How to Repot Plants – A Step By Step Guide

Repotting your houseplants doesn’t need to feel like a scary and ominous task.  While our plants can be fragile and sensitive, they are also hearty and resilient.  Outdoor plants versus houseplants are kind of like wolves versus dogs.  Houseplants are the “dog version” of their kind; not quite as tough, but still not total wimps.  Unless of course you have a purse dog which might be on par with a finicky maidenhair fern – good luck. (My maidenhair fern is currently in bright light rehab at my husband’s office.)  All that to say, there is nothing to freak out about with repotting! Let’s chat about how to repot your plants and the important things to know.

If you caught my Spring Plant Prep post, you know that now is the time to repot! We are at the beginning of the northern hemisphere grow season and your plants are ready to get to work. As a plant parent, you can give them a leg up by giving them new, nutrient rich soil, and even a bigger pot if they need it. The first question to ask is, “how long has this plant been in it’s current pot? Indoor potting mix usually holds fertilizer for 1-2 years. Beyond that, your plant could do with some fresh food. So toss out that old soil and let’s get started.

Gather your supplies

First step is to evaluate if you are simply repotting your plant, or if you are potting up. Repotting simply means to refresh the soil in your plant’s current pot, while potting up means to go up one (and only one) pot size. If you are not sure if your plant’s roots need more room, good news is that you are about to see them up close and personal!

How to repot plants - the things you will need
What you will need:
  • Indoor potting mix
  • New pot, if you are potting up
  • Workspace that can get messy
  • Trowel (a big spoon works too)
  • Gardening gloves if you want them
  • Watering can
  • And of course, the plant you want to repot!

Ok, so you have everything gathered in one place, now let’s get going. You may be shocked but there is no big mystery to how to repot plants…which is great news for you!

Removing your plant from it’s pot

Loosen around the edges of your plant’s pot by pushing the trowel down along the sides, all the way around the pot. Depending on how root-bound your plant is, this could be a simple one-and-done, where you flip your pot over, holding the base of your plant by the dirt, and out it comes easily. However, if repotting has been a long time coming, your plant is probably thoroughly attached to the sides of the pot, trying to spread its roots out, and you will need to fight with it for a few minutes.

Monsteras are the worst with this!  They cling on for dear life. Don’t freak out if you end up losing a few, or even a lot of roots in this process, just do the best you can.  Your plant is resilient and it can handle it.  Make sure you work at loosening the roots from the pot and not just yanking the plant by the stem, hoping it will come loose, as this could damage your plant.


how to repot plants - taking the plant gently out of the old pot.

Check out what happened as I worked to get this sad, root-bound fittonia out of it’s 3 year old home. I tried my best, but about half of the root system stuck to the bottom of the pot. The ideal would be to lose only about 1/3 of the roots, but this guy is going to be SO much happier in it’s spacious, well-fertilized soil that he will likely still be happier in the long run.

roots that were torn apart from the plant in the process
Half of the root system was stuck to the bottom of the pot and as a result, got torn off.

If you are repotting into the same pot, dump the old soil and clean out your pot, washing away any possible bacteria or disease.

Loosen the roots of root-bound plants

If you are potting up and you find that your plant is root-bound, gently work the roots to loosen them, teaching them to expand into their newfound space.  Without this step, the roots will continue to grow in the tight-knit root ball, and won’t expand out into the new soil.

Let’s repot

Grab your pot and shovel a layer of dirt into the bottom. If you are potting up, this will be a thicker layer as your plant’s roots won’t be as deep and it will need a little booster seat to reach the top of the pot. Once you have your base, hold your plant in the center with one hand, and start shoveling dirt around the perimeter with the other. Gently press the dirt down to get rid of air pockets. Repeat as many times as necessary until the soil sits at the top of the pot and all of the roots are covered.

Watering in

The last important step in how to repot plants is called watering in. Thoroughly saturate your soil until water is pouring from the drainage hole (more than a typical watering).  You may find as the water drains and the dirt settles, that you need to add more soil.  Go for it, and then give it another drink, using the watering to help eliminate remaining air pockets. Wipe off your pot and you’re done!

watering newly repotted plant

Way less intimidating than you thought, right?! Now just be sure to keep an eye on your plant, knowing that it may look a little rough for a while from the shock. Make sure it gets lots of bright light and water as needed. Feel free to drop a comment if you have any more questions on how to repot plants! Have fun and good luck!

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