How to Remove a Pot With Minimal Root Damage

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Before you can repot, you have to unpot. Source: MAD gardening tips, YouTube

The ideal time to repot your houseplants is when they start their growing season. That would be somewhere between late February and early May in the Northern Hemisphere. But before you can put a plant in a new pot, you first have to remove it from its original container.

Your goal is to get the plant out of its pot with as little root damage as possible. Grabbing the plant by the base and yanking it out of the pot is rarely a good technique. Half the time, you tear off a good portion of the roots. Here’s how to do it.

Water and Trim

First, water the plant thoroughly a day or so ahead. Think of the watering as a lubricant: it simply makes both roots and potting soil slightly more malleable and facilitates removal.

Next, if there are any roots coming out of the drainage holes, clip them off with pruning shears. Otherwise, they’ll hinder your unpotting efforts. Besides, you’re not sacrificing much, as those roots likely be damaged anyway during the repotting process.

Tip and Tap

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Turn the pot upside down and give it a hard tap. Usually this will knock the root ball free. Source: Claire Tourigny,

Now, turn the pot upside down, and, holding the base of the plant between your fingers, bang on the bottom of the pot with the palm of your hand. Give it a fairly hard knock: you want the root ball to come loose. This is usually all it takes and you can simply slip the pot right off with no effort.

For plants that are too big and too heavy to turn upside down, place the plant on its side, hit the bottom of the pot with your hand to release the root ball, then pull the pot off.

Tough Times, Harsher Methods

Sometimes this doesn’t work and the plant still clings stubbornly to its pot. If so, and if the pot has flexible sides (the case with some plastic pots), try to compress the pot with your hand in two or three places, turning the pot so you free the root ball on all sides. Now try to remove the pot.

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Running a knife around the inside of the pot will often free the root ball. Source:, and

If it’s still stuck, insert a knife between the pot and the root ball, then run it around the inside of the pot. This should free any roots that are stuck to the side of pot. Now try again to pull the pot off.


Sometimes you just have to sacrifice the pot in order to repot the plant. Such is gardening life! &

It still doesn’t work? There are situations where the pot simply will not come off. If so, more drastic actions will be needed. With a pair of metal shears (you could try pruning shears, but they’re not nearly as efficient), literally cut through the side of a plastic pot from the top to its base. Now pull it off. If the pot is clay or ceramic, take a hammer and smash it. Sure, you’ll destroy the pot… isn’t it better to sacrifice the pot than the plant?20180302B CT, 1500.jpg

8 thoughts on “How to Remove a Pot With Minimal Root Damage

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