles are about 1/4″ in size. This will ensure good drainage and root development and it will also reduce the chance of overwatering. Fine-rooted plants, such as African violets, begonias and many other smaller plants should be planted in fine-textured soilless mixes made of milled sphagnum peatmoss, vermiculite and “horticultural grade” perlite. Such a mix will effectively holds moisture a bit longer, which is ideal for their sensitive roots. It will also prevent drying up (desiccation) in the smaller pots.
  • Tease the roots. During repotting, it’s important to “tease” the roots out of the cylindrical rootball shape. This is very beneficial for speeding up the growth and branching of new roots into the fresh medium. How to tease the roots? Simply cut away large coils of roots that have grown around the bottom of the old pot. You may also score the rootball vertically with a sharp knife in several places. Make sure to cut into the rootball about an inch when you slice from top to bottom.

When repotting, it’s important to be gentle and to move the plant into the new pot carefully. Pour a few inches of the potting mix on the bottom of the new pot. Set the rootball on top of the fresh potting mix. Work it carefully, filling in and gently (but firmly) tamping down the mix. Do it until the soil is even with the top of the plant’s original rootball. It should also be about 1/2 to 1 inch below the rim of the new pot.

After repotting, it’s important to give the plant a good watering. Place the plant in good, filtered light (away from direct sunlight) for the first few weeks. This should prevent repotting problems so your plant will grow strong and healthy in its new pot.

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