You can repot dracaenas or other houseplants most times of the year. Photo: ehowgarden
Question: I think my dracena (Dracaena spp.) has doubled in size over the summer and the pot looks very small for such a large plant. But can I repot it in the fall, or do I have to wait until the spring?
Reply: There is no specific season for repotting houseplants: it can be done in spring, summer or fall, as long as the plant is growing (it’s best not to repot a plant when it is dormant or beginning its dormancy). Many plants grow very quickly over the summer and it’s therefore logical to consider repotting at least these plants in the autumn.
How to Repot in 10 Steps
- Choose a pot of about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than the previous pot (for small to medium-sized plants) or 4 inches (10 cm) larger (for large plants). It must have one to several drainage holes.
- Prepare the potting mix (commercial blends are fine) in advance, watering it lightly, as moist soil is easier to work with. Consider adding a mycorrhizal inoculant to the potting mix. It contains beneficial fungi lacking in most commercial potting soils. If your potting soil already contains mychorrhizal fungi, of course, you can skip that.
Don’t add fertilizer. Most commercial fertilizers already contain a certain charge of fertilizer, plus, it will soon be winter, when plant growth slows down or stops and the plant won’t be able to use it. Start fertilizing only when the plant starts to show signs of growth again, usually in late winter or early spring.
- Cover the drainage holes with a piece of newspaper or paper towel or a coffee filter to prevent the potting soil from flowing out when you water.
- To remove the plant from its pot, invert it by holding the stem between the fingers of one hand and giving a firm tap on the bottom of the pot with the other. This should free the root ball, allowing it to slip out of the pot. If the plant doesn’t budge, try running a knife between the root ball and the pot, then repeat. Sometimes you have to smash or cut the pot to extract the plant!
- Now study the root ball, cutting away roots that appear dead or rotten as well as any that encircle the pot.
- With your fingers, work about one third of the old soil free. Be especially careful to remove the soil at the top of the root ball: this is where, over time, potentially harmful mineral salts tend to accumulate.
- Add moistened soil to the bottom of the new pot, enough so that the root ball will be at the right level (1 inch/2.5 cm or so below edge of the pot).
Do not add a “drainage layer” to the bottom of the pot: it’s unnecessary and can even be harmful.
- Center the root ball in the pot and fill the gap with potting mix, using a spoon or chopstick to work the soil in among the roots.
- Tamp down a bit with your fingers so the plant is rooted solidly.
There you go: you’ve done it! Now just remove the plant from direct sunlight—if that was its home—for two or three days while it recuperates, then put it back in its usual spot. Nothing could be simpler!
Article adapted from one published on September 25, 2015.