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The Greener View: Transplanting

Jeff Rugg on

Today's article is the fourth in a five-part series on houseplants.

As outdoor plants break dormancy and start to grow in response to the longer days and warmer spring temperatures, houseplants usually put on a spurt of growth as well. Eventually, these indoor plants outgrow their containers and need to be repotted. To check if your plants are becoming root-bound and need a larger pot, inspect the root system by sliding the plant out of its pot.

Most houseplants should be repotted in the spring as new growth comes out. For many people, however, that would mean repotting when the weather is still too cold outside, so the chore often doesn't get done until the plants can be moved outside.

During the replanting process, don't break off too many roots on a plant that is now going to get more sun and more heat. Be careful to watch the watering needs of the plant after it has been moved outside. Give them some slow-release fertilizer while they are actively growing as well. Use the hose to give them a bath occasionally so that dust and bugs can be rinsed off. If you have plant saucers under the pots, don't let them remain filled with water, especially during rainy spells.

Watering several hours before you plan to repot a plant makes it easier to remove plants from clay pots. On pots that are 8 inches in diameter or less, place one hand over the top of the pot with the stem of the plant passing between two fingers and then turn the plant upside down. If necessary, rap the edge of the pot against a table. The root ball should come away from the pot. On pots that are more than 8 inches in diameter, if a bit more encouragement is needed, place the pot on its side and rap the top edge of the pot with a rubber mallet. Turn the plant a few degrees and then repeat the procedure until the root ball releases.

Once the plant is free, take a look at the root ball. If the soil is covered by roots, the plant needs to be moved to a larger pot. Loosen the roots, and spread them out. You can prune any roots that circle around the pot.

If the original pot is less than 10 inches across, move up an inch in diameter. If it is 10 inches or larger, increase the size of the new pot by 2 inches. If the pot has drainage holes in the bottom, cover them with a piece of cloth, paper or coffee filter so the potting mix is not washed out during watering. If the new soil doesn't have fertilizer, you can add some slow-release fertilizer following package directions.


The top of the soil should sit at the same level it was in the old pot. Add potting mix to the pot, but make sure there is still room for water at the top of the pot. The soil mix will need to be firmed slightly before the plant is placed on top of it so it doesn't settle. After the plant is placed, fill in around the original root ball with potting soil. Firm this soil with a slender stick, or tap the bottom of the pot on the table. If this firming is not done, new soil may be so loose that water will move through it rather than through the old soil.

Water the plant thoroughly after repotting, but be especially careful not to overwater for about two weeks. The new soil may stay too wet until roots start to penetrate the new soil. Overwatering can lead to the roots rotting. Some plants need to be repotted annually, though larger plants may be able to go several years before repotting.

Next week, we cover how to recognize which plants will grow well in your house and where to buy houseplants.


Email questions to Jeff Rugg at To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



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