Ornamental and edible gardening adventures.

How to repot your houseplants in an afternoon

This Fishbone plant (Ctenanthe burle-marxii) has more space to grow now that it has been transplanted into a slightly larger pot. 

Approximately 4 minute read.

A great afternoon project is repotting houseplants that have outgrown their current pots. Houseplants benefit from having a little extra root space and fresh soil to grow in.

When upgrading your pot, look for a size that is a little larger than what the plant is in now. For example, if a plant is in a 4 inch pot (10.16 cm), look for a 5 inch pot (12.7 cm). Also, consider the soil your plant is currently growing in and how it might be influencing its performance.

How to get started

When I decide it is time to pot up my houseplants, I put a layer of newspaper out on the floor to catch the extra soil. The soil left behind either ends back up in the bag (if I spill new soil for example), or if it is mostly older soil from the plants, I add it to the compost pile in the garden.

Here's an example. I have a fishbone prayer plant (Ctenanthe burle-marxii) that for the last few months did not seem happy, no matter where I put it. The leaves were getting the crispy brown edges. Prayer plants like humidity and indirect light, so I tried a few weeks growing on the bathroom counter, but that didn't seem to change anything. Then I placed it in my north-facing window, and added a tray of small rocks with water underneath (to increase the humidity). The plant started to do a little bit better, but the soil seemed to dry out very quickly after watering. I did some research and learned that prayer plants like a little peat moss blended into their soil, so I decided an upgrade was in order.

There was not much root development on this prayer plant, despite being in its current pot for more than two years. I suspect the soil is the reason. (In this case, too much perlite.)

When it was time to transfer the plant into the new pot, I was surprised at what I found. The roots were not very overgrown, and there was a lot of perlite mixed in. (Perlite is great for adding aeration to the soil, especially for plants that want quick-draining soil.) I kept some of the original soil, and in the new pot, I blended new potting soil and a little peat moss together. I filled the new pot about halfway with the new soil and then placed my plant inside. I wanted to make sure there was a little room left at the top of the pot — about 1.5 inches (3.81 cm)— (the soil line) so that way when I watered the plant, the soil and water would not spill over the sides.

When I was happy with the plant's level in the pot, I filled in the side gaps with the new potting soil/peat mix combo, until I reached the soil line. Then I watered the plant to help the soil settle in and reduce the chances for air bubbles in the soil (air bubbles are not good for roots).

And then, since I was in the zone, I started to look around for any other houseplants that might need new digs.

So I repotted my new little spider plant, which doesn't mind being rootbound, but it was drying out so quickly that it needed some more space. I used the potting soil mix for this plant.

Spider plant being repotted.

I also repotted my peperomia, and my two peperomia cuttings that I made earlier this spring and had root successfully in the small pots. I also repotted my pilea — which was in soil that held a bit too much water for its liking. In this case, I worked in a bit of the perlite into the new potting soil to help with the drainage.

Pilea after repotting. 

If you have a question about the ideal soil for your houseplants, a quick google search usually yields the information you are seeking. There are also many great books on houseplants that will supply growing information on several popular plants.

Peperomia plant after being repotted.

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