How to Know When Your Plants Need to Be Repotted

Plants can thrive in a variety of containers, but most potted plants don’t do well in the same dirt forever. One of the ways you can care for your potted plants is by repotting them when needed.

Whether they’re indoor or outdoor plants, they all need to be repotted on occasion. Let’s take a look at how you can tell when to repot a plant.

Signs It’s Time to Repot Your Plant

When you don’t know if you should repot your plants or not, look for visible queues. Plants will often show signs that they need to be repotted, so check for these signs if you’re not sure.

Compacted Soil

Soil should be loose enough for plant roots to spread well and water to soak evenly into the ground. When a plant has been potted for too long, the soil begins to compact as it pulls the nutrients out. Compacted soil can cause uneven watering, root rot, and difficulty growing roots.

Check for compacted soil by digging into the top inch or two of the soil. If it’s easy to dig through with just your finger or a small tool, it’s probably okay. If the soil is hard and difficult to dig through, or if water sits on top of the soil for a long time before slowly soaking down, the soil is probably compacted.

Visible Roots

If your plant containers have drainage holes, you can sometimes see roots growing out the bottom when the plant pots are too small. Check the bottom of your plant pots or other containers and look for any visible roots.

When roots are visible, this often indicates that there’s root binding going on inside the pot and it’s a good time to repot.

Sizing Up

When your plants grow larger above the ground, it’s a good sign they’ll soon need more space under the ground. Plants have to have an extensive root system to accommodate a lot of shoots, leaves, flowers, or fruits.

As a simple rule of thumb, follow the plant-to-pot ratio.

This ratio says the size of the container should be no less than half the size of the plant itself. If the plant grows much larger than the pot, it’s usually a sign you need to upgrade the pot size to accommodate the inevitable root growth.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Since potted plants have limited soil space, you have to introduce fresh, nutrient-rich soil into the container once in a while to keep up with their needs. There is little to no natural nutrient regeneration, since the pots house such a small ecosystem of their own.

Plants will show subtle signs that they’re having issues. Look out for these signs.

Signs of nutrient deficiency:

  1. Leaves turning yellow
  2. Losing leaves
  3. Limited flowering
  4. Stunted growth

If you’re caring for your plants in the same way as usual and they’re starting to show signs of being unhealthy, it’s a good sign that the nutrients in the pot are running low.

Tip: Repot Yearly

Plants that live in any container need to be repotted regularly, so if you want to avoid the guessing game you can simply plan to do it once every year.

The best time to repot a plant in any container is when it’s growing. Whenever the growing season is in your area, repot your plants as you’re going into that growing season to give them the best chance of adapting well to the new container.

Most plants need to be repotted every 12-18 months anyway, so planning to repot them annually helps you stay ahead of any issues and keeps your plants healthier. This applies to all container plants, including long-term grow bag plants, hanging baskets, and potted plants.

Should Annuals Be Repotted?

Annuals are any plants that only grow for one season before dying off. Think tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers, marigolds, rice, wheat, etc. Anything that grows for longer than a season or re-grows on its own is not an annual.

Christmas Cactus = perennial

Lettuce = annual

As long as you plant your annuals in containers that will fit them at full size, you won’t need to repot them. If you plant them in a container that’s too small, you may need to repot them as the plants grow in order to accommodate their full size, especially if you’re planting anything that you’re planning to harvest later in the season.

Final Thoughts

Potted plants don’t need a lot of extra maintenance, but they need to have enough space to thrive in whatever container they live in. Make sure you’re repotting your plants when they need it so you can keep your container garden healthy for as long as possible!


How do you know when it’s time to repot plants? Look for these 4 signs!

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