christmas decorated winter porch pot

How To Repot Root Bound Houseplants Like A Pro

Just like how kids go up a shoe size (or three) every year or so, houseplants can get a little too big for their pots and may become root bound if you don’t repot them. However, it isn’t quite as simple as just switching out the pot for a bigger one. Plants have very delicate root systems, functioning kind of like the plant’s brain and regulating many different processes. If you scramble the roots up too much, you could end up with a plant that’s damaged beyond repair. If you want to start repotting rootbound houseplants in Steinbach, Oakridge has all the necessary tools, methods, and know-how to help you pull it off like a pro.


What Happens When A Plant Gets Root Bound?

When a plant is root bound, their roots have grown so big that they’re packed tightly in the container and have nowhere else to go. They likely won’t be able to grow much bigger, and the amount of nutrients they can take in from the soil is very limited. 

The symptoms of a root bound plant are pretty similar to an underwatered houseplant, so if you’ve been watering regularly and your plant has brown or yellow leaves, is starting to wilt or has stunted growth, there’s a good chance it could be root bound. You may also notice roots poking up above the soil surface—a clear sign that they’ve got nowhere else to go. 

To be certain your houseplant is root bound, the most accurate way to check is to get a good look at the roots. You’ll have to slide the plant out of the container, and if the container isn’t flexible and your plant is super root bound, this might not be the easiest task. Try easing it out with a small knife, loosening it up all around the edges to coax it out.


Which Plants Like To Be Root Bound?

Before you get to repotting root bound plants in time for spring, it’s important to keep in mind that some plants actually prefer being root bound! Some, like the Christmas Cactus, will only blossom if they’re under a bit of stress, which a cramped container will provide. Others, like the spider plant, will be able to thrive in a bigger container, but won’t produce those little plant pups to pop off and grow into new plants. Here are some common houseplants that will do best if you just leave them be:

  • African Violet
  • Aloe
  • Peace Lily
  • Asparagus Fern
  • Spider Plant
  • Snake Plant
  • Christmas Cactus
  • Agapanthus
  • Boston Fern
  • Ficus
  • Jade Plant
  • Umbrella Tree


Repotting Root Bound Plant: The 3 Methods

When your houseplant is root bound, there are three ways to fix it. The proper method depends on the kind of houseplant you’re dealing with, and the severity of the root compaction. If you’re unsure of which method to use, feel free to speak with one of our experts at Oakridge and we’ll help you troubleshoot the situation. In the meantime, here are the three classic methods for solving root compaction:

Loosen And Repot: If your plant is moderately compacted and the roots aren’t matted all around the root ball, you can get away with just placing it in a new pot after gently loosening up the roots. Make sure you water your plant the day before repotting, to help soften the roots up and eliminate any crusty, dry soil clumping them together. If the roots have gathered into a tangled ball at the bottom and anchored into the drainage holes, untangle them as gently as possible from the pot and clean up broken roots before repotting.  

Add a few inches of soil to the new, bigger pot with a mix of potting soil and compost, place the plant in, and lightly fill the rest of the container space with more soil without packing it down too much. The plant’s main stem should not sit any deeper below the soil line than it did before it was repotted. Make sure the pot has drainage holes, and is placed on a tray or other container where the water can drain out freely. Avoid watering your repotted houseplant until this soil has dried out.


Prune The Roots: If you don’t necessarily want your houseplant to grow any bigger, but the compacted roots are limiting the amount of soil nutrition it can absorb, you can try pruning the roots. Remove the plant from its pot and slice down the sides of the thread roots (smaller, hair-like roots) up to three times using a sharp, clean knife. The tap roots, which are thicker, should be left intact, because trimming these could really injure your plant. If your plant is looking pretty worse for wear, it might not be a good plan to prune the roots, as it might not be resilient enough to withstand the shock of trimming. Otherwise, if your plant still looks fairly healthy and green, a little pruning can go a long way.   

Divide The Root Ball: Plants that grow from a centralized crown and have a clumping habit are meant to be divided up every few years. Some can handle it easily, while others are a bit more sensitive to having their roots disturbed, so it’s better to divide them during the winter when they’re dormant. Dividing root balls is pretty easy—just try to untangle the roots gently, and then using a sharp knife, split the root ball into two or three sections. Repot each section into a clean pot with fresh soil and compost, and instead of having one dreary-looking houseplant, you’ll be left with several plants with a new lease on life! 

If you need any tools, fresh potting soil, or even some new houseplants, come visit us at Oakridge and we’ll get you all set up! We’re so excited for gardening season to begin, and sometimes a little indoor houseplant care can help get the ball rolling and provide us with inspiration for our upcoming garden projects.