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How to Repot Your Plants Without Making a Mess

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Re-potting a plant can be an intimidating task, especially for larger plants. Why re-pot in the first place? As the plant grows, so do its roots. These roots need ample space in the soil to be able to absorb nutrients. In addition to this, potting soil tends to lose its nutritional value over time. Refreshing the soil is the best way to ensure that your plant (and its roots) are getting what they need.

Our simple guide on how to re-pot a plant will ensure you are giving your plant a nice home to flourish in.

Also, before we begin - if you are considering re-potting in a high rise apartment, do not worry! We have listed all the right tools for you to re-pot without making a mess indoors!

Signs Your Plant Needs to be Repotted

Here are some signs that your plant needs to be re-potted:

Roots are growing out of the drainage hole - This occurs when the roots have run out of room to expand in the pot.

The roots are pushing the plant out of the pot - Roots that have outgrown the pot will eventually begin pushing the plant out of the pot as they elongate.

The plant is top heavy - If the pot size is not large enough to support the weight of the plant canopy, it could risk toppling over and getting damaged.

The soil is no longer absorbing moisture - Soil that has spent all of its nutrients and structure will eventually lose its ability to absorb moisture. This can also occur if the pot is filled primarily with roots and little soil.

The ratio of plant to pot size is uneven - If the pot size is less than a third of the plant canopy, there likely isn’t enough room in the pot for the roots to expand and the plant can risk falling over.

It has been a couple years since re-potting - Soils typically lose their nutritional value and structure within a couple of years and should be replenished every couple of years.

The Tools You Will Need

A hand trowel will make it super easy to remove soil and add fresh soil in without making a mess!

Pruners are great for trimming off dead growth, do remember to wash your pruners with warm water and dish soap before using them on other plants. Sterile pruners will also minimize the risk of an infection when pruning the plant.

Re-potting Mat

Re-potting Mats are perfect for keeping your floors and tables clean while re-potting. The mat we’ve placed above folds up around the edges, ensuring that dirt and soil cannot escape from the sides. It’s perfect for re-potting inside a home!

Fresh Potting Soil Mix

Potting soils contain important micro-nutrients that help the plant take up water and fertilizers. When the soil has been depleted of these micro-nutrients, the plant will show signs of malnutrition in its foliage.

Most plants will do fine in an all purpose potting mix, but those that like their roots to dry out more frequently do better in a coarse soil mix.

All Purpose (Pothos, Monstera, Bird of Paradise, Philodendron, Ferns)

Foxfarm Ocean Forest

Black Gold Organic

Miracle Gro Indoor Potting Mix

Coarse, Well Draining (Succulents, Money Trees, ZZ Plants, Palms and Dracaenas)

Kellog’s ‘Palm, Cactus & Citrus’

Espoma Cactus Mix

Keep in mind that organic potting soils may contain insect larvae, such as fungal gnats that can create further issues. The warm, moist environment in bags of organic soil is the perfect environment for insects to live. Chemically treated potting soils such as Miracle Gro are less likely to contain insect larvae.

A New Pot

When upgrading the size of your plant’s pot, choose a pot that is 2” larger in diameter than the previous pot. A pot that is too large can lead to excessive moisture buildup in the soil where the roots haven’t expanded.

Choose a pot made out of a porous material such as clay or ceramic for plants that like their soils on the drier side. These pots are able to absorb excess moisture and aerate the soil. These are especially good for plants like succulents, palms, Money Trees, ZZ Plants and Dracaenas.

Using clay or ceramic pots for moisture loving plants such as Pothos, Monstera, Bird of Paradise, Philodendron, Ferns may increase your need to water due to their absorbent nature. These plants do better in plastic, non-porous pots.

It is best practice to choose a pot with at least one drainage hole at the bottom. These holes allow excess water to drain out. Pots without drainage holes promote moisture retention, and this can increase the risk of water logged soil, or root rot.

Plants can be kept in their plastic, nursery pots until they show the signs of needing to be re-potted as mentioned above. Many people like keeping their plants in the original nursery pot and placing this pot in a decorative one. This is okay, just make sure you are still upgrading to a 2” larger nursery pot when the plant shows signs of needing to be re-potted.

9 Easy Steps

Follow the below steps to successfully pot any type of plant:

Step 1: Soak the soil and let it absorb for about 15 min. (Watering the soil first gives it more flexibility and less chance of damaging roots.)

Step 2: Loosen the soil from the side of the pot using a garden trowel

Step 3: Gently hold the base of the plant with one hand while gently wiggling the pot from the soil with the other hand at a 45 degree angle. (For larger plants, gently lie the plant on the floor ensuring the canopy does not get damaged.)

Step 4: Gently massage the root ball to loosen up the roots. Loosening the roots will allow them a better chance of spreading out in the new soil.) Be sure to do this without damaging the roots.

Step 5: Examine the root health. Cut away any dry or mushy roots. Roots should be plump and firm to the touch.

Courtesy Reddit
Healthy Roots

Unhealthy Roots

Step 6: Place a layer of fresh soil in the bottom of the new pot. Place the root ball deep enough in the pot that the roots are not showing above the pot’s rim line.

Step 7: Firmly pack in the soil around the root ball. Firmness of the soil gives the plant more stability and allows the roots a better chance of attaching to the soil.

Step 8: Give the soil a good soaking. You may have to water twice for the soil to absorb the moisture due to the hydrophobic nature of bagged soil.

Step 9: You’re done! Time for a happy dance. And do be sure to pack up all the tools and stowaway for the next season.


It is common for plants to droop after re-potting. This is a sign of mild stress from the plant trying to re-acclimate to the new soil. Your plant should bounce back soon after re-potting. If it continues to droop, ensure the soil is keeping its moisture. You may need to water twice after re-potting to help charge the soil, making it more absorbent.

If you would like one of our plant coaches to re-pot with you, we will be happy to virtually walk you through the entire process.

Please click on one of the options below to book an appointment.


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