Container plants or potted plants are an excellent way to add some colour and interest to your garden. Designers sometimes use containers to enable planting where otherwise there would not be any and to break up hard landscaping. Containers can be moved about, changed relatively quickly and allow for your garden to evolve each year. There does come a time where herbaceous perennials, shrubs or standard trees will require repotting. This is a beginners guide to showing you exactly how this can be done using a Laurus nobilis which needs repotting.

Why do we need to repot plants?

Root bound plants stagnate – After a few seasons or years, any container plant will eventually become root bound or root balled. This is where the roots of the plants reach the edges of the pots and carry on searching for water and nutrients by then growing back around the pot. If left unchecked the plants vigor may suffer.

Encouraging new growth – Repotting on into a larger pot can also enable new growth and vigor to the plant essential to keep it giving you seasonal displays of interest.

To replace the growing medium – Given that container plants can’t locate nutrients or water from anywhere but the pot, after time the growing media may simply break down to nothing more than dust. To keep the plant healthy it is wise to replenish with compost or other organic matter to keep your plant in tip top shape. This also keeps the soil structure in the best possible form, meaning it can free drain, yet retain the right moisture content, neither too wet or too dry!

Equipment needed to repot

  1. New pot same size or ideally larger if space permits
  2. Trowel
  3. Replacement growing media – compost, soil, perlite a mixture of the three.
  4. Compost scoop which is larger than the trowel
  5. Gardening gloves – save your precious hands
  6. Kneeling matt – to save your knees!
  7. Mulch for the top of the pot whether it is decorative or organic

Tools for repotting a plant

How to repot plants

1.Firstly you will need to make sure that the new pot is sterile, clean and free from debris. Always making sure that your tools and equipment are as clean as possible. If not you risk spreading disease and pests to your lovely plant. The kneeling pad and gloves are to protect both your knees and your hands, essential if you’re a keen gardener to save thorns, debris, and filthy nail syndrome!

cleaning the new pot

2.Insert crocks, ie broken bits of old clean pots, stones, or chippings into the large hole present in nearly all garden pots. Why do we do this? This is because the holes are usually rather large and without the crocks the pots can free drain too quickly, meaning the plants will dry out. Also, the growing media can sometimes leak out causing the soil to be lost and staining of the surface underneath the pot.

crocks in the bottom of a pot

3.Now you need to carefully lift the existing plant out of its current pot. Doing this careful not to damage the plant or its root system by forcing it out. Sometimes tapping the side of the pot can help loosen it.

Root bound plant in container

4.Inspect the root structure of the plant when you have removed it. Does it look congested? If so you can tease the roots apart to help loosen them. Sometimes it is actually worth while using a sharp knife or scissors to cut away sections of the root ball to free them up. This also spurs the plant onto product more healthy roots once repotted. Just take caution not to be too scissor friendly! Only removing up to 1/5th of the current root structure anymore and the existing plant may struggle to sustain itself.

5.You then need to choose a growing media to repot the plant into. In my example, I’ve used peat free compost. Peat free is super important as peat is a non-renewable growing media. This means once it’s dug up it takes thousands of years to replenish, and whilst it’s high in nutrients there are far more sustainable alternatives. Ensure there is enough compost in the bottom of the new pot so the plant when placed inside comes up to just below the new pot rim. Too high and water will run off rather than penetrating the soil making it very difficult to water!

backfilling the new pot

6.Then backfill around the plant with the new compost ensuring you firm it down to ensure the plant is stable, level and in the right position. Once you are happy with this you can then add a decorative mulch.

7.Mulch helps retain water in times of high temperatures and also stops the top surface of the soil eroding. It also can really finish off a potted plant giving it that design flair! I’ve used white pebbles, bought from an approval source, you must never take rocks or gravel from the wild as this is both illegal and damaging to environments.

pebbles as mulch

8.Then when done you need to give the plant a good watering, ideally from rainwater caught in a rain butt or other environmentally friendly source. Rainwater, usually, has a more balanced PH and doesn’t contain fluoride and other chemicals that our drinking water must contain. It’s also more cost-effective to reuse ‘clean’ water where possible. Then you’re done! A newly repotted plant to continue giving you many seasons of interest!

watering in a new plant

If you have any queries please get in touch or why not share this page to help others?

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2 thoughts on “How to repot a container plant

  1. Billy says:

    Hi, thanks for this. I want to repot my hydrangea when is the best time for this please?

    1. lee says:

      Hi Billy, Early spring is the best time. Once the frosts have passed. They like an ericaceous compost and growing media. Happy Gardening! Lee

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