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I’ve been painting pots again. You can probably figure out what that means. That’s right – baby plants!
Today, we’re going to divide Sam the Aloe Vera plant into several smaller plants. He’s far bigger than he used to be:
Sam used to live on my kitchen windowsill, but when he got too big for that spot, I moved him in with Rosa the Jade and the E. Sill Band. Then he got too big for that spot, so he got his own small south-facing windowsill in the living room. Then he outgrew that spot, too.
Aloes don’t actually mind being cramped in a small pot – they can live happily like that for a long time. But Sam’s grown out of control. His leaves are flopping all over the place and he’s become top heavy. He’s outgrowing his container as well as his spot on the windowsill.
I haven’t been properly watering him lately, and to make sure I know it, he’s gotten some black spots on his leaves and brown tips on some of the leaves. The brown tips could be caused by lack of humidity in the air (which it is, this is the desert), but on this particular plant, I know it’s mostly his way of saying “I don’t like it when you forget to water me, then you dump too much water on me.” Which I’d done a couple of times in a row.
Because there are so many babies in the pot, I knew it was time for a big transplant.
I prepped for the transplant by painting clay pots and saucers for the baby plants. I find it relaxing to paint, and I love having pretty little colorful pots. Life’s better when stuff is pretty, don’t you agree?
I sealed the clay with a sealant I found at the craft store so water wouldn’t ruin the paint job. I could’ve also used a growers’ pot (a cheap plastic one) and placed it inside a decorative container if I was worried about the paint. But I wasn’t.
Once the pots and saucers were ready, I started in on Sam. I picked early morning to do the work, because it gets so hot here in Albuquerque during the day.
Step one, remove him from the current container:
Yeah, you can see he’s ready for new digs by how thick his roots are.
Step two was to break the plant into a million pieces:
Ok maybe it wasn’t a million pieces. There were three main stems and dozens of offsets. I started snapping off the babies and placing them in five of the new pots, which were filled halfway with high-quality potting soil:
I was doing normal maintenance stuff during the transplant, including snipping off those brown tips and black spots, and pulling off dried lower leaves. Aesthetics again!
I could’ve separated out the three big stems into individual pots, but I only had one pot available for Sam’s new home. So they all went into it.
Meet the reborn Sam:
Spiffy, eh? It would’ve been nice if I could’ve stood all of the stems up straight, but oh well – I’m the one who allowed them to grow all twisty and turned in the first place. At least there’s fresh soil and a lot more breathing room. Maybe that stem will grow up one day, haha.
Once Sam was fine, I turned my attention to the babies. I added more soil around the new plants, and padded them firmly in place in the center of each pot.
Here’s the family portrait I took afterward:
Aw, so cute!
Now, who’d like to buy an Aloe plant in a hand-painted pot? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? If you’re interested, leave a comment for me or shoot me an email. I have no compunction about breaking up a happy family (of plants, that is).
My Experts will be back manana in an all-new Friday Ask the Experts panel. We’ll be talking about fall. We’ll also have a new plant puzzler. Hope to see you here.
When I’m checking on plants in offices and homes around the city, I get asked a lot of questions. From employees, homeowners, random strangers. The most common questions are about repotting houseplants, or transplanting them (I use the words interchangeably¹). Questions like:
“Something’s wrong with my plant, should I repot it?”
“I just got a new plant, should I repot it?”
“When’s the best time to repot a houseplant?”
“My houseplant is dying. Do you think it’s because I didn’t repot it?”
They’re valid questions – when you have houseplants, the question of when or why to repot is going to come up sooner or later. Sometimes, though, people are surprised by how often repotting is not the answer.
Since there seems to be so much confusion out there about the subject, hopefully I can help simplify the matter. We’ll start with reasons why you would want to repot a houseplant, followed by reasons why not to repot your plants.
Reasons to Repot Your Houseplant
1. You want your houseplant to grow. Maybe it’s a teeny tiny plant that you want to grow bigger. If that’s the case, putting a plant into a bigger container should encourage new growth. But don’t repot a plant that’s been in a tiny pot into a giant pot – you want the pots to be incrementally bigger, not leaps and bounds bigger.
