The Trick to Healthier Houseplants

09/29/2022 | Ken Davis Houseplants

by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener

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Guy Holding Houseplant

Repotting is an essential part of healthy houseplants. Signs you need to repot your plant are: Roots protrude from the bottom of the pot. The plant stops growing or becomes limp. The plant is root-bound or pot-bound.

Most houseplants like to be tight in their container. These plants are found in tropical jungles and used to competing for limited soil space, so don’t feel rushed to repot them. An over-potted plant will focus on root growth at the expense of new foliage and flowers. A container the next size up is best practice.

Steps for Repotting a Plant

If a plant is too large to repot, you can top dress it by carefully removing the top few inches of soil and refreshing it with new potting soil. Here are the steps for transferring smaller plants into larger containers.

Prepare the Plant

Yanking young plants out of their pot by the stem is not a good idea. Lightly water the plant, let it dry for an hour and gently remove your plant from the container. Turn the plants container over and gently pull the pot up and away from the root ball.

Message the Roots

It is okay to gently loosen the root ball with your fingertips, careful not to damage the roots. Root prune plants if you plan to use the same size container as its previous pot.

New Containers

A good houseplant rule is to upsize your plant by the next size container; careful not to give your plant too much room to grow roots. An example is transplanting a 4″ inch plant to a 6″ pot, resisting the urge to go larger. Moving up in size too quickly slows the plants’ foliage and flower formation. Ceramic and clay containers allow roots to breathe better and are healthier for houseplants. Pebbles or other drainage media to the bottom of the pot is not required nor desired. They reduce soil quantity for roots and hastens the decline of the potting soil by paradoxically reducing aeration. Add fresh potting soil directly to the container. Use potting soil from the bottom of the container to the top.

Plant Transplant

Gently set your new plant in its container and backfill with fresh potting soil. Ensure the top of the plants soil is still exposed when transplanted. A leading cause of plant stress is planting too deep. Ensure your newly potted plant is no deeper than it was in the original pot. As you fill around the roots, press the soil firmly, so air pockets are eliminated from the soil.

Water & Irrigation

Verifying moisture consistency with a moisture meter is always a good idea. Fresh potting soil is difficult to hydrate. Soaking your newly potted plant in a sink of water 1″ inch deep for an hour is ideal. Larger plants should be watered until they are physically seeping from the bottom of the container. Top dress with more potting soil if the soil seems to sink a bit during the first few water cycles.

Proper Food & Transplant Shock

Newly potted plants go through what gardener’s call ‘Transplant Shock’ as your plant transitions to a new container, room, and environment. They are going to ‘Freak Out,’ so to speak. ‘Root & Grow‘ prevents this; a compost tea houseplants enjoy and reduces plant stress and the shock that follows. Add Root & Grow to your irrigation water at two-week intervals until the plant sets new growth and is out of danger.

‘FlowerPower is the best plant food for all other plants and times of the year. Use every 6-8 weeks for impressive plant growth and better blooms from the plants that like to flower. This includes succulents and cacti in the house.

Garden Thank You! Lisa and I hosted ‘Grapes 4 Good‘ last week at Watters Garden Center with record attendance and generosity. The community gathered with pre-pandemic zeal. Maybe we are past the scare of Covid and the stigma. 412 community leaders, neighbors, and friends gathered and raised $100,000+ for local children, all in three hours. The folks that live in the central highlands of Arizona are amazingly generous . . .Thank You!

Until next week, I’ll be helping local gardeners pot better houseplants here at Watters Garden Center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or