Repotting plants is certainly not a hard task yet it is one that is often fraught with disaster and an activity where many people lose their favourite plant. The reasons are many but in most cases they can be easily avoided and your plant transplanted with great success.

So, let’s start with an example.

Here is one of my two cumquat plants that in the past have produced incredible fruit yields. At this time of the year they would normally be well covered in foliage with smallish fruits starting to grow. Alas, the branches are almost bare and any hotspell we receive causes them to wilt immediately.

To understand what the cause of the problem is we need to lift the rootball out of the pot. In this case, we can see a distinct band running around the perimeter of the rootball halfway down – marked by the red arrow. The top half is as dry as the Sahara desert in the midday sun while the bottom half is completely water-logged.

The cause: there are two reasons really. The first is that the rootball has outgrown this pot and it has become rootbound. The other reason is caused by the pot itself. It is supposed to be one of those self-draining pots that when too much water is added it automatically allows it to drain away. As this plant hasn’t been repotted for more than two years, it has clogged up the drainage holes and acted as its own plug.

The first step in repotting this plant is to clean the container and free it from any dead roots, pests and disease. If disease is the reason you are repotting then you might want to properly clean the vessel with some bleach before using it again but in this case there are no disease issues, so I won’t.

Depending on the size of the plant rootball, fill the container up with new, clean potting mix to just under half its height. The potting mix should be free-draining, enriched with nutrients and still moist.

The next step is to reduce the rootball of your plant without maiming it. Start from the bottom and tease away any surplus soil so that the roots are now dangling freely. Then work your way around the sides in the same fashion and end with the top.

The idea is not to remove the soil completely but to reduce the mass and free any roots that have become entangled and bound.

Once you’re comfortable that the rootball is ready and prepared to be repotted then it’s time to place it atop the freshly introduced potting mix. The level may need to be increased, or decreased, as needed with the aim being to bring the base of the stem just below the lip of the container.

Once you’ve reached this point then you can start gradually adding more potting mix over the roots. The key to remember is that any air pockets left in the soil could potentially become a plant killer so make sure that you wriggle the plant from side-to-side and up-and-down allowing them to be filled.

When the sides are completely filled, continue pouring potting mix over the rest of the roots until the levels come up to the base of the stem. This should still give you some space between the lip of the pot and the soil which will be helpful for watering and fertilising.

Now that your plant is looking much more comfortable in its renovated container you will want to give it the best start you can. If you’re repotting due to the plant being rootbound or having suffered a disease, then grab your secateurs and start trimming about a third of the foliage off. Remove any flowers and fruit that may also remain in an attempt to give the roots the best chance of recovery.

The final step in the repotting process is to add some slow-release fertiliser over the top of the soil and water in well with a liquid fertiliser. Make sure you pour the liquid fertiliser over the foliage to aid in its ability to utilise all the nutrient on offer.

Now, before you leave, here are a few pitfalls that you may want to avoid in the process to give your plant the best chance at success;

  • Always use a well-draining potting mix. Compost or gardening soils are not suitable material for this exercise
  • Never remove ALL the soil from the plant, unless it is a deciduous plant in its dormant phase
  • Make sure there are no air pockets left in the soil after repotting
  • Clean the pot well if disease has been the problem
  • Always wait until the plant is in its dormant phase, or when the weather is cool enough, before trying to repot it

And, Voila! You have repotted your plant and it shall successfully continue to grow well into the future.