When to Re-pot Indoor Plants – 10 Tell-tale Signs

All houseplants in existing pots, at some stage, will need to be re-potted. Whether you got your houseplant from the local nursery or a family/friend had given one to you as a gift, you’ll need to eventually re-pot it for the plant to stay alive. The good news is that there are tell-tale signs that your plant needs a new home, even to the eyes of a beginner.

Here are 10 signs that your houseplant needs to be re-potted:

  • Roots are coming out of the pot
  • Roots are pot bound
  • Water runs straight through the pot
  • More frequent watering
  • Disproportionate plant to pot size
  • The plant keeps falling over
  • Roots are pushing the plant out of the pot
  • Soil is old or bad
  • Dying plant appearance
  • It’s been years since it’s been re-potted

Plants typically need to be re-potted every 12 to 18 months (except succulents), depending on how quickly they are growing. Slow-growing plants, such as the Aloe Vera, can be kept in the same pot for over two years.

However, if you see any of the signs mentioned above, it’s an indication that your pot has outgrown its current home and needs a bigger pot. In this article, we’ll have a look at each symptom and what it means for you.

Roots are coming out of the pot

If roots are protruding from holes in the pot, it’s an indication that there isn’t enough room for the plant’s growth anymore. The roots are searching for more growing space to absorb more nutrients to support their growth. This is common for plants that have been sitting in the local nursery for some time.

If you have houseplants sitting near the window sill for years, you might want to check the pot base. If roots are coming out, you’ll need to re-pot the plant into a large container. This will allow the plant to stretch its legs and grow its body!

Roots are pot bound

Plant roots that are “pot bound” mean that the roots have formed into a dense and tangled web at the bottom of the soil. The thick roots have coiled tightly in a circle. The roots have occupied so much space that if you gently remove the plant from the pot, you can see the roots have formed into the shape of the pot itself!

Another sign roots being pot bounded is that the pot has deformed, cracked, or looks like it’s ready to bust open!

Water runs straight through the pot

If you pour water into the pot and water runs straight through the drainage hole, it’s a telling sign that you’ve got a pot full of roots. This happens when there is not enough soil to hold onto the water or the soil is too aerated.

More frequent watering

If it appears that the soil is drying out fast even though you’re watering it quite frequently, it could mean that there’s poor soil. Similar to the symptom mentioned above, there is not enough soil in the pot because the roots take all available space.

Disproportionate plant to pot size

As a general rule, the ratio of the plant to pot height should be 3:1. Think of it as a teenager who grows into an adult. She’ll need to upsize the shoe to walk comfortably. The same concept applies to plants as they mature.

Your plant keeps falling over

If your plant keeps falling over, the body’s weight is heavier than the content in the pot. So this means that there isn’t enough soil to hold its weight down. Either the pot is comprised mainly of roots, or the pot is too small.

Roots are pushing the plant out of the pot

In the extreme case of root crowding, the plant may be pushing itself out of the pot with its thick roots. The plant may be tilting to one side and exposing its roots as it seeks more growth. This may cause unstable wobbly plants in pots, in which case there’s a dire need to re-pot the plant.

Soil is old or bad

Old and malnourished soil will limit your plant’s growth and flowering. There are several ways to identify soil that has gone old and needs fresh potting mix:

  • Smell – If it smells like rotten eggs, it means the soil has been moist for an extended period of time. Excessive moisture has caused bacteria build-up, giving the soil a bad scent.
  • Infestation – If you see small flying insects, you may have a fungus gnat infestation. These pests are harmless to people, but they lay their eggs in the soil. Fungus gnats live in moist soil, and the larvae are usually only present in the top layer.
  • Mold – Mold can grow if the soil has too much moisture.
  • Compacted and dense soil – Soil that has gone hard makes it difficult for roots to penetrate freely and affects the ability to drain and hold water. There could be several reasons why soil has become dense. One of those is due to peat moss, a common ingredient found in popular potting mixes. Peat moss decomposes quickly and causes soil hardness over time.

If your soil has any of these issues, it’s time to get rid of the soil and bring in fresh potting mix for your plant.

Dying plant appearance

Plants experiencing slow growth, poor flowering, leaf droppings, and yellowing are signs of plant distress. It’s not able to maintain itself due to insufficient nutrients and moisture in the soil. The plant is likely to be running out of room as the new roots are taking over the old roots.

It’s been years since a plant was re-potted

Plants are living things after all that consume food in the soil. As such, it makes sense to be re-potting the plants at least once every few years to keep the longevity of the plant’s life.


It’s worth doing a quick inspection on all your plants to see if any re-potting is required. If the plant feels light to lift, you’ve got a likely case of root abundance that needs a bigger pot. If the soil gives a bad smell, you’ll also need it to provide it with fresh potting mix.

The best time to re-pot is the start of Spring, as this is the prime time for plant growth. As we get more daily sunlight and increasing temperatures, the plants will react instinctively by shooting new roots. Your plant will thank you for the new home.

Plantician Guy (Mike)

Hi I'm Mike, a self-proclaimed plantician (an invented profession to describe a plant enthusiast). Based in Sydney Australia, I enjoy the great outdoors and the greenery things around the garden, in particular, indoor climbing plants.

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