Repotting Plants: A Guide
Most people fall into 2 groups when it comes to keeping house plants: The first group is good at keeping their plants alive despite caring for pets and kids, or moving to a new place. Within this group exists a subset of folks whose plants don’t just live, they thrive and multiply (my mother being a prime example). The other group, despite their best efforts, loses plants to mysterious ailments within weeks, and sometimes days, of acquiring a plant (me through all my 20’s). This article is for those of us in group 2.
There can be many reasons for sudden plant death, but the top three are:
- The pot is too small. Roots need room to expand–without it, they can grow into an intertwined ball, essentially strangling themselves. (This happens a lot with store-bought plants, because it’s better for the shop to transport and stock the smallest pot possible.)
Solution: Transplant to a larger pot (or divide, creating two plants). See the images below for step by step instructions.
- The plant needs more sunlight. Most plants need at least some light–depending on the species, your plant may not need direct light, but it needs all the indirect light that it can get.
Solution: Make sure it’s close to the window, under a skylight or near the patio door.
- Over- or underwatering. Perhaps surprisingly, the problem is often often too much water, simply because as amateur plant owners we tend to overdo the one feel-good thing that we can confidently do for the plant: water it.
Solution: Check the soil before you water it. Take a pinch of soil between your fingers to asses how moist it is. It should feel fully dry at the surface before you water it again.
Repotting plants is a fairly simple task, but we’ve outlined the basic steps below, along with some photos to help illustrate the process. In this instance, we’ll be coming to the rescue of an ailing basil plant and a weary looking mint plant.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A tray to create a tidy workstation. We’re actually using our Muddy Boot Tray. (Nothing wrong with a little improvisation!)
- A few simple tools
- A larger pot
Let’s start with the basil. First, prepare your larger receiving pot about 2/3 full with bagged potting soil.
Next, remove the plant from its current pot. We recommend cutting the box away rather than pulling, as the growth of the plant may have resulted in such a tight fit that pulling it out by hand may damage it. Instead, you can simply cut the cheap plastic pot away. Our Needle Nosed Pruners can handle dirt and hard plastic, and still stay sharp enough for delicate stems.
Take note of excessive roots showing around the outside of the cube of soil. These roots have definitely run out of room, and repotting is exactly what’s needed.
Gently break up the cube and open up the roots. This may feel somewhat destructive, but the roots and soil need to be “opened up,” and doing this will help it consolidate with the new soil.
Make a pit in the pot large enough to comfortably accommodate the newly opened root bundle. Our Japanese Gardening Trowel is big enough to efficiently move dirt from bag to pot, but slim enough to fit down into the pot for digging.
Plant it and loosely backfill potting soil until it’s within about an inch of the top of the pot
On to the mint. You can see how distressed this plant is by the limp and browning leaves. In this photo, Allison prunes away the damaged stems before beginning the transplant.
The rest of the process is the same as the basil in the previous set of images.
Cut box away from roots.
Loosen roots and place in prepared cavity in larger pot.
Backfill with potting soil.
Water, and place in sunlight.
1 week later and we’ve already harvested leaves for drinks and garnish a few times.
Repotting plants is a very simple task that anyone can do, and one that will make you feel both more confident about plant care and will revive your plants and add to their longevity. You’ll be feeling like a green thumb in no time.