Once a year, we all get bit by a spring cleaning “bug.” We aren’t satisfied until we clean out the cabinets, vacuum under the couch, and finally remember to change the air filter. The repotting “bug” is also on its rampage during the spring, which leads to the question: when is the best time for repotting your mini houseplant?
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Spring: The Best Time for Repotting Houseplants
Why? During the dormant season, your mini plant has gone to sleep. It’s focusing on survival and refuses to put energy into growing new roots during this time. For most plants, dormancy happens in the winter. Nature starts nudging your houseplant awake in the spring when the days get longer, and the sun gets brighter.
The Two Valid Reasons
Most experts agree that the best time to repot a houseplant is every 12-18 months. There are a few different reasons why this timeline is a good idea:
A Size Upgrade
Your mini plant is a baby, so it has tons of growing to do in the future. New growth is an excellent sign that you deserve a ‘pat on the back’: your plant is happy in the environment and conditions you’re giving it! So, keep up the outstanding work.
The main ingredient of most potting mixes you get from the retail store is peat. What’s the problem with that? Peat disintegrates over time and will eventually pack around your plant’s roots, eliminating the oxygen it needs in the soil. That’s right, plants breathe through their roots too!
The general rule is that traditional potting mixes need to be refreshed every 12 months to encourage aeration and give your plant a nutrition boost. If you’re looking to boost your mix’s lifespan, you can incorporate extra perlite into the soil when you repot it. This will buy you an additional 3-6 months. Just a little caution: added perlite also improves drainage, so you will have to water more frequently.
What to Look For
Let’s be honest: most of us are counting down the days until it’s the best time for repotting our houseplants. Stop looking at your watch, and start looking for the signs!
Just remember, repotting has its place, but it is a risky operation. If you aren’t sure, and there’s still some time on the clock’ before your soil is exhausted, it’s best to wait.
The Unquenchable Thirst
Have you noticed that your plant requires watering a couple times a week? For most plants, this is a telltale sign that it’s the time! Why? When a plant’s roots have filled their pot, there’s very little soil, which equals little to zero moisture retention.
If a fast-growing Tradescantia or Kalanchoe starts growing in “slow-motion,” it’s a sign that it needs repotting. However, keep in mind that not all plants are in a rush. For instance, the Crispy Wave fern is nature’s slow-poke. So, compare your plant’s recent growth with its past record before drawing a conclusion.
The Curious Roots
If your houseplant’s roots decide to poke out the drainage hole to say “hello,” they are telling you that it’s the best time to repot. You will want to give this plant a pot upgrade. This translates into a container that is 1-2 inches wider and deeper for a mini plant. For bigger plants, you’ll want a pot that is 3-4 inches larger.
The Tiny Growth
As a plant gets older, its growth-size should continue to increase until it reaches maturity. If your houseplant spits out a random, unusually small, or disfigured leaf, it is crying out for help. Your soil is likely exhausted! Mineral build-ups, lack of nutrition, and reduced aeration all contribute to this unsightly growth. While your plant may or may not need a larger container, it certainly could use some new soil!
The Root Wrap
If you remove your plant from its pot and notice that its roots are twirling around the bottom of its container (or if the whole thing comes out as one solid-root-ball), you need to upsize. Why? Your roots officially have nowhere to go. If you haven’t seen some of these above issues already, they are headed your way!
Some Repotting Reminders
Reminder one: Don’t rough-house with your roots.
In nature, plants aren’t uprooted every year, so remember, this is a pretty traumatizing experience for your mini plantie. That being said, it is essential to get a reasonable amount of the exhausted soil out of the root ball and release some of those wrapped up roots. How?
It is best to wait to start the repotting process until it is time to water your houseplant. Then, start by thoroughly soaking your mini plant the night before. This will contribute to malleable roots and softer soil, reducing the risk of trauma. Simply ‘tickle’ the roots to release some of the dirt, and try to untangle as many roots as you can.
Reminder two: Know when to admit defeat.
You were so confident your plant needed an upgrade… well, until you unpotted it. If you just don’t see those bare roots giving you the signs, resist the urge to size up. There’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat! Just take it as an excellent opportunity to refresh your plant’s soil and return it to its original planter.
Wait until it’s the best time to repot your houseplant in a larger container. What’s the harm in putting your plant in a container that is too big? The root-to-soil ratio will be entirely off, providing too much moisture to your root system. Potentially, you are facing a severe case of root rot, which will potentially end in death. Life lesson from plants: They like achievable goals!
Reminder three: Leave Sickly Plants Alone
When one of our precious plants is sick, it’s easy to overcompensate. Suddenly, it’s all you can think about, and before you know it: you’ve moved your plant three times this week, gave it extra water, and maybe some more fertilizer for good measure. If repotting is next on your list, don’t do it.
Repotting your plant is a drastic measure and could be the last nail in the coffin for your sickly plant. You shouldn’t consider repotting unless there is something substantially wrong with your soil.
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