Ask a Question forum: Can you "resoil" a plant?

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Virginia (Zone 7a)
Rez
Nov 15, 2016 9:32 AM CST
I had a dracaena that looked sick. It's stem was tilted and its roots were coming to the surface. I cut its stem into 4 pieces then pulled it out of the pot. The soil looked very bad, with lots of pieces of Styrofoam. It was also very porous and dry (difficult to describe). I put the stem cuts in water and then pulled the remaining plant out of the soil, with some of the root system and put it in another pot with new soil.

Now for that plant I had enough stems cuts so didn't care if the "resoiling" would kill the plant but I'm wondering if you can do this for other plants. Googling the word doesn't yield much info. I have a croton whose roots have filled up the pot and I'm wondering if the soil has been depleted and so if repotting alone would be enough.
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Nov 15, 2016 10:13 AM CST
If your not going to bigger pot.
I would just brush off about 1 inch of rootball all around and put it back in pot.
Its funny ! Where does all the soil go from the pot ? The pots all roots ! Where did all the soil go ? Did the roots eat the dirt 😕😕😕????
😎😎😎
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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DaisyI
Nov 15, 2016 10:25 AM CST
Isn't that called repotting?
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Nov 15, 2016 12:03 PM CST
I guess you could call it radical repotting. Most repotting that I do consists of lifting the plant out of its current pot and dropping it (root ball intact) into a new larger pot with more soil. Soil replacement requires that you break up the root ball and release the media, then repot will all new soil... this is an attractive option for plants that have been in the same pot for many years. It can really reinvigorate some plants, perhaps no surprise. But there are also plants with sensitive roots which don't enjoy being manhandled, and I guess you kind of have to learn them by experience. I would not make a general practice of this with plants you don't know too well.

When in doubt with the succulents that I grow, I give plants a few days after this sort of radical repotting to heal before I water them. The idea there is to give the roots time to recover before they are inundated with dirty water (otherwise there's a higher risk of rot).
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Nov 15, 2016 12:05 PM (+)]
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Nov 15, 2016 12:13 PM CST
Philipwonel said: Where does all the soil go from the pot ? The pots all roots ! Where did all the soil go ? Did the roots eat the dirt 😕😕😕????


Soilless potting mix continues to decompose over time and therefore shrinks. In addition it may also be that the expanding roots compact it somewhat.

Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Nov 15, 2016 12:27 PM CST
Yes, compost is always in the process of breaking down... it can turn into a sort of dust when it sits long enough in a container, eventually getting flushed out the bottom. If you find that there's no soil left in the pots where your plants are growing, consider adding ingredients to your soil mix with greater longevity. The barky type of compost takes longer to break down. Peat and coir (coconut fiber) both have a pretty long lifespan in containers. I recommend the latter if you can find it, because it's kinder to the environment and rewets faster when it goes completely dry. Also, aggregate like pumice or perlite has an essentially infinite lifespan in pots because it does not break down or compact. And you will find your soil is kinder to your plants for longer if you start with a gritty mix (filter out and get rid of the fines). More oxygen by the roots, less compaction over time.

My mix for growing succulents consists of 25% potting soil (mostly compost), 25% cocofiber, and 50% pumice. When I revisit plants that have been growing in it for years, I usually see the color has changed from a dark brown (the color of compost) to lighter brown (the color of coco fiber), owing to the release of compost from the container over time.
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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RickCorey
Nov 15, 2016 12:37 PM CST
Someone made this distinction between "potting up" and re-potting. I don't know if it's a universal distinction that everyone makes, but they are useful labels for quite different things.

"Potting up" is when you move an intact root ball from a smaller pot into a pot that's a few inches wider and deeper.

That person only uses the word "Re-potting" for all-out soil replacement - remove the old root ball from the old pot, remove most of the soil from the root ball , re-pack the naked root ball with fresh potting mix that is WELL aerated, and put it back into a pot that might or might not be bigger than the original pot.

And fairly often, depending on the type of plant and how root-bound it was, in that person's usage, "Re-potting" often included intentional root pruning.

I'm sorry, but I don't recall who I learned that from. But she was probably an ATP member and might read this. Hello! Thank you! I'd give credit if I could.
Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Nov 15, 2016 12:45 PM CST
That is a useful distinction but I have always heard the word repotting applied to the process of moving a plant to a new pot, whatever its size, whether the soil was replaced or not.
Name: Will Creed
NYC
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WillC
Nov 15, 2016 12:52 PM CST
As the roots of a healthy plant grow and expand, they absorb some of the nutrients and the soil itself. The soil doesn't disappear, but the ratio of roots to soil changes and that is a good thing. Professional nursery growers will tell you that the ideal ratio of roots to soil is 4 or 5 to one. Yes, a well--potted plant will be 80% roots and 20% soil. If the root ratio expands much beyond that, there will not be sufficient soil to retain nutrients and water and repotting is recommended.

Tiny root hairs that few people even notice when they examine root systems, do the vast majority of the work for plants. They are fragile and easily damaged when soil is replaced or washed away. Proper repotting means gently loosening the outer edges of the intact rootball before moving it to a pot one size larger with new soil added to the bottom and sides of the pot, but not on top.

