Repotting Succulents: Step by Step with Pictures
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Are you trying your hand at repotting a succulent for the first time? Or maybe you’ve has a less-than-successful attempt in the past? Either way, the process can seem a bit fiddly, and you may be nervous that you’ll accidentally harm your plant.
What’s the best strategy for repotting succulents? Cover your work surface to make clean-up easier. Carefully remove your plant from its current pot and brush away as much of the old soil as possible. Fill the new pot with 1-2 inches of soil, then set your succulent in. Cover the roots and fill in the sides of the pot with fresh soil, and gently tamp it down. Set your plant in bright, indirect light, and hold off on watering for 2-3 days after repotting.
Today, you’ll discover how to determine if your plant is ready to make the move, what tools you’ll need and the essential steps to getting your succulent moved safely into their new home. Finally, we’ll talk about proper watering and care after repotting.
Let’s jump in!
When Do You Have to Repot Succulents?
You typically only need to repot your succulents every 12 to 18 months or so. But it’s more important to take your repotting timing cues directly from your plant rather than just following a strict schedule.
If you have any of these situations going on, it’s probably time for repotting:
You just bought a new succulent. Especially if you got it at a big-box store, it’s a good idea to un-pot your new succulent and check out the roots as soon as possible. I’ve personally been shocked at the way some of these poor babies had been improperly potted!
This photo shows a haworthia I bought that was buried all the way up to the top of the brown marks you see:
The really bad thing is that it looked fine in the pot. It wasn’t until I un-potted it and began brushing soil away that I saw the damage. This is obviously unhealthy for your plant, and it’s a perfect example of why you want to make sure your succulent is potted properly ASAP.
The soil dries out right away. When your plant’s roots become compacted in a too-small pot, the water runs right through instead of getting absorbed. This leads to you finding that your succulent’s soil feels constantly dry.
You’ve spotted visible root tips. If your plant doesn’t have enough space to spread their roots outwards, they will start poking through the soil surface or the drainage holes.
Your plant is too top-heavy. Has your container started to tip over from your succulent’s excessive weight? Time for a larger pot!
You’ve had your succulent in its current pot for one or two years. Over time, your plant’s soil becomes depleted of nutrients. If nothing else, your plant needs a periodic soil refresher to continue getting the nutrition it needs.
When Should You Avoid Repotting Succulents?
There are two times you should delay your repotting plans:
- During the seasonal dormant phase
- While your plant is actively flowering
When a plant goes dormant, it enters a hibernation state where growth is essentially at a standstill.
This resting phase is a key part of your plant’s natural growth cycle, so you don’t want to interrupt it by repotting. Also, dormancy dramatically reduces your plant’s ability to recover from the shock of moving to a new home.
Spend some time researching the dormancy patterns for your specific species. Then, try to time your repotting project to coincide with the beginning of the active growth phase:
- For winter-dormant plants, spring is the perfect time to repot.
- For summer-dormant varieties, plan on a fall repotting.
Also, when you spot your succulent starting to bud, put your repotting plans on hold! You don’t want to risk losing the flower or disrupting your plant’s growth cycle.
RELATED: How long does the average succulent live? Find out the average lifespans of some common varieties!
Choosing the Best Pot for Succulents
Since many types of succulents are native to deserts, they prefer their soil on the drier side.
You’ll have an easier time achieving these dry, aerated soil conditions if you choose a container that has natural drainage. This could be in the form of pre-made drainage holes, a porous material or both.
Most plant containers available for purchase already come with drainage holes. And when it comes to porous materials, terra cotta and unglazed ceramic are two excellent choices.
There are endless options of flowerpots to choose from, in a fantastic array of colors, shapes and materials.
RELATED: To give you some guidance for your shopping trip, check out our article where we review in detail some of the best types of indoor succulent pots. They’re so cute!
What’s the Best Soil for Succulents?
Succulents need well-draining soil to thrive, so regular dirt won’t work here!
You have two options for soil:
- Purchase a cactus/succulent soil mix. Given the popularity of succulents over the last several years, you can easily find specialized soil at big box stores or online. My personal favorite is Espoma’s Cactus Mix.
- Make your own. A homemade succulent soil usually includes a mixture of potting soil and drainage materials. This video from Central Texas Gardener provides a few helpful tips in making your own succulent soil!
How to Repot Succulents Step by Step
Here’s the adorable Echeveria succulent I’ll be working with today:
NOTE: This particular succulent variety has a farina layer, also known as epicuticular wax, which is a powdery natural protectant. You want to disturb the farina as little as possible, so use a gentle touch and avoid handling the leaves as much as you can.
