Remember these things when repotting plants

This is not an appropriate time to talk about containers, but I am weary of endings and ready to write about something ongoing. Some containers are just that.

Some of my plants, such as mandevilla and a large begonia, have lived in the same pot for several years, outside in the summer and on the enclosed porch in winter, and they are not yet showing signs of needing change.

Tell-tale signs a plant is ready for repotting are growth slowing to a stop, yellow leaves and roots appearing through the drainage holes, and the ubiquitous cactus. As I have written before, my 7-foot-tall cactus was my grandson’s fifth grade science fair project, and he is almost 25 now, so do the math there.

When trying to remove a mature plant from a pot that has become too small, a few reminders about pot size and shape come to mind.

Don’t ever choose a pot that is globe shaped, with a rim smaller than the middle of the pot. It will be impossible to remove the plant without some serious surgery or the destruction of the container.

Consider materials. Wooden planters are attractive, and can be lined with plastic if necessary. Terracotta is always good because it keeps roots cool with constant evaporation.

Thick plastic is practical; thin plastic can be made more effective with a layer of several sheets of newspaper between the soil and the sides and bottom of the pot.

There may come a time when a plant has been happily residing in a large pot but obviously has outgrown its home.

If the pot is the largest size you can lift or wiggle through the door, other steps can be taken.

Root pruning is one way to go and will rejuvenate the plant, even though the method seems drastic. Remove the plant from the pot and snip away thick roots that are circling the rootball. Then, tease out an inch or two of the potting soil from the top and sides and saw through the whole rootball, cutting off about one fourth. Add some new potting soil, put the plant back into the pot and prune some of the top growth to provide a temporary need for less water while the roots recover from their ordeal.

If you are not ready to go quite this far, do at least scrape out as much of the old potting soil as you can reach and add a fresh supply.

This top dressing should be undertaken every other year with an organic multipurpose growing medium.

When simply moving a plant into a larger pot, try and find one that is about one-third larger leaving room for new soil, but not so much that it will become soggy and turn sour before the new roots grow in.

Be sure the plant is at the same depth in the new container.

So there you are, a look forward to spring. That is the wonderful thing about being a gardener. No matter how cold and dreary things are at a particular time, there’s always next year.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at