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5 Simple Tips to Make Repotting Your Plants a Breeze

A trowel, a potting tray, and a pair of pruning scissors
Edward Tools/Tierra Garden/Fiskars

Repotting is an inevitable part of being a gardener, but having the right tools can really make all the difference. Armed with these handy tips and gardening necessities, repotting those plants can be a breeze!

When repotting, it’s important to be gentle with your plants and do everything you can to ensure they’ll thrive in their new home. Whether that means untangling roots, giving them a trim, or just refreshing the soil, having the right tools is a big help. Before you repot your next plant, gather these supplies and keep these tips in mind.

Repot on a Collapsible Potting Tray

A green potting tray filled with dirt and other potting materials
Tierra Garden

One of the worst things about the repotting process is the inevitable mess it makes. When dealing with houseplants, it’s even worse, because chances are it’s your floors or your kitchen counter that bears the brunt of all the excess dirt and loose leaves.

Before you start the work of repotting, get a potting tray to contain the mess and keep it from getting everywhere. The Tierra Garden GP48 Tidy Tray is a perfect example: a sturdy but simple plastic tray designed to make planting and cleanup equally easy. With a high back and a lip around the sides, it’s a simple solution to keep all your planting materials in one spot for convenient potting and instant cleanup.

While we love the design of this tray because it’s very sturdy, you might not have the room to store a rigid potting tray. If that’s the case, take a peek at this collapsible potting tray!

Add a Layer of Loose Rocks

Small succulents in planters with lava rocks

Proper drainage is a must-have when you’re potting or repotting your plants. It can be tricky to strike the right balance between allowing the soil to retain enough water and causing it to retain too much water. Drainage holes in the bottom of the pot are a must, but another helpful option is a layer of loose rocks at the bottom.

When you add a loose layer of rocks in the bottom of a pot, you’re creating extra crevices for the water to drain into. This way, even if the drainage in the pot itself isn’t ideal, the excess water isn’t right up against the roots, soaking and rotting them. When repotting, layer in some loose rocks before adding the fresh soil and the plant itself.

Lava rocks are ideal for potting because they’re naturally porous and loose. Something simple like the TOYPOPOR Black Horicultural Lava Rock is a great choice, helping your newly repotted plants manage the right moisture balance. As a bonus, the leftover rocks (which come in several colors and shapes) also work great for potting other plants like succulents.

Use a Soil Knife

A soil knife in the dirt; a man holding a soil knife by its sheath
A.M. Leonard

A soil knife can be a big help when repotting a plant, especially one that is starting to crowd its current container. These tools are shaped similar to a trowel, but with a dual-edged blade. One side is smooth and sharp, while the other has a serrated edge. The tool can help you loosen the plant and slide it out from its first container, while also gently freeing the roots and even doing a little in-the-moment root nipping if need be.

Don’t skimp on a soil knife—if you’re going to get one, get one that will do the job and do it well. Look for one with a sturdy, sharp blade and good leverage, like the A.M. Leonard Deluxe Soil Knife. It features a six-inch blade with a planting-friendly curve and two sharp, reliable edges. It even comes with a handy leather sheath to store it in and keep it in good condition for a long time.

Check (and Trim!) Roots During Transplanting

Pruning scissors trimming the stems of plants

Repotting isn’t just about moving plants from one pot to another. It’s also an opportunity to check on the roots, make sure there aren’t any problems. After lifting the plant out of its original pot and loosening the soil from around the roots, give the roots a quick check. If they’re rootbound, gently untangle them as much as possible and give them a little trim.

If there are any roots that are too long (with long, threadlike growth along the ends), mushy or rotted, or just discolored, trim those, too. Just be sure to leave the thicker, sturdier parts of the roots closer to the plant, unless they’re too damaged to salvage.

For trimming roots, your regular garden shears may not be delicate enough to trim individual pieces of roots. Instead, look for narrower pruning scissors, like the Fiskars Micro-Tip Pruner. With non-stick stainless steel blades that come to narrow points, scissor-like pruners like this are ideal for the delicate work of trimming roots as you transplant.

Use a Trowel to Refill

A trowel in the dirt; a trowel propped up against a chicken wire fence
Edward Tools

Once the plant is safely in the new pot, it can be a bit of a juggling act to keep the plant held upright while you fill in the fresh soil around it. A trowel is your new best friend! The tapered design of a basic hand trowel is perfect for directing the soil exactly where it needs to go, all while leaving one hand free to hold the plant steady.

Your best bet is something like the Edward Tools Bend-Proof Garden Trowel, which has a slightly offset handle that allows for better maneuvering as you add the soil into your pot. With an ergonomic grip and a sturdy stainless steel head and body, it’s perfect for making your repotting process easier—and it’s sturdy enough to use outdoors too!

If you’re planning to repot some plants, you might want to do it soon—repotting isn’t all that helpful during the winter! Just keep a close eye on your freshly repotted plants to make sure that they’re thriving in their new home.

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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