Repotting container plants, in many gardener’s minds, seems to be one of the biggest barriers to growing plants in pots. Attempts at trying to do this have either failed or it just seems like far too much effort. Yet in reality, this should be one of the most basic things that gardeners can do.
Why? Because if you break down the activity of repotting you will notice that it resembles transplanting new plants into the soil. The only difference is that instead of going into the ground your plant is going to be repotted instead – into a bigger pot.
The dilemma occurs because, for most gardeners, positioning a plant in the soil is usually a set and forget activity. Plants, once placed in the soil, don’t usually need moving again while container plants will often need a repot every few years or so.
How can you tell if your plant needs a repot?
As your plant nears the time when it requires repotting it will start to give you signs of its fight for life.
- Leaves turn colour – it doesn’t matter which plant you have they will all exhibit signs of distress via their leaves. Some, like gardenias will turn yellow while others start displaying brown tips or leaves that just start to drop off altogether.
- Potting soil becomes compact – you will begin to notice that the soil in the pot is becoming water repellant because the roots have taken up every inch of space. If you can’t drive a finger easily into the soil then its most likely time to repot.
- Roots show from the base of the pot – this is a common problem especially with vigorous root growers such as agapanthus and clivias.
The Benefits of Repotting
Apart from the obvious survival benefits, repotting gives a number of other advantages for your plant and your garden.
- Changing a pot can be like repainting a wall. It allows you to be creative in new ways.
- A repotted plant now has more room to grow.
- Your plant is more likely to bloom, and in abundance, when it has enough ‘legroom’ to source the nutrients it requires.
- Repotting also gives you the chance to freshen up your plant by removing any dead roots and also giving your plant a much needed prune.
How to Repot a Plant
Repotting a plant isn’t as difficult as many assume. As in most gardening activities there are basics that are fundamental to success but these aren’t hard to grasp.
Remove the plant from its original pot. If it’s a large pot and this container will again be used to house this plant then try removing the root ball in a similar fashion to transplanting a garden plant.
At this point it’s possible to assess the plant for any root damage and to break the ball up if it’s become too rootbound. Don’t be too eager to remove these roots keeping in mind that they are the transit lines for the plants nutrient source. Instead, gently ease the most congested ones apart to give the roots more freedom to grow.
Prepare the container that you will repot into. It’s always a good rule of thumb to increase the size of the pot by at least 50% over the original pot’s size. If the original container was large enough and the plant hadn’t yet completely grown into it then you can re-use the same one but in most cases you will require a larger pot.
Fill the new container 2/3 full will some quality potting mix and begin steeping the sides to allow room for the plant’s root ball. Position the plant in the middle of the pot and begin adding more potting mix to fill the container.
The trick here is to ensure that there are no air pockets forming around the root ball and that you don’t compact the soil too much that it will create similar problems to the ones you’re trying to overcome. If your plant needs staking then this is a good time to do that instead of when the roots have regrown and chances of lancing one have increased.
One more thing to keep in mind is that the base of the plant’s main stem and the top of the rootball should remain level with the final height of the potting mix.
Now that you’ve repotted your plant, the final step is to water it in and provide some initial nourishment so that it copes with the transplant shock. The best cure for this is either a liquid fertiliser and/or some bonemeal. I always like to add some slow-release fertiliser as well.
You will need to keep watering your repotted plant over the next week or so until it shows signs of a successful repot.
And that’s it. Piece of cake really, isn’t it.