Everything You Need To Know To Repot A Succulent

If you own succulents then at some point you’re going to have to repot them, but if you’ve never repotted anything before then it can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’re new to succulents. Don’t worry though it’s actually pretty straightforward to do and in this article we’ll look at exactly how to do it without harming or damaging your beautiful plants. We’ll also look at why they need repotting.

Why do you need to repot your succulent?

All plants need to be repotted from time to time but there are a couple of different reasons why you might need to repot your succulents.

New succulents

If you’ve just bought a new succulent from your local nursery then there’s a good chance that it’s been planted in regular potting soil which won’t be good for it. This is why it’s recommended that you repot a newly bought succulent shortly after you get it home, or at least within the first week or two of getting it home. This will make sure the soil is suitable for the plant, allowing it to be healthy and grow.

Change of soil

While it’s advisable to repot new succulents you should also do the same with succulents you had for a year or two, especially if you’ve not repotted them for a long time. This is because the nutrients in the soil are finite and, over time, your succulent will use them up so replacing the soil will help to replenish this.

Likewise, if your succulent is suffering from being overwatered or from root rot then, changing the soil can help to save the plant.

Growing plants

Like all plants succulents will continue to grow so will eventually outgrow the pot they’re in. Moving them to a bigger pot will give their roots a chance to spread out and therefore allow the plant to grow again.

You should repot your succulent every few years, even if it's not outgrown the pot

When is the best time to repot your succulent?

Most people will tell you that you should repot your succulent in the spring but, while this can be true for some plants, for others it can also be the worst time to repot them. This is because different succulents have different growing periods and you should repot them just before they start to grow.

I know that might sound like every plant is different and they all have different growing times but it’s a lot more straightforward than that because a succulent will either be winter or summer dormant and this will dictate when to repot them.

Winter dormant: As you can probably tell, winter dormant plants don’t grow during the winter which means their growing period is during the summer. With this in mind, it’s best to repot them in the spring, just before they start to grow again.

Summer dormant: Conversely, summer dormant plants will grow in the colder months which means that the fall is the best time to repot them. While most succulents are winter dormant, there are a few varieties, such as haworthia and agave that are summer dormant.

Regardless of when your succulent’s growing season is you should NEVER repot them when they’re dormant. This can cause them a lot of stress and, in extreme cases, result in the loss of the plant. It’s also not a good idea to repot them while they’re in bloom as they’ll stop flowering immediately and you may even lose the flower altogether.

When do you need to repot your succulent?

Knowing why you need to repot your succulent is one thing but knowing when to repot them is another. Sometimes it can be obvious that your plant needs new soil (or a new pot) if any one of the conditions below apply to you then it’s safe to say it’s time to repot your succulent.

You’ve just bought a new succulent: Most nurseries plant succulents in plastic pots with any old potting soil but this sadly tends to be unsuitable for succulents. The pots don’t allow them to grow and the soil stays moist (which succulents hate). This is why it’s good practice to give new succulents a few days to acclimatize to their new home and then repot them with fresh, succulent potting soil. 

The roots are growing out of the drainage holes: Even if you’re not seeing new growth above the soil your succulent is still growing (or at least trying to grow) but in order to remain healthy it needs a certain amount of space. If they don’t have enough room to grow then the roots can become bound up and will look for any space to grow, including coming out of the drainage holes. Repotting your succulent will give its roots a chance to breathe and the plant to produce new growth.

Over time your succulent roots will grow together and you'll need to repot the plant

Your succulent is leaning to one side: If your succulent is leaning over then it could be a sign that they’re not getting enough light and are stretching towards what light there is, but if this isn’t the case then it’s a good indication that it’s outgrown the pot. This doesn’t mean the pot is too small but what it does mean is that the pot is no longer strong enough to support the plant, hence it leaning over. I had this issue once with a baby snake plant, the leaves had grown too tall and the pot just wasn’t strong enough to keep the plant upright. I repotted in in a string pot and the plant has been fine ever since.

Your succulent is producing pups: While it’s not essential to repot your succulent if it’s producing pups (or offsets), especially if it’s got plenty of space in the pot but it’s often good practice to do so. The reason for this is that the pups will need their own nutrients too and will be taking some away from the parent plant. Repotting them all will mean that they have fresh, nutrient-rich, soil in which to grow.

Your succulent is showing signs of pests or disease: If your plant is looking unhealthy and a little lacklustre, despite getting the right amount of water and light then it’s a good sign that it might be suffering from some sort of bug infestation or from a disease such as root rot. If left there’s every chance the plant will die, but if you act quickly, clean, and repot the plant, then there’s a very good probability you’ll save it. If you’re not sure what to look out for with bugs don’t worry, I recently wrote an article on dealing with bugs on succulents that you right find helpful.

The soil is drying out too quickly (or isn’t draining at all): We all know that succulents need soil that drains well but if it’s draining too quickly (or at least quicker than it used to) then it’s a good sign that the soil has lost its nutrients or has become compacted and needs changing. Conversely, if your soil isn’t draining at all or takes too long to do so then there’s a chance your succulent’s roots won’t be able to breathe and could, therefore, end up suffering from root rot. Something that, if not acted upon could result in your succulent dying.

It’s been years since you last repotted your succulent: Even if your succulent hasn’t outgrown its pot, isn’t showing signs of disease or if the soil is still draining properly you should still repot the plant. The reason for this is due to the fact that the soil will naturally lose its nutrients over time as your succulent makes use of those natural resources. As a rule of thumb, you should repot your succulent every one to two years, although this can be extended to three to four years for cacti.

What tools do you need to repot your succulent?

There aren’t a huge number of tools that you need when it comes to repotting succulents but I would recommend the ones listed below. Where necessary I’ve also included links to buy them.