2. Your houseplant has gotten too big for its pot. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to repot the whole plant – you may just want to remove the pups or divide the babies and plant them elsewhere.
3. Several different types of plants are in the same container. This happens often in gift baskets. Florists will typically put several plants in an inappropriate container, then drop the gift off with no instructions for what to do with the plants. I wrote about what to do in this post here.
4. The roots are busting through the bottom of the pot. This is a sign that your houseplant is ready for a bigger home.
5. The roots are busting through the top of the pot. If you notice that there are more roots in the container than soil, it’s time for a new, bigger pot for your plant. Houseplants will “eat” their potting media over time. When that happens, it’s time for new dirt and new digs.
6. The current pot has been broken. Just like lamps and vases, sometimes plant pots get knocked over and break. That’s one good reason to use a plastic growers’ pot tucked inside a decorative container – it can limit the damage.
7. Pests have attacked the houseplant. Sometimes during infestations, it’s smart to replace all the soil with new soil, maybe even a new pot. If you take this route, you’ll still need to spray the plant and its roots with Neem oil or some sort of pesticide.
8. Mineral build-up has lead to white, crusty topsoil. Ew! Dump the soil out, clean the plant, put it in a new pot with new soil, and then don’t let it happen again.
9. The potting soil has become moldy, fungusy, putridy, or cementy. Also, if it turns colors, that’s not a good sign. Start over.
10. You want to repot for aesthetics. Houseplants, like animals and kids, are going to be messy. Part of their growing is cleaning them as they go. That means pruning from time to time, and new containers as they age.
Here’s an example – this Janet Craig (Dracaena deremensis) had been neglected for several years. It slowly leaned, leaned, leaned into the light:
Well, the main stalk did anyway. It’s not aesthetically pleasing.
But with a little rearranging and some new soil to help support all the stalks, it looks much better:
I don’t recall ever wanting to have a sidebar on this blog before, but if this was a print medium, I’d have a little box on the side that showed this picture:
See those little newly cut stalks? Janet Craigs, like many Dracaenas, don’t need to root before you put them in soil. New sprouts will shoot from just below the top cut.
And now, reasons not to repot:
Don’t Repot Your Houseplant…
* …Just because it’s new. A lot of people’s first instinct is to repot a plant as soon as they get it home from the nursery. This isn’t always a good idea. Consider from the plant’s perspective – it’s stressed out from the truck ride to the nursery, from the car ride to your house. It’s stressed from its unfamiliar surroundings, and it may also be thirsty or waterlogged. Repotting will only further stress it. Give it a little time. Also, research whether or not it needs repotting for a year or two. Some plants have very shallow roots and don’t need a bigger container for long periods of time. You want to make sure a houseplant is ready for a new home before you automatically give it one.
* …If you spot discolored leaves or stems. I don’t want to say that repotting should be the last resort when it comes to plant problems, but it definitely shouldn’t be first. Or in the top five. Start by investigating other causes of the plant’s unhappiness. Most likely it’s a water issue.
* …If you don’t want your houseplant to get bigger. Say you have a tree that’s almost touching the ceiling. Putting it in a bigger pot will almost certainly ensure that it does reach the ceiling. You’re the human, you decide how big you want your plants to get. You can make a decision to never give that tree a bigger pot – you’ll just have to replenish the soil as needed and prune often.
If you have more questions about when to repot a houseplant, you can leave them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to help you. If you have questions about how to repot a houseplant, I’ve blogged about that a million times – you can see the archives to the left.
I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here. I’ll also be back on Friday with a new Ask the Experts panel. The Experts will be taking an extended break starting at the end of the month, so show them some love by returning.
¹ Before anyone gets all grammary on me, according to dictionary.com, I’m allowed:
Repot: “to transfer (a plant) to another, especially larger, pot.”
Transplant: “to remove (a plant) from one place and plant it in another.”
It’s like tomato, tomahto. Sorta.