Houseplant Repotting 101

Potted green plant

Eventually, just about every gardener needs to move a plant into a new container. Many beginning gardeners, however, are intimidated or confused by the repotting process. They need not be! Repotting is actually quite easy and quick, typically requiring less than 30 minutes to complete.

There are two basic reasons gardeners move plants to new containers: Either plants have outgrown their current homes or a more attractive container is desired.

Spotting a Root-bound Plant

wilted house plant near a water pitcher

Wilting can be a sign that a plant is root-bound.

A lush, green houseplant is a sign of healthy roots. But eventually, those roots will fill their planter to the point that they can no longer properly absorb water and nutrients. Common symptoms of a root-bound plant include:1

  • Roots growing out of the container's drainage holes or poking up through the surface of the soil
  • Yellowing or loss of leaves
  • Straggly, slow growth
  • Potting soil dries out very quickly
  • Wilting of the plant even when the soil is moist
  • Water runs straight through the container, rather than absorbing into the soil
  • Plant looks too large for its container, or tips over easily

Choosing a New Container

Healthy houseplants in well-chosen planters add big doses of beauty to your home. One way to add impact is to pick one trend, color, or shape of container, and repot all your houseplants into that family of planters.

For instance, if your home is decorated in French country, cottage, or any other casual-yet-traditional style, consider a selection of charming planters with vintage touches. One lovely example is the Vintage Floral Bowl. Or light up a contemporary room with a variety of houseplants in the cheery colors of the Inspired Home Electric Pot collection. Perhaps you love the colorful and rustic flair of Mexican or Mediterranean decor, which is nicely matched by the Scratched Cup Pot. Whatever your decorating style, Pennington has a container to match it.

For the healthiest results when repotting, only go up one size when choosing your plant's new container. A container that's too large can result in too much damp soil surrounding the plant's roots, which can cause root rot.

The Repotting Process

Isolated green plant

 Once your plant is out of its container, it's easy to inspect its roots.

Spilled dirt is inevitable while repotting, so place newspaper or a plastic sheet under your old and new containers to catch the mess, or complete the project outside. Here's all you'll need:

Once you have your supplies, follow these steps:

  1. Water your plant to soften the soil.
  2. Cover the new container's drainage holes with your paper towel or coffee filter. This prevents soil from leaking out of the holes whenever the plant is watered.
  3. Add an inch or two of potting soil to the new container.
  4. While keeping your hand on the plant's stem for support, tip the old container over until the plant slides free. If the plant doesn't slip right out, gently tap the sides and bottom of container against a hard surface to loosen the root ball. Don't yank or twist the plant.
  5. Inspect the plant's root ball. Healthy roots are white, unblemished, odorless and not mushy.2
  6. Cut away any roots that look moldy or black, and any exceptionally long. Tease apart matted roots with your fingers, or use the knife or scissors to slice into them. Gently fluff the roots if coiled or wrapped into an overly tight ball.
  7. Set your plant into its new container. Add potting soil to the bottom of the planter until the base of the plant is one-half inch from the container's lip. This will prevent water from overflowing when watering.
  8. Pour potting soil around the plant's root ball, filling in any gaps. Be careful not to bury the stem of the plant or any of its leaves. Gently press the soil down with your fingers, but don't compact it too tightly, or water won't be able to easily penetrate the soil.
  9. Dilute the transplant shock reducer as per label directions, and then water your plant with the mixture.
  10. Top off the soil if it settles excessively after watering.
  11. Protect your plant from intense sunlight, and hold off fertilizing for a few weeks. Once that time has passed, encourage new growth with Alaska® All Purpose Dry Fertilizer NPK 6-4-6, which releases nitrogen slowly to nourish your plant over time.

Repotting in good-looking, stylish containers is a simple process that can greatly increase your chances of growing healthy houseplants.

Pennington® with design is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc. Ultragreen and Alaska are registered trademarks of Central Garden & Pet Company.



  1. Heather Rhodes, "Signs of a Root Bound Plant," Gardening Know How
  2. Matt Kostelnick, "Plant Doctor: The Root of the Problem," Ambius
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