I Bought a Houseplant...Now What?

To help your new houseplant flourish, you’ll need to repot him. Repotting is important for so many reasons. First off, the old soil the plant’s been sitting in can be full of minerals and salt from watering, and lacking the fresh nutrients it needs to thrive. The container it was sold in may be too small to allow room for growth. That cheap plastic container isn’t cute anyway, so let’s give your plant a little makeover to set you both up for success.

Insane in the plant-drain, insane in the drain!

Drainage is critical for your plant to succeed and achieve his life goals of going to law school or whatever. He can reach great heights, but not if he’s rotting from the root because of standing water. There needs to be a way for excess water to drain; this can be done in two ways. You can pick a planter that has holes in the bottom, or drill some holes yourself. We purchased a ceramic-safe drill bit and within seconds had created some drainage holes. You’ll want to make sure to have a saucer underneath a pot like this to protect any surfaces from leakage.

Your other option is to use a plastic pot, punch some holes in the bottom, and then place it inside a larger decorative planter without holes (referred to as a cache pot because you’re hiding the smaller pot inside). When you water your plants, you’ll want to remove them from the cache pot and wait for them to fully drain before putting them back.

Plotting for Repotting

You’ve chosen a vessel with adequate drainage. Now you’ll need to put some rocks at the bottom of your pot; we like using lava rocks because they’re lightweight, but still help with drainage. Put some fresh potting soil over the rocks. Buying new soil is really important, and giving your plant nutrient rich, fresh soil will encourage growth.

It’s time to rehome that mean green machine! Turn the plant over, supporting the soil with one hand while you gently tap and turn it out of the container. Usually the roots keep the soil clung together. Gently tease the roots apart, loosening the compacted soil. You’ll want to get rid of a fair amount of this old soil, so don’t worry if some of the roots fall off in the process.

Center the plant so it's seated about ½” below the rim of the new pot. Add new soil around and on top of the plant, and tamp the pot on the ground to help the soil settle. Use your fingers (or a chopstick) around the perimeter of the pot, pushing down the soil to get rid of any possible air pockets. There should be enough soil to support the plant and keep it upright and centered. Water the plant to see if you need to add any extra soil to level things out. Check to make sure everything is draining properly.

Repotting is usually done in the spring. If your plant is totally rootbound and creeping out of their pot, it will need to be moved to a pot that’s at least 1”-2” larger. Think of your plants as less annoying, less expensive children; they need food and space to grow, and before you know it they’ve come home from college with a septum piercing and a self-diagnosed food allergy.

Plant Fails

Terrified you’re going to kill your new plant? Calm down and remember, it’s just a plant (unless it’s Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors). Common plant fails are often due to watering too much. If you’re unsure about how often to water, grab a water meter to get an accurate reading of the moisture level. Giving your plant the correct food can also help encourage growth, Carley likes Miracle Grow Indoor Plant Food, while Jenn prefers Green Green Plant Food. Make sure your plant is located in a spot with the right amount of light it needs, and be sure it’s not close to an AC or heating unit. Doing a little research on the needs of your specific plant is helpful, since each plant n needs different amounts of light and water.

Getting to know what your plants need to thrive is oddly satisfying. Like people, they each have their own personalities; some are shy and slow-growing, some are confident and out-going, and some are just assholes (I’m looking at you, cacti!). Taking care of plants reminds us that with a little sunshine, water, food and attention, all things can flourish.

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