Those of us with children are all too familiar with how fast they seem to grow. We’re also familiar with the constant struggle of supplying clothes that seem to fit one day, but are too small the next. While we (reluctantly) love to see them learn and grow every day, accommodating their steady growth spurts can be a challenging task.

Parenting a plant can be much the same, and the growth spurts may be even faster than the average kid! Just like shoes can become too snug on your little one’s toes, pots can become too cramped for your plant’s roots, and while finding a new home for your growing plant can be challenging, it’s important to give them the space they need to be healthy and flourish.

growing strawberry plants in pots

Signs You Need A Bigger Pot

At least with kids we can hear them complain about their tight shoes and garments. But with plants, their indications of discomfort can be more subtle. Luckily, there are a few tell-tale signs that your plant needs a pot upgrade:

Rootbound: When a pot has more root than soil, your plant will struggle to get the moisture and nutrients it needs. You may even see signs of cramped roots as they begin to peep up over the surface, or grow out of the bottom of the container in search for more soil. If this is the case, it’s definitely time for a larger space!

Excessive Watering: With less space for soil, a container won’t be able to hold onto moisture for as long as it once could. If you find your plant’s watering needs are increasing, when it used to do well on a schedule, you may need more soil – and space to put it in – to nourish its growing roots.

Loss of Balance: If your plant is looking a little top-heavy, or too big for its base, then you may need a bigger container. If you notice this off-balance visual in addition to other signs, you can be pretty confident in your decision to re-pot.

scucculents in pots (left), garden shovel filled with soil

Repotting How-To

Now that you know when to re-pot, you need to know how to re-pot! It’s a simple process, made even easier and less painful with our helpful hints:

Make sure you have everything you need before you start. What you don’t want is to be holding up your plant, roots exposed, and you realize you left the new container in the back of your car. Have your new container, some bagged soil, and anything else you may need before you begin, for a much smoother process. Also remember that when you’re dealing with soil, things are bound to get messy, so re-pot in an easy-to-clean area.  Lay out a garbage bag to work on or use a tote or bin.

Move up just one pot size at a time. It may seem like jumping to a much larger container will save you from repotting again in the near future, but just like you wouldn’t skip shoe sizes for your kids, your plant shouldn’t skip a container size, either. As much as they won’t like their cramped quarters, they shouldn’t be given too much space either. A container full of soil and very little roots will become waterlogged much easier, which can lead to root rot.

Use sterile, bagged soil. Digging up soil from your own garden for containers isn’t a good idea. While it may be free, you’ll be adding lots of microbes, and possibly even some pests, into your container. Bagged soil is sterile and will ensure your plant gets off to a healthy and nutritious start!

Be gentle when removing your plant. Your plant’s old container has likely been it’s home for a while, so it may be pretty snug in there. Especially if your plant is rootbound, you will want to remove it as gently as possible. To do so, grasp it by the base, but don’t pull it up by the stem. Instead, use gravity! Tip the old container, squeezing the sides until the plant and root ball slip out. Remember, the less stress you expose your plant to, the easier it will settle into its new home.

Set your plant up for easy growth. Before you place your plant in the new container, gently work the roots, loosening them from their compact ball. This will help them spread out easier in their new, spacious home. Fill the container with potting soil and water it thoroughly once you’re done. A larger pot will likely mean a new watering schedule, so make sure to test the soil for dryness with your finger often during the first few weeks.

top view of succulent plants (left), multiple plants on shelf

Repotting for All Plant Types

These basic steps are applicable to most houseplants. Even though some are slower than others, all plants grow and eventually require more space.

Succulents and cacti are some of our slowest-growing houseplants but will need some special considerations when they finally need an upgrade. Since they require very little moisture, they need an environment with great drainage. Use soils that are specifically designed for these types of plants, and pick a pot with lots of drainage holes. But don’t worry, you don’t have to compromise between ideal growing conditions and aesthetic. If your heart is set on a beautiful container that doesn’t have good drainage, try planting your arid-loving plant in an adequate container that you can place inside the one you like!

Other plants grow at a faster rate and can become quite large, quite quickly. These plants might be challenging to handle. Plants with multiple stems, like African violets, ferns, peace lilies, snake plants, or spider plants, can have their growth controlled by dividing them. After removing them from the pot, use a sharp knife or shears to cut the roots in half, ensuring each piece has a share of healthy roots and stems. You can then re-pot each cutting, multiplying the number of plants you have while ensuring they each have enough space to grow! Remember, plants with a single stem can’t be divided as easily. They’ll have to be managed in other ways, like pruning.

Repotting is an essential task when you’re a potted plant parent – it gives them the space they need to stretch their roots and grow, so they can look and be their healthiest. They’ll reward you with beautiful blooms, luscious leaves, and spectacular shades. For such a necessary task, repotting is pretty simple and straightforward, and one thing’s for sure – it’s definitely easier than accommodating your kids’ growth spurts!

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