Tips for re-potting houseplants

By Melanie Mathieson,
The Gardening Guru

Now that you have your soil ready to roll, it is time to pick a container and then re-pot your houseplant.
Spring is a great time of year for this, especially if is warm enough for you to do it outside.
There are many types of containers from which to choose. A good one should be large enough to provide room for soil and roots, have sufficient head room for proper watering, provide bottom drainage, and be attractive without competing with the plant it holds.
Containers may be fabricated of ceramics, plastic, fibreglass, wood, aluminium, copper, brass, and many other materials.
After you consider all of this and narrow the selections down, then you can pick a pot that is well-suited for the type of plant and one that matches your décor.
Unglazed and glazed porous clay pots with drainage holes sometimes are still used by commercial houseplant growers and frequently are left with the plant when it is purchased.
Ornate containers often are nothing but an outer shell to cover the plain clay pot.
Clay pots absorb and lose moisture through their walls. As such, the greatest accumulation of roots frequently is next to the walls of the clay pot because moisture and nutrients accumulate in the clay pores.
Although easily broken, clay pots provide excellent aeration for plant roots and are considered by some to be the healthiest type of container for a plant.
Clay pots are highly-recommended for cacti and cyclamen.
Ceramic pots usually are glazed on the outside (and sometimes also on the inside), and frequently are designed without drainage holes.This necessitates careful watering practices.
Containers with no drainage are not good houseplant pots. Small novelty containers have little room for soil and roots, and are largely ornamental. They should be avoided.
It should be noted that putting pot chips, clay pot shards, or gravel in the bottom of a pot does not improve soil drainage; they only provide a small space beneath the soil where some excess water can drain inside the pot.
Keep in mind that decorative containers without drainage holes can be used as a slipcover for a less attractive pot. Just make sure the pot inside is not sitting in excess water after you water the plant.
Plastic and fibreglass containers usually are quite light and easy to handle. They have become very common in recent years because they are relatively inexpensive and quite attractive in shape and colour.
Manufacturers have worked really hard to make their container look like other products, such as iron, wood, ceramic, or cement.
Plastic pots are easy to sterilize or clean for re-use, and because they are as not porous as clay pots, they need less-frequent watering and tend to accumulate fewer soluble salts in the soil.
Plastic or fibreglass pots definitely are okay to use, and offer the best selection in matching your décor or colour scheme.
I mentioned you should re-pot any new houseplants as soon as you get them home, but you also should re-pot your actively growing ones on a yearly basis. At the minimum, foliage plants require re-potting when their roots have filled the pot and are growing out of the bottom.
By re-potting annually, you will refresh the soil—possibly eliminating any soluble salt or fertilizer build-up—and have a chance to inspect the roots for disease, damage, or rot. Some plants even can be divided at this time.
The pot you select for re-potting should be no more than two inches larger in diameter than the one the plant currently is growing in, should have at least one drainage hole, may be either clay, ceramic, or plastic, and must be clean.
A new plant can be placed in the same diameter pot if it is a small plant.
If re-using a pot, wash any soluble salts from clay pots with water and a scrub brush, as well as wash all pots in a solution of one part liquid bleach to nine parts water in order to kill any disease organisms or insect eggs.
Most plants are removed easily from their pot if the lip of the container is knocked upside down against any solid object. Hold your hand over the soil, straddling the plant between the fore and middle fingers, while knocking it out of its present container.
To re-pot, place drainage material in the bottom of the pot (if desired) and some new soil. If the plant has become root-bound, it will be necessary to cut and unwind any roots that encircle the plant, otherwise the roots will never develop normally.
If the old soil surface has accumulated salts, the top inch should be removed and thrown away.
Set the rootball in the middle of the new soil (your potting soil mixture should be lightly moistened before re-potting begins). Then fill soil around the sides between the rootball and pot.
Do not add soil above the original level on the rootball unless the roots are exposed or it has been necessary to remove some of the surface soil.
Do not pack the soil. To firm or settle it, simply tap the pot against a table top or gently press the soil with your fingers.
After watering and settling, the soil level should be sufficiently below the level of the pot to leave headroom (the amount of space between the soil level and the top of the pot that allows for watering a plant).
A properly-potted plant should have enough headroom to allow water to wash through the soil to thoroughly moisten it.
Now you have given your houseplants a new home with fresh soil. They will benefit from this—and you will be rewarded well.

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