Gardening Houseplants Repotting

Can I Repot My Dracena in the Fall?

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Flower pot with coffee filter at the bottom.
Cover the drainage holes with paper. Photo:
  1. 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.
Hand tapping on pot bottom to release plant
Tap on the bottom of the pot to knock the root ball loose. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux
  1. 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!
Dracaena with many encircling roots
Dracenas famously produce lots of encircling roots that are of no use to them in a pot. Cut them off. Photo: firmlygraspit99,
  1. Now study the root ball, cutting away roots that appear dead or rotten as well as any that encircle the pot. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

Root ball set in center of pot with potting soil filled in all around it.
Fill in all around the root ball with soil. Ill.: Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux
  1. 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. 
  2. Tamp down a bit with your fingers so the plant is rooted solidly.
  3. Water.

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.

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.

4 comments on “Can I Repot My Dracena in the Fall?

  1. Mine is 42 years old, in a huge pot on the floor, and I can only imagine how root bound it is. It is in the biggest pot I’ve ever seen so unless I move to a 32 gallon trash can, I’m stuck with this pot. 🙂

  2. That’s a nice trick with the coffee filter!

  3. I prefer to work on houseplants in autumn so that I can leave them out in the rain for a little while afterward. Of course, I must wait for the rain to start, and not all houseplants like the rain.

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