Repotting your plants with new soil isn’t always the most fun of activities, but it’s a necessity. Even though it’s a necessity it can be hard to tell when your plant actually needs fresh soil. And does it need fresh soil or an actual repot?
Sure, there are the obvious signs like it looks as if your plant has literally eaten all of the soil in the pot (soil refresh) or you visibly see your plant’s roots (repot), but what about the other reasons? A lot of the time, refreshing the soil can actually help when a repot isn’t justified. Jilana Thomas, a plant specialist from Grounded spoke with us about the signs that your plants need fresh soil.
Meet the Expert
Jilana Thomas is a plant specialist from Grounded, an online plant seller that also offers one-on-one care support.
The Soil Has Disappeared
“Soil breaks down over time through natural biological processes. When this happens, it may look like it has 'disappeared' from the pot,” says Thomas. “This is normal when particles have collapsed with age and from soil flowing out when watered.”
So, if you’ve ever looked at your plant and wondered where you soil has disappeared to — now you've got your answer. This soil disappearance seems to happen most often with snake plants and other plants with so few needs you can basically ignore them, so make sure you’re keeping an eye out for low soil levels.
The Soil Looks Old
When you go to water your plants, make sure you’re checking the consistency of the soil. If it looks like it has become hard, dense, or even separated from the edges of the pot, swap it out. “Compacted soil is never good for plants as it suffocates the roots while limiting water and nutrient intake. Down the line, this inhibits how much your plant will grow and can even be fatal,” says Thomas. Compacted soil can be combatted by aerating the soil, but if you find yourself aerating every time you water, then it's likely time for a soil refresh.
Other things to look for are mineral buildup, which can look powdery, if the water runs straight out of the pot, or alternatively if the soil takes a long time to dry out. These are all signs your plant needs a refresh.
It’s Growing Season
Remember that soil isn’t just soil. It’s filled with nutrients, fertilizers, and organic material that help your plants flourish. So when springtime rolls around and new growths are around the corner, it’s important to give your plant’s soil a refresh. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to replace the soil in every single one of your plants. This can be a huge task if you have a large collection.
“If you’re in a pinch or handling slow-growing plants, you can get away with a simple topsoil refresh by replacing the top half or top few inches with new soil,” says Thomas. “Just be sure to put the full task on next year’s to-do list or whenever you decide to pot up in size.”
There's Been an Infestation
Pests are the absolute worst. They can also be detrimental to not just the infected plant, but your entire collection. If you notice your plant has an infestation, quarantine it, and then try to sort it out. “Fungus and pest infestations are a plant parent’s nightmare,” says Thomas. “While they can be successfully managed with homemade and commercial treatments, you’ll rest easier if you simply replace the infected soil entirely. Fungus gnat eggs, for example, can be found up to 3 inches deep in soil, and root rot can quickly kill your plant.”
Your Plant Isn't Growing
“If your plant has shown unsightly changes or stress and you’ve assessed all its basic needs are met, it’s time to consider the soil quality,” advises Thomas. “Since soil is responsible for providing nutrients and water to the plant, it’s safe to support your plant’s health with a quick change.” Some things to look out for are stunted growth, no growth at all, roots poking out, and yellowing leaves. If you do see these happening, it’s best to replace the soil and size up into a pot 1 inch larger in diameter so your plant has the space it needs to grow and grow.