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This Easy-to-Forget Spring Cleaning Task Will Make Your Houseplants So Much Happier

updated May 13, 2021
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Credit: Kristan Lieb

Heading into late spring and early summer — when all plants start to get more active — it’s time to take a good, long look at your houseplants. Check them over to look for pests, new growth, and discoloration. Take progress pictures. Wipe down dusty leaves with a damp cloth. We spring clean our homes, so why not include our houseplants in the routine?

Even after all of that, there might be one spring-cleaning plant-based task that you’re missing: repotting.

This isn’t something you necessarily need to do yearly, but it is something you should be consciously checking for with all of your indoor plants. Some houseplants need to be repotted every 12 to 18 months. Many can thrive in the same container for years. It all depends on the plant. Some species, like pothos, will outgrow their pots much faster than a slow grower like a snake plant

As with most houseplant topics, there is a great debate out there about what time of year to repot your plants. Opinion is split — some say that early spring is the best time to repot, before the growing season even begins. Others say late spring through early summer is the prime time. From my own experience, I would say that repotting any time during the warmer months is a-OK, but it is so useful to do during spring cleaning while it’s top-of-mind.

So, how can you tell if your houseplant needs to be repotted? There are a few questions to ask yourself as you look over your plant.

  1. Are there roots growing out of the pot’s drainage holes?
  2. When you water, does the water run through the plant and out of the drainage hole? 
  3. Is your plant unhappy, even though you feel sure you’re doing everything else right? 
  4. If your pot doesn’t have drainage holes, when you take the plant out of the container, are you only able to see roots but hardly any soil?

If any of the above are true, it’s probably time to repot your plant.

Pull it out of the old container, use your fingers to help break up and loosen the roots, then pot your plant with fresh potting mix in a new container that’s about an inch or two bigger in diameter than the old one.

Keep in mind that while a lot of plants suffer from too-tight quarters, many others actually like to be “rootbound,” or have their roots constricted by a snug pot. These include hoyas, orchids, and snake plants, among others. (In fact, hoyas need to be rootbound in order to bloom!) Do your research and get to know your plant before repotting, so you can ensure you’re upgrading it to a happier home.

For any plants that are thriving in their current pots, leave them be! You can revisit them this time next year to see if it’s time for their home to go up a size.