I just bought this little beauty at a big-box store, and it’s looking pretty good right now. The pot is a good size for this plant, and there are no roots poking out the bottom.
I’m planning to put this succulent back into this same pot. But first, I want to get a good look at what’s going on under the surface.
To begin your repotting project, gather a few supplies:
- A cloth or newspaper to cover your work surface
- The container of your choice
- Gloves, if you’re working with spiny cacti
- A small shovel or scoop
- Pebbles (optional)
1. Prepare Your Work Surface
You’ll be making a bit of a mess here, so cover your work surface first to make clean-up a bit easier.
An old sheet works well, but my personal favorite surface protector is a brown paper bag. Open the bottom panel, then tear down one corner to make a nice flat surface.
If you live in a warm climate, you could also move your repotting station outdoors.
2. Gently Remove Your Succulent From Its Current Pot
Put on your gloves if you’re repotting a spiky cactus. For any other succulent variety, you can use your bare hands.
If you’re working with a small succulent, tip the current pot upside down and carefully slide the plant into your hand.
For larger plants, you may need to use a tool, like a chopstick or small shovel, to free the root system. Remember to be gentle to avoid damaging your succulent!
Here’s what my succulent looked like after I got it out of its pot:
A lot of the old soil actually stayed in the pot. If that happens to you too, just dump it out. You want to start over with fully fresh soil.
Now you’re ready to clean off more soil and see how those roots look.
3. Clean Excess Soil From the Roots
To help stimulate root spreading and growth in the new pot, carefully separate any root clumps.
Using a delicate touch, brush away the soil trapped within the root system. Like other succulents I’ve gotten at big-box stores, this one had loose soil packed around a smaller soil plug:
This is the part that contains the roots, so gently start working them free. Try not to snap more roots than you have to, but breaking a few is unavoidable. Don’t worry- your plant will regenerate those pretty quickly.
Here’s what my plant looked like after I worked on the roots for a few mintues:
The roots are looking pretty good here. They have a nice whitish-tan color, and there are no soft areas or odors. Those issues would indicate root rot, a potentially fatal fungus that often comes from overwatering, has set in to your root system.
RELATED: We’ve covered the process of dealing with succulent root rot in detail in our post on saving an overwatered succulent. Stop by to learn more!
The good news is that you probably won’t be surprised by root rot if you’re doing a routine repotting. Root rot is a serious plant disease that almost always causes leaf and stem damage, so there should be clues that your plant is struggling before you start repotting.
Overall, things are looking good here. But there were a couple of not-so-great-looking leaves on the base:
If the leaf is completely dead and crispy, you can take it off. If it’s shriveled like this one, leave it alone for now- your plant can still re-absorb some nutrients from it. Your succulent will naturally shed the leaf once it has served its full purpose.
4. Plant Your Succulent in Its New Home
Fill the new pot about halfway with fresh soil.
Now set your succulent on top. Use the scoop or shovel to fill the pot to about 1/2 inch below the rim.
Then, gently press down on the soil to dislodge any air pockets. Here’s what it looked like when I got done:
If you want to add a fun finishing touch, top your soil with a layer of decorative pebbles.
Here’s a picture of another succulent arrangement I made with some larger rocks:
5. Place Your Repotted Succulent in the Sun
Once potted, be sure the arrangement has access to bright indirect sunlight. Windowsills are great places for succulents, as are tabletops, desks or shelves where they’ll get a good amount of light.
Here’s mine with some other friends:
When to Water Succulents After Repotting
Keep in mind that the biggest enemy of succulents is overwatering, not under-watering!
Don’t water your newly repotted succulent for at least a couple of days after the move. This gives your plant the chance to acclimate to its new home without any additional stress.
Emily Barbosa Fernandes, a small space gardener and consultant at HouseGrail, agrees. “Keep the soil dry for a week while they get used to their new pot. Then water the mix thoroughly. If the soil was done correctly, the excess water should flow out of the holes immediately.”
Another point to be aware of is that succulent leaves tend to pull moisture out of the surrounding air. So if you decide to keep a succulent arrangement in a bathroom, where it will encounter natural moisture day to day, make sure to let the soil dry out completely before watering.
Frequently Asked Questions about Repotting Succulents
When you’ve never done it before, repotting succulents may seem like an intimidating task.
But all it takes is the right knowledge, supplies and technique! Armed with these, you can confidently move your little succulent friend into its new home and enjoy their company for years to come.
What has your experience with repotting succulents been like? Do you have any helpful tips to share? Are there any questions you’re still wondering about?
Let us know in the comments!