When you're succulent outgrows the pot it's time to repot it

How to repot your succulent

While it’s easy to repot a succulent it must be done properly in order to keep the plant healthy.

Before repotting

A day or two before you report your succulent you should give it some water. You don’t need to give it a lot of water, just enough so that the roots are hydrated. This will make repotting easier as well as reducing the risk of damaging the roots.

While it’s a good idea to water your succulent before repotting it if, on the other hand, you’re repotting due to overwatering then there’s no need to do this as the roots will already have way too much moisture.

Want to know more about watering? How to water succulents for optimum growth.

Give your succulent a bit of water before repotting it

Choosing the right pot

If you’re repotting your succulent because you want (or need) to replace the soil then you don’t need to use a new pot, just make sure you thoroughly clean it before using it again, especially if your succulent has a bug infestation.

For succulents that have outgrown their old pot, you should make sure the new pot is both wider and deeper than the previous one. This will make sure your succulent has enough room to produce healthy new growth for at least a year.

Whatever pot you use it’s important to make sure it has drainage holes but if this isn’t possible then you can use drainage rocks instead. These are exactly what they sound like, small rocks or pebbles that are placed in the bottom of the pot before the soil. The water will then drain through the soil and evaporate through the rocks rather than stay in the soil. I recently found these, lava rocks on Amazon which are perfect for drainage.

If your pot has a large drainage hole instead of a few smaller holes, then you can use either a coffee filter or drywall mesh tape to cover the hole so that the soil doesn’t fall out.

Not sure what sort of pot to use? What to look for when choosing a succulent pot.

Choosing the right pot for your succulent can be fun

Fill the new pot with soil

When I’m repotting my succulents I like to make sure the new pot is ready before I remove my plants from their old pots. You don’t have to do it just yet (you can do it after you’ve removed the old pot if you prefer) this is just how I like to do it.

In order to prepare your new pot, make sure you fill it somewhere between halfway and two-thirds with soil, ideally, your succulent should sit at roughly the same level as it did in the old pot. This will give it plenty of room to grow and allow the roots to stretch down towards the bottom of the pot without being overcrowded.

Regardless of why you’re repotting your succulent, it’s crucial that the soil you use is suitable for succulents. It should be well-draining, and have plenty of sand or grit, perlite, and ideally coconut coir. You can buy this in most nurseries or on Amazon. If you want to make your own soil then why not check out this article I wrote recently on the perfect soil for succulents?

Remove the old pot

I always find removing the succulent from the old pot daunting but it’s actually a lot easier than you might think although it’s still important that you handle the plant carefully. I’d also recommend using gardening gloves if your succulent has spikes or is a cactus, believe me, it’ll really save your hands.

The best way to remove the plant is to turn the pot on its side, hold the base of the stem, and gently tap the bottom of the pot. With any luck the succulent will come out easily but if not you can use a chopstick or small garden trowel to loosen the soil around the edge of the pot. If the roots are growing out of the drainage holes then be careful as you remove the plant, the more roots you can save the better.

If the succulents won’t come out then you can squeeze the pot if it’s plastic, although if it’s not you may have to resort to more extreme measures – and that is to use a hammer! I’m afraid you did hear me correctly, sometimes breaking the old pot is the only way to get the succulent out. 

Separate roots & remove soil

If the succulent has been in the same pot for a while you will probably find that the roots have either bound together (often referred to as a root ball or root bound) or at best tangled together. Before you can repot your plant you’ll need to carefully separate the roots by using either a pair of tweezers or my personal favorite, a chopstick. Even if the roots aren’t tangled up you should still separate them and remove as much of the old soil as possible. 

Once you’ve separated the roots you can also wash them, but I personally don’t like to do this unless they’ve suffered from root rot or I know they’ve had a problem with pests. That’s just my opinion though, there’s nothing wrong with washing the roots. If you do choose to wash them though, you should leave them to dry for a few days (around three to five) before repotting them again.

Trim the roots

Once you’ve separated and cleaned the roots you can check them over to make sure they’re healthy. If you notice any dead or broken roots then it’s a good idea to remove them as this will help to encourage new, healthy, growth. You can easily do this with a sharp knife or pair of scissors.

While you’re checking the roots it doesn’t hurt to do the same to the leaves, making sure you get rid of any dead or dying roots.

Before repotting you succulent it's good practice to clean and trim the roots

Put your succulent in the new pot

Now that you’ve trimmed and cleaned the roots and removed any old leaves it’s time to put your succulents in its new pot. To do this place it roughly in the middle of the new pot, making sure the lowest leaves or the base of the stem are just above the pot’s rim (otherwise they could end up rotting). If they’re not then you can add or remove soil as necessary.

Once your succulent is in the middle of the pot and at the right level you can start to fill in the edges with soil. You can probably use your hands to put most of the soil in but you can also use a small spade or bucket scoop if that helps.

After you’ve completely covered the roots, continue to add more soil until it comes to just below the top of the pot, and then press the soil down gently to compact it. Compacting the soil might not seem necessary but if you don’t then the water may overflow when you next come to give your succulent a drink.

Keep in a shaded spot and DON’T water

While succulents need sunlight to help them grow it’s better to keep them in a more shaded area after you’ve repotted them. This is because the roots need time to settle down and recover and being exposed to too much sun can stress the plant. You only need to do this for a week or so, after that time you can gradually reintroduce them to sunlight.

Likewise, you shouldn’t water your succulent straight after you’ve repotted it because the roots need a little bit of time to settle down and heal from being repotted. If you water the plant straight away then it’s at a greater risk of root rot, even if the soil is well draining. Instead, give it a few days to a week before you water your succulent.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

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