With the abrupt end of the gardening season, I’m turning my attention to my indoor garden.

One of the first things I do when I get a new houseplant is pop it out of the pot and check the roots.  Houseplants purchased at this time of year are often season holdovers and badly pot bound. While books tell us it’s best to repot a houseplant in spring, a badly pot bound plant will not thrive and may not make it through the winter. Congested roots can block the drainage hole starving the plant for air.  And depleted soil lacks the nutrients the plant needs to thrive.

Over time soil is displaced by roots and the plant dries out quickly. This is especially true when the central heat goes on and the humidity drops. So if a newly purchased plant has outgrown its space, repot it ASAP.

When repotting a plant you have one of two choices: You can use the same pot if you reduce the size of the rootball and add fresh soil, or you can up pot it choosing a new pot one size larger than the original.

 Many of my houseplants are placed on a vintage étagère that’s elevated to screen a large portion of my living room window. Because they sit on shelves, I have to choose plants for size as well as leaf texture and color so bigger pots are not an option.

Repotting plants can be a daunting project and books can give just so much information. The good news is today you can Google “how to repot a plant” and find dozens of websites that will provide tutorials and videos that walk you through the process. It takes the fear out of tearing apart and carving away compacted roots.

A good place to start is the website where my friend Larry Hodgson, sponsored by the National Gardening Association, will lead you through the process. 

When you’ve finished the “surgery' on your plant you’ll probably want to fertilize it, but resist the temptation. Your patient needs time to recoup and fertilizer acts like a stimulant that will only further stress the plant.  

I water my newly repotted plants with my rescue remedy formula of liquid kelp and Super Thrive according to package directions.  In spring I’ll fertilizer them.

After a couple of waterings, check the soil level of newly potted plants to be sure the potting medium hasn’t settled and exposed their roots.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and a Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at


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