At some point, any plant that is growing and maturing will need to move to a new, bigger pot. Even if the plant is not getting any taller, the root ball will continue to get bigger as the plant ages and matures and it needs to have room to expand. There are several ways to tell if a potted plant is ready for a new home.
The most obvious way to tell is if the plant is top heavy. While not every plant will continue to grow in height, some will. When it reaches the point where the plant appears unbalanced, then it’s probably time to transplant it. Another sign that it may be time to re-pot your plants is if the pot begins to swell. Many plants are now placed in plastic pots and you will be able to see a visible bulge as the root ball gets too big for the pot. If you have a ceramic pot that doesn’t show signs of swelling, then you can look for indicators such as decreased overall health of the plant, excessively dry soil in spite of regular watering, and roots beginning to grow out of the weep holes at the bottom of the pot.
If you’ve determined that you do need to re-pot your plant, then the first step is to get it out of the pot that it is currently in. Once nice thing about this process is that plants which have outgrown their currently home typically come out of the pot very easily. If you turn the plant upside down, supporting the root ball with one hand, you will find that the roots slide right out of the pot in one nice clump. If this doesn’t work, then try watering the plant to the point of saturation and try again. The water should provide enough lubrication to allow the plant to slide out into your hand.
When you are selecting the new pot to put the plant into make sure that you select one that will give the plant room to grow in the future. While it may seem a little bit too big, the revitalize plant should quickly grow into its new home.
After you have released the plant from its old pot and have placed a few inches of potting soil in the bottom of the new pot you need to do a little maintenance on the root ball itself. Not only will this revitalize the growth of the plant, but it will help maintain its overall health. Use a pair of cutters to trim away any stray roots and to make some shallow cuts into the side of the root ball. These cuts will not harm the plant and will actually stimulate new root growth after it is planted in its new home. Give extra attention to any roots that may be growing in a circular pattern around the outside of the root ball. You may want to cut these away as well, since they can cut off the growth of new roots and strangle a plant within its own pot.
Once you have prepared the root ball for transplanting, place it into the new pot and let it sit on the few inches of potting soil that you’ve already placed in the bottom. Holding the plant in the center with one hand, add handfuls of potting soil around the outside of the root ball until the plant stands up on its own. Try to avoid packing the soil tight as you add it. Just fill it in and then water the plant very well. As the water runs out you will notice that the soil settles naturally and you can see how much more you need to add. Keep repeating this process until the soil doesn’t settle anymore.
After you’ve got enough soil in the pot, then you need to trim the foliage of the plant. Not only will this stimulate the growth of new, healthy foliage, it will also stimulate the roots to grow in the places where you trimmed them. If you trimmed off 25% of the root ball, then trim away 25% percent of the foliage. The key is to keep it balanced so that the smaller root ball isn’t working to hard to maintain the larger plant. As it starts growing again in its new home, the plant will work to maintain this balance on its own.
Brian Simkins is a freelance writer living in Chicago. He enjoys using his 14 years of home improvement experience to educate and equip new home owners.