10 Easy Ways to Know Your Plant Needs to be Repotted

Spring has sprung, which means many of us are working hard on repotting our houseplants.

The most common reasons to repot are:

  • to replenish or rejuvenate the potting mix a plant is in
  • to provide the plant with a larger home
  • to try to eliminate a potential problem

Today we’ll discuss 10 ways a plant is telling us its time to repot.

Important notes on repotting:

Plants can be repotted into larger pots, smaller pots, or even the same size pot.

It depends on the size of the roots.

If the roots do need a larger space, it is important to only choose a pot that is an inch or two larger than the previous pot.

This provides the roots a little space to grow without too much extra soil retaining moisture the roots won’t be able to use before beginning to rot.

People sometimes use the term “up-potting” when moving a plant from a smaller size to a larger size pot. I do not use this term, but rather just refer to it as repotting.

Choosing a larger pot can result in the roots being left wet for too long because there is too much moisture.

Sitting wet for an extended period of time will likely result in root rot and possible death.

Table of Contents

#1 Roots are growing out of the drainage holes of the pot

Possible CauseSolution
The plant’s roots have filled the pot and need more roomMove the plant into a larger pot

More information:

If it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot, choose one that is only an inch or two larger than the previous pot to ensure the plant doesn’t drown in its new pot.

For example, if the plant was in a 4 inch pot, repotting into a 6 inch pot would be great.

#2 New growth is emerging smaller or deformed

Possible CauseSolution
The roots need more space to produce healthy growthMove the plant into a larger pot
The plant is lacking nutrientsReplace the potting mix or fertilize more often
A pest is causing deformed growthIdentify and treat the pest
The plant isn’t getting enough lightIf the leaves aren’t deformed, but are consistently smaller, the plant may need more light to grow bigger leaves
The plant needs climbing supportPlants that are epiphytic (meaning climbers) may grow smaller leaves when they are lacking support to support their climbing nature.

This is especially true for climbing aroids, like Philodendrons and Epipremnums (Pothos).

More information:

When a plant’s roots are missing adequate space for growth, moisture, and nutrients, it will affect the plant’s growth both above and below soil.

If it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot, choose one that is only an inch or two larger than the previous pot to ensure the plant doesn’t drown in its new pot.

If you find that the roots have adequate space and think the plant might just need to be fertilized, check out my post on how to fertilize houseplants.

If the roots have plenty of room and you are fertilizing regularly, but new growth is still deformed, it may be a pest.

Click to check out some posts to help to determine what pest you might be dealing with

#3 The plant has stopped growing

Possible CauseSolution
The roots have run out of space to growMove the plant to a larger pot
The nutrients are depletedFertilize the plant or refresh the potting mix
Soil pests damaging the plant’s rootsIdentify and treat the pest
The plant isn’t getting enough lightPlants will not be able to support new growth if they aren’t receiving adequate light

If your plant is in low light or far from a window, trying moving it to a brighter location.

More information:

If you find that the roots have adequate space and think the plant might just need to be fertilized, check out my post on how to fertilize houseplants.

If the roots have plenty of room and you are fertilizing regularly, but new growth is still deformed, it may be a pest.

Click to check out some posts to help to determine what pest you might be dealing with

#4 The plant is drying out a lot faster than it used to

Possible CauseSolution
The roots have used all the space in the pot.

There’s no room for potting mix to hold moisture
Move the plant to a larger pot
The potting mix is too well-drainingReplace the potting medium with one that is a bit more dense (has less perlite, bark, etcetera)

More information:

If you used to be able to water a plant every week or so, but its now dry and thirsty every day or two, it might be time to repot!

Plants that dry out much faster than they used to are often very root bound and do not have a lot of room left in their pot to grow.

Root bound means that the roots have used the available space in the pot and are winding in and around themselves and the pot because there is no where else to go.

When you remove a plant that is root bound, you will see tightly wound roots consuming a good portion of the pot.

If it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot, choose one that is only an inch or two larger than the previous pot to ensure the plant doesn’t drown in its new pot.

If you remove the plant from its pot and find that the roots have plenty of space to grow but is still drying out really fast, the potting mix the plant is in might be too well-draining.

There might be too much perlite, bark, pumice, and other airy media in it. Try mixing the soil again using a little less of these ingredients to allow the plant to hold on to moisture a bit longer.

#5 The potting mix has become super hard and brick-like

Possible CauseSolution
Old potting mix that has compactedSoak the plant to loosen the potting mix

Repot the plant into fresh potting mix that has perlite, pumice, or other soil amendments to increase drainage and keep soil loose and healthy.

