Repotting your plants

Photos by Lori Murray

By Ashley H. Gregory, County Extension Agent.

Most of us are spending a lot of time at home these days, and our pets and plants are happy about that. This is a great opportunity to spend a little extra TLC on your potted plants. As I was walking around my back yard a I noticed a lot of my potted plants are badly in need of a new home or at least some fresh potting soil.

Here are some key points to consider, whether you are repotting or just getting started with potted plants.

What is potting soil?

Ironically, it’s a soilless growing media that typically consists of items like peat moss, perlite, wood residues, sand, etc. These materials provide the needed aeration, drainage and water holding capacity required for growing plants in pots. Additionally, they tend to be lightweight and porous, allowing them to hold more water than soil would.

One important thing to note is that most premixed growing media (store bought potting soil) contains peat moss and/or wood residues.

These organic materials naturally have a waxy outer coating that repels water. That’s why it’s important not to let your potted plants dry out to the point where you can see a ring of space between the growing media and your pot.

Once this happens it becomes very difficult to re-wet; water will just run out of the pot. One option is to submerge the bottom of your pot into a tray of water and allow a few hours for the water to be absorbed from the bottom up. Don’t leave it more than a day or you will drown the plant.


There are many types of containers and a variety of materials to choose from. When selecting a container for your plant there are only two main things to keep in mind: drainage and size. The container must be large enough to provide space for root growth, have room for watering at the top, and holes in the bottom for drainage.

Typically, a container 2 inches larger in diameter than the current one should be big enough. If you plan to reuse containers, it’s always a good idea to wash them out with a solution of 1-part liquid bleach to 9 parts water.


How often you need to repot will depend on the growth rate of the plant, but generally all plants should be repotted every year or two. The most obvious sign your plant needs a bigger home is if you see roots growing out of the bottom of your pot. Other signs may include slowed or stunted growth, rapid wilting after watering, yellow leaves or roots at the soil surface.

Tips for Repotting

• If the roots appear to be growing in a circle, you must break them up and trim them to stop that growth pattern.

• You may add pebbles or another coarse material to the bottom of the container for added drainage if needed.

• Add a layer of potting soil to the bottom of the pot and place your root ball in the center. Fill in the sides and make sure to leave enough headroom (space between soil level and top of pot) for watering. Conversely, don’t place the plant too deep; 2 to 3 inches is enough headroom.

• Tap the pot to settle the soil and water in thoroughly.

For some great videos on container gardening check out Harris County Horticulturalist, Skip Richter’s YouTube page.

Ashley Gregory is the Horticulturalist for Hidalgo County with Texas A& M AgriLife Extension Service.

She can be reached at the Hidalgo County Extension Office at (956) 383-1026 or by email at