You can repot a plant at any time of year, but while different plants may have their own seasonal preferences, spring is often the best time, since that’s the start of the growing season for many plants.
You need: New pot, roughly 2 inches larger in diameter than the old one
Clean, sharp pair of scissors or knife
Coffee filter, paper towel, or a few shards of broken clay (optional)
Potting mix (soil or other potting medium), enough to fill the new pot
Choose the Best Pot for Your Plant
If a houseplant’s roots have run out of space, its new pot generally should be 1 to 2 inches larger in diameter than the original, allowing more room to grow without requiring excessive amounts of soil and water.
That might be less of an issue for outdoor potted plants that receive rainfall, but while some plants need more root space than others, it’s typically best not to surround a potted plant with a lot more soil than it needs.
Plastic pots are lighter and easier to move, but are likelier to tip over. Terracotta and other ceramic pots offer some advantages over plastic, but they are heavy, breakable, and absorb moisture, so they may require more watering than plastic pots.
Whichever material you choose, be sure your pot has drainage holes to help reduce disease risk.
Choose a Good Potting Medium
Look for a potting medium that’s well-suited to your plant. Houseplants grown for their foliage or flowers often need loamier, humus-rich soil, for example, while cacti and succulents need less humus and more sand.
Many types of potting mixes can work well for potted fruits and vegetables, although it’s worth researching your specific plant, since some are more particular about pH levels, water retention, or other factors.
In general, potted plants need a growing medium that’s porous enough to let air reach the roots, but is also able to retain water and nutrients for the plant’s sustenance.
It’s often better to avoid products labeled as “potting soil,” according to the University of Maryland Extension Service, since these tend to be too dense for adequate aeration. If you do buy actual soil, you may want to add perlite or vermiculite to help loosen it a bit. Otherwise, look for an artificial potting mix with peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite, and possibly slow-release fertilizer, although you can also just add fertilizer later.
Another option is to make your own potting medium at home, using a mixture of roughly half organic ingredients (like peat moss, compost, or rice hulls) and half inorganic ingredients (like perlite, builder’s sand, vermiculite, or pumice).
Water the Plant in Its Original Pot
Keep your plant well-hydrated prior to repotting. Try to provide its typical water supply in the day(s) leading up to the move, then give it one more drink about an hour before you repot it.
This step might help your plant handle the stress of repotting, and it can result in less brittle, more pliable roots, which make the repotting process easier for everyone.
Prepare the New Pot
If you’re reusing a pot that previously held another plant, make sure to clean it well before using it again.
Depending on the plant, the pot, and your preferences, you may want to add something at the bottom of your new pot to prevent potting mix from leaking through the drainage holes.
This is not always necessary, but if you’re worried about it, you can add shards of broken clay or terracotta to the bottom. Don’t add small rocks or gravel, though, since that doesn’t help with drainage and takes us space that could otherwise be used by the roots. Some gardeners use a paper towel or coffee filters.
Add Some Potting Medium to the New Pot
Pour a little potting mix into the new pot. Add enough to cover the bottom and provide a cushion, but remember to leave space not just for your plant’s roots, but also for some additional potting mix to cover them at the surface.
Visualize how big the root ball will be inside the pot, and try to keep the top of the root ball 1 or 2 inches below the rim.
Remove the Plant From Its Old Pot
There are different techniques for removing a plant from its pot, and some may work better than others depending on variables like the type of pot, the type of plant, or the condition of the roots and soil.
It’s often easier to remove a plant from a plastic pot, since the more flexible material lets you gently squeeze, pinch, or roll from the outside to separate the soil and roots from the pot’s interior walls. You can achieve the same result with ceramic pots, however, by gently knocking the pot against a hard surface, or by turning the pot upside-down and patting or slapping the bottom with your hand.
In any case, remember this is already a big ordeal for your plant, so try to be as gentle as possible. Turn the pot upside-down slowly, with one hand ready to catch the mass of roots and soil when it comes out. (Some plants slide out easily, while others may need to be gently pulled, wiggled, and coaxed).
Once you’ve removed the plant, put down the old pot and carefully turn the plant upright in your hands, cradling it by the root ball.
Perform a Quick Health Check on the RootsWhile still holding the unpotted plant, examine the condition of its roots. Don’t worry if they’re a little matted or root-bound—you’re already in the process of addressing that problem by moving your plant to a bigger pot.
If you do see a lot of matted or clumped roots around the exterior of the root ball, though, it might be worth gently teasing them apart with your fingers. If that seems impossible, you can try loosening the clump by trimming a few roots with scissors or a knife, then untangling the rest by hand.
For some plants, it could also be helpful to trim away clumps of roots at the top of the root ball, along with any other brown, dead-looking roots.
Place Your Plant in Its New Pot
Carefully lower the root ball into the new pot, setting it atop the layer of potting mix you’ve already poured onto the bottom.
Sprinkle in more potting mix around the sides of the root ball, gently patting it in to reduce air pockets, but without compacting it too much.
In general, the aboveground parts of the plant—leaves, flowers, and fruit—should not be in contact with the soil or potting mix once transplanting is complete.
Water the Plant
Your plant has been through a lot at this point. Give it plenty of water once you’ve finished repotting, but then wait until the soil has dried at the surface before you water again.
Choose a Good Spot for Your Repotted Plant
You have now repotted your plant, but that isn’t the end of the story. The plant may need time to overcome the stress of repotting and to adjust to its new home.