More information:

When potting mix becomes brick-like it can be detrimental to the plant.

The soil brick can suffocate the roots, causing the plant to slowly die.

The brick can also prevent the plant from receiving water because the water doesn’t actually penetrate the brick. Instead it runs around the soil block.

It can be intimidating to deal with a plant in this state.

My recommendation is to remove the plant and its soil from the pot, then place the part of the plant in soil to soak in a bowl of water so the soil can begin to absorb moisture and soften.

When the outside looks dark and saturated, see if you can remove some of the soil.

You may find that there is still a dry mass in the middle and it will need to be soaked again.

Keep soaking until you can remove a good portion of soil and then go ahead and repot!

#6 The plant’s potting mix is maintaining moisture for long periods of time

Possible CauseSolution
Root ball is too small for the size of the potRepot the plant into a smaller pot that’s just slightly larger than the root ball
Potting mix isn’t well-draining enoughAdd perlite, bark, pumice, or other soil amendments that increase drainage
Plant is being watered too oftenReduce how frequently the plant is watered

How do you know if the potting mix is well-draining enough?

Almost all houseplants prefer to have well-draining soil with ample amounts of perlite, pumice, or other amendments making the potting mix airy and light.

If you look at the potting mix and it is just one consistent color and material rather than lots of different colors and textures, your plant probably needs better potting mix.

Lots of plants are in dense potting mixes when purchased from the greenhouse.

At the greenhouse the plants are receiving a lot of light and heat, so the plants dry rapidly. Our homes are not nearly as well lit or hot, making that dense potting mix too heavy for a houseplant.

#7 It’s been 2 years or more since the plant has been repotted

If it’s been a couple of years since the plant has been repotted, it’s good practice to repot.

Why? After a couple of years the potting mix will begin to break down causing potential issues for root health. The nutrients in the soil are depleted as well and many plants will be in need of a larger pot after a couple of years.

This is also a good opportunity to ensure the roots seem healthy and that there aren’t any pests lurking around the roots.

#8 Roots are growing above the potting mix

Possible CauseSolution
Roots no longer have room to grow in the potRepot the plant into a larger pot

More information:

Sometimes plants will start pushing roots up instead of down through the drainage hole when the roots are running out of space. If you see roots emerging on top of the soil, it is a good idea to take the plant out of its pot and see if it is in need of a larger home.

If it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot, choose one that is only an inch or two larger than the previous pot to ensure the plant doesn’t drown in its new pot.

#9 Leaves are turning yellow at an abnormal rate

Possible CauseSolution
Nutrients have been depletedRepot into fresh soil or begin fertilizing
Potting mix is staying wet for too long – could be root rotCheck root health and treat the plant for root rot if needed
Possible pestCheck root health to see if there are pests present and treat accordingly

More information:

If you’d like to learn more about how to fertilize a plant, click here to read that post.

If you think you might be dealing with root rot or pests and would like to learn more about identifying and treating them, click here for those posts.

#10 The plant is wilting and not perking up like it used to

Possible CauseSolution
Drying out too quicklyMove the plant to a larger pot
Staying wet too long – possible root rotCheck root health and treat the plant for root rot if needed
PestsCheck root health to see if there are pests present and treat accordingly

More information:

This particular symptom is one of the hardest to understand at first because it can be a product of two opposite extremes: not getting enough water and getting too much water. So how do you know which it is?

If your plant isn’t getting enough water, the potting mix will be super dry a lot of the time and the roots will look healthy when removed from the pot, even if some of them are a bit dried.

If your plant is getting too much water, the potting mix will remain moist for a long period of time and the roots may be discolored and easily breakable. You may be able to squeeze the root and pull a little to remove the outer root tissue and leave behind a thin string. The potting mix may also have an unpleasant odor due to the bacteria and fungal build up in wet conditions.

If you suspect you are dealing with root rot, click here to read about what you can do to revive your plant.

If it’s time to move the plant to a bigger pot, choose one that is only an inch or two larger than the previous pot to ensure the plant doesn’t drown in its new pot.

If you think you might be dealing with pests and would like to learn more about identifying and treating them, click here for those posts.

Happy growing and happy Spring!! Good luck with all of your repotting adventures… especially if your list of plants to repot is similar to mine: very, very, very long! 🙂

2 Comments

  1. Ruth E

    This is really comprehensive and helpful – thank you!

    Reply
    • Colleen

      Thank you for the wonderful feedback! I am so happy to hear that you found helpful information in this post! 🙂

      Reply

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