Plants use nutrients in surprisingly minute quantities and rarely need to be replenished. Unless a plant is severely potbound, the best way to replace depleted nutrients in older soil is by using fertilizer, not repotting unnecessarily.

Plant growth rate is mostly determined by the amount of available light. Most indoor plants are in less than optimum light and their growth rate slows as they age. Thus, older, larger plants can often stay in the same pot indefintely and supplemented occasionally with fertilizer to replace depleted nutrients.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
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RickCorey
Nov 15, 2016 12:54 PM CST
Probably that is how most people use the word: "re-potting" is the broadest word covering any combination of:

1. move to bigger pot (with or without disturbing the root ball)
2. replace all or most of the potting mix IN the root ball
3. root prune (and return to a bigger, smaller or same-size pot)

But I like using many specific terms like "up-potting", "total soil replacement", and "root pruning".

I guess trying to change the meaning of "re-potting" to be more specific and mean "total soil replacement" is revisionism, or at least Humpty-Dumpty-ism ("words mean whatever I say they mean", which doesn't help communication unless everyone agrees on the meaning).
Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Nov 15, 2016 12:59 PM CST
My experience with the language of growers/gardeners/nurserymen is a bit different.
The professionals that I have met and had discussions with have taught me to say "pot up" when I place small plants/seedlings/rooted cuttings into individual pots for the first time; to say "up-pot" when moving the plants to a slightly larger pot; to say "re-pot" when discarding most of the old planting medium, trim back the roots and put the plant into a pot with new medium.

Back to the original question, removing and replacing the old soil/medium probably won't kill most plants but you are wise to take cuttings as you have to insure that you can have replacement plants. Thumbs up


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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Nov 15, 2016 1:13 PM CST
I agree with greene, potting up is the first time planting into an individual pot. Repotting to me covers both replacing medium in the same size pot or moving the plant up a size. I hadn't heard of up-potting.

Will, I have never heard of plant roots absorbing actual soil (or potting mix), only nutrients and water.
[Last edited by sooby - Nov 15, 2016 1:14 PM (+)]
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Name: Baja
Baja California (Zone 11b)
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Baja_Costero
Nov 15, 2016 1:35 PM CST
WillC said:Plant growth rate is mostly determined by the amount of available light.


This is untrue for the plants that I grow, and untrue whenever a grower selects a location with adequate light. Why would you think this would be a general rule?

The main limiting factor for the plants that I grow is not light, nor nutrients (I provide regular low level fert), but the constraints of being pot bound. I know this from the experience of growing thousands of plants, and making an effort to keep them in the smallest pot possible (for reasons of economy). They slow down when they fill up the pot, and the lag is immediately released when they are moved to a bigger pot. The amount of evidence all around me when I repot different plants on a weekly basis is pretty convincing.

I'm not sure why "proper repotting" requires loosening the rootball... Will, perhaps the reason why you have been so averse to repotting (repeated posts in various places on this site) is that your "proper repotting" is actually more invasive and radical than your plants prefer. Maybe try a less radical approach and you will find the plants do not suffer from it. Just as a helpful suggestion, and speaking from experience. Smiling
[Last edited by Baja_Costero - Nov 15, 2016 1:47 PM (+)]
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Name: Will Creed
NYC
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WillC
Nov 15, 2016 5:37 PM CST
My wording was not precise. I should have written that available light is the most critical factor in plant growth, but certainly not the only factor. If a plant has poor or marginal light, repotting, fertilizing and watering will not make up for it. Plants in minimal but survivable light (the condition for many houseplants) will grow very slowly and rarely need to be up-potted. Up-potting such plants will not make them grow better because they are unlikely to be potbound.

Loosening the roots wrapped around the outside of the rootball will help them integrate better into the new soil. Doing it gently is the operative word.

For sure, many folks know when to repot and how to do it correctly. Unfortunately, for those with less experience it is too often done unnecessarily and incorrectly. It also seems to be viewed as a cure-all for all manner of plant problems.
Will Creed
Horticultural Help, NYC
www.HorticulturalHelp.com
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Virginia (Zone 7a)
Rez
Nov 15, 2016 5:44 PM CST
Thanks for the replies. I didn't do the "radical repot" with the croton. I leave that for plants that have been in a pot for too long and look really sick.
Name: tarev
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tarev
Nov 16, 2016 10:49 AM CST
Hello Rez, you can certainly repot and add soil in the manner you described..but I would delay it to Spring. Lots of finer roots gets damaged, and needs time to dry up a bit and heal. Sometimes you got to consider as well timing when you do that, if it is active growing period of the plant or if the ambient conditions (amount of light, temperature levels) that it likes to grow in is more consistent, otherwise you end up with a very stressed plant and you tend to kill the plant with too much love thinking it needs more water when it actually needs to acclimate and adjust again in its new set-up. And typically I find mid-Spring to be their best period to do so, renewed vigor with longer light duration, temps getting warmer and more stable.
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
Nov 16, 2016 3:50 PM CST
@sooby. @Bajacostero. @willc
I'm glad y'all caught on to me asking where does all the soil go in potted plants. Now i know !
In fact i know more than i though i ever would !!! I tip my hat to you.
😎😎😎
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
[Last edited by Philipwonel - Nov 16, 2016 4:07 PM (+)]
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