Gardening Houseplants Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day Repotting

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

Turn the pot upside down, carefully supporting the plant with one hand, then give it a hard tap against a table edge. Usually this will knock the root ball free. Ill.: pngegg.com & laidbackgardener.blog

Now, turn the pot upside down, and, holding the base of the plant between your fingers, bang the edge of the pot against a hard surface, like a table or desk, in such a way that the pot overhangs the edge of the surface and receives the blow, not the plant. 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: moziru.com, clipart-library.com and laidbackgardener.blog

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.

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Sometimes you just have to sacrifice the pot in order to repot the plant. Such is gardening life! Source:clipart-library.com & laidbackgardener.blog

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

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

10 comments on “How to Remove a Pot With Minimal Root Damage

  1. Pingback: How to Repot an Orchid | Laidback Gardener

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  3. I’ve tried and had success with all those techniques. Amazing how often I end up cutting a plastic pot off a larger plant though! Dan

  4. Pingback: Repotting Boot Camp – Laidback Gardener

  5. Great article to remove a pot with the least damage. Explained to the point and was really helpful for me. Keep up the good work.

  6. Pingback: Repotting an Orchid: So Simple! – Laidback Gardener

  7. There is a notion of physics involved here. Hitting the bottom of the pot will not release the contents. You are simply driving the orchid further into the pot. If someone hits your car from the rear, where do you think your head is going? Backwards of course. Or more correctly the car is moving forward from the force of the impact while you head stays in one position until it hits the headrest.

    You have to hold the pot upside down and strike the edge of the pot downward on a table. The pot will stop suddenly with enough force to dislodge the plant. Be careful to hold the plant as it falls out. The trick is to get some space to hit the edge of the pot. I hold the pot upside down and tap it downwards on a table in such a way that the pot overhangs the edge of the table without hitting the plant.

    It is much easier to do it than to explain it. Pardon me if I was too wordy.

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