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5 Signs It’s Time to Repot a Plant

Someone repotting a plant.

It’s a fact of being a plant owner: Plants need to be repotted sometimes. But, how do you know when it’s time? A few simple signs will appear when it’s time to repot your houseplant, and they’re pretty easy to notice during routine daily care.

You don’t have to be an expert gardener to know when your favorite plants need a new home. Here’s how to determine when it’s time to get your plants into new pots so they can continue to thrive.

Sign 1: The Roots Are Coming Out of the Bottom

One of the most unmistakable signs that your plant has outgrown its current planter is if you spot roots coming out the drainage holes. This is the most common spot you’ll see roots trying to find more space, but it’s not the only one.

Depending on the individual plant, you also might see roots poking up through the soil or even pushing the plant up and out of the soil.

The roots are a pretty clear indicator of the health and growth of the plant. When they show signs of stress, it’s time to listen. The longer a plant is rootbound, the less likely it is to stay healthy long-term, so be sure to address these issues and repot as soon as possible.

Sign 2: The Leaves Are Turning Yellow or Falling Off

Plant with yellow leaves surrounded by those that have fallen off.
Pencil case/Shutterstock.com

When the leaves of a plant start to yellow, it’s time to take notice. Roots that are too bound up in a small space can’t deliver enough nutrients to all the leaves.

Unfortunately, yellow leaves or leaf shedding can be a sign of several different problems with a plant, from over- or under-watering to the wrong amount of light and others. In most cases, repotting should be the last step, not the first, as it’s the most extreme action.

Tip: Before repotting a plant that has leaf issues, check other potential sources first.

Make sure that there haven’t been any significant changes in light or location and that you’re still watering with the appropriate frequency. If those don’t help, repotting may be the answer. The leaves could be indicating stress from outgrowing its current planter, or the soil simply may be depleted of nutrients and need a refresh.

Sign 3: The Plant Has Become Top-Heavy

A pretty clear, external sign that it’s repotting time is when a plant becomes top-heavy. For most plants that aren’t designed to be tall climbing varieties, a good rule of thumb is that the plant shouldn’t be more than twice the height of the pot.

For instance, if your pot is 8 inches tall from the bottom to the rim, the plant in it should probably not exceed 16 inches from the soil level to the top.

If your plant is getting tall, unwieldy, or starting to tip over from its own weight, it’s time to repot. Be sure that the new pot is large enough to remedy the problem while also giving the plant a little more room to continue growing, too!

Sign 4: The Soil Is Drying Out Too Quickly

Dry soil in a plant.
DUO Studio/Shutterstock.com

Keeping a plant properly watered is key to keeping it alive and thriving. If you’re noticing that you have to water more frequently than you used to, it may be a sign that your plant needs repotting.

As the plant grows, it (obviously) needs more nutrition and more water, so these two signs (physical growth and dried-out soil) often go together.

Tip: Another visible signal that it’s time to repot is if the soil is consistently shrinking or pulling away inside the container.

You don’t necessarily need a much bigger pot—just a few inches wider and deeper should do the trick! A new pot and fresh soil should remedy this problem.

Sign 5: The Plant Has Stopped or Slowed Growing

If you pay close attention to your plant, you probably have noted what its growth pattern and rate is like. When a plant needs repotting, it tends to slow or stop growing, because it doesn’t have the space and nutrients to keep up its current growth rate.

Tip: Some plants might naturally grow slower in winter, even if they don’t need repotting.

Using growth as an indicator for repotting does require a little more work than some of the other options. For this to be effective, you’ll need to be very familiar with your plant’s growth patterns. Otherwise, you might not notice changes before the plant becomes damaged.

A little care and observation can help you find the perfect time to repot your plants. Just keep an eye on them, adjust as needed, and you’ll have beautiful, thriving plants in no time!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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