Home Sitters How to Re-Pot a Plant that is Root Bound

How to Re-Pot a Plant that is Root Bound

Published on October 17, 2012, by in Sitters.

Has your plant reached the point that it’s outgrowing its current pot? If so, it is root bound.  A plant that has become root bound has outgrown its pot and needs to be moved into a bigger one.  Re-potting your plant is not complicated and it will give you several more years with your plant – if you take good care of it.

Here’s what you’ll need:       

  • Potting soil
  • A pot that is 1 to 2 inches larger than the old pot
  • Gravel
  • Slow release fertilizer
  • Water

Prepare the pot

Fill the bottom of a pot that is 1 to 2 inches larger than your old pot with about a ½ inch of gravel.  You will not want choose a much bigger pot than that because it will cause the plant to expend all of its energy creating new roots to fill it.  The gravel will allow for drainage and prevent the soil from running out of the hole in the bottom of the pot.  Fill the pot up to about halfway with potting soil.

Prepare the plant for repotting

A day or two before repotting you will need to water the plant thoroughly.  The plant will take to its new environment better if it is freshly watered and the potting mix is damp.


Gently tap the sides of the pot to loosen up the soil.  Tap your way around the pot and then gently try to tip the plant out.  Grip the plant close to dirt level and on the main stem if possible. Look at the root ball and assess any damaged roots.  With a knife cut away any dead roots.  Dead roots will be brown and dried up.  Try to break apart the root ball a little.  If the roots are growing around in a tight circle and you do not pull them apart and spread them out, they will continue to grow in the same circle in the new pot.  If there are thick roots circling the pot you will need to take the knife and make some vertical cuts through the roots.  This will allow new roots to form and stretch into the fresh soil.  This cutting will not hurt the plant.  You can cut away up to a third of the roots without harming the plant.

Next, knock off a quarter to a third of the old potting soil if possible.  The plant will do better in fresh healthy soil, as old soil can have a lot of mineral deposits from watering that can actually poison the soil.  Fresh soil has the nutrients that your plant needs to thrive.

Set the plant into the new pot and adjust the soil level so that the surface of the root ball is even with the top of the pot.  Fill in around the root ball with more soil until the pot is completely full.  Use your fingers or a pencil to poke around the root ball, work the new soil all the way down, and get rid of any air pockets.  Press down on the soil firmly, but don’t pack the soil.


Water the plant.  Place the pot in the sink and give it a good soaking.  Allow the plant to stay in the sink for 10 minutes or so and then drain off any excess water.  Be sure that the new pot has a way to capture excess water or set it on a saucer to protect your furniture.


Keep a newly re-potted plant out of direct sunlight for the first week and then move it back to its usual spot.

Many potting mixes contain a slow fertilizer, but it’s usually not a good idea to fertilize for the first 4 to 6 weeks after repotting.  The plant will be putting on new roots and fertilizer could burn them.  After the first 6 weeks you should be able to safely fertilize your plant.  The most common method of fertilizing house plants is to add the liquid fertilizer to your watering can according to package directions.

Repotting a root bound plant will encourage new growth both in the roots and in the rest of the plant because the plant will now be getting the nutrients that it needs to thrive.  The process doesn’t take a lot of time and you will love what it does for your plant.

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