Keeping succulents is one of the most rewarding and satisfying pastimes, and it helps that they are very low-maintenance.
They vary wildly in appearance, and they are among the most unusual houseplants you can grow, such as the bear’s paw, or painted lady echeveria, or the spiral aloe.
They are also one of the easiest houseplants to get started with, as long as you have a very bright, south-facing windowsill, or somewhere that equally provides a lot of light.
While they don’t need a lot of attention, no plant thrives off pure neglect. You do need to check them occasionally to see how they are faring, and when they might need repotting.
Why Do You Need to Repot Succulents?
While it might not be an immediate thing you need to do once you’ve brought a succulent home, you still need to know how to do it properly.
It’s also important that you recognize exactly when a succulent requires new soil and a larger pot, as this is crucial to the plant’s health.
Over time, the plant will leech out all the goodness in the soil, and it will start to starve. This is just one reason why you’ll need to repot eventually.
While it’s a rule of thumb to repot a succulent every couple of years, this can vary according to the individual plant, and the plant itself will usually display signs of needing to be repotted.
Plants You’ve Just Bought
It’s crucial to keep in mind that not all retailers get the potting mix right. They do this for a number of reasons, sometimes because there’s been a mix-up, and sometimes because it’s cheaper.
Some succulents will come in richer composts than required, which will have average instead of excellent drainage, which can cause your succulents to rot. (See How To Treat Succulent Root Rot)
Some succulents also come bare-rooted, especially if you mail-order them. This saves on shipping costs, as soil is very heavy, and it also prevents disease.
While repotting your plant will shock it, it’s better to repot it as soon as you get it, rather than waiting for it to adapt to your home environment first, otherwise you’ll shock it twice.
It’s worth keeping in mind that moving a plant from where you bought it, or getting a plant through the mail is a traumatic thing for a plant to go through, and it will need some time to adapt once you’ve repotted it.
Pot-Bound Plants, and Offset Overcrowding
Over the course of a year, maybe two, healthy succulents will start to outgrow their pots. If they form offsets – tiny versions of themselves at the base of the adult plant – the pot will get more crowded.
While this is a nice look, it will stunt the growth of your succulents, and will harm your plant’s health.
If the succulents get pot bound, which is to say that there are more roots than soil, forming a rigid compact in the shape of the pot, it’s time to repot, before the plants get worse.
A combination of time and watering will make soil, particularly sandy soil, compact. There will be less air getting to the roots of the plant, and it can also disrupt the water’s path to the roots.
This can mean that the succulents don’t get enough water because it can’t reach. The water might sit on the surface of the soil instead, which will make parts of the plant that sit close to the surface rot.
One thing you can do to temporarily help this is to gently poke a few holes into the surface of the soil to improve drainage, but be careful not to stab the roots. Your best bet is to repot your succulent, though.
If the pot your succulent is in doesn’t have big enough drainage holes, these can get clogged with large bits of soil or grit, leaving the water nowhere to go.
If the drainage holes are too large, the water will wash out too much soil. In either case, it’s time to repot.
If your plants look like they are struggling, and there’s no problem in the watering or light situation, and you can’t see any pests, then this is usually an indicator that something’s wrong with the soil.
As a precaution, repot your succulents. This will replenish the nutrients in the soil, and it will also allow you to take a closer look at the roots for signs of rot or other diseases.
Wrong Type of Pot
Succulents can often come in pots without drainage holes. Any pot without a drainage hole is a bowl, and you should only use it as a decorative, outer pot.
If you find that your succulent has been planted in a bowl, it’s time to repot it into a pot with adequate drainage.
It’s also worth looking at the material of the pot. While this may sound strange, it can make a difference to your plant’s health. For example, plastic pots will retain more water than terracotta, and terracotta is a form of clay which helps the roots grow better.
Metal pots will conduct the temperature around them – whether that’s hot or cold – and this can be detrimental to your succulent’s health.
Any pot ideally needs to be slightly larger than the one you’re removing it from, and the width should be larger than the width of the plant.
Is there a Difference Between Potting up Succulents and Repotting Them?
While potting and repotting plants both involve transferring a succulent to a new container, potting means putting a seedling into a pot of its own, where it can grow much, much bigger.
Repotting a succulent is decanting the plant into a slighter larger pot, so it can maintain its current growth habit, and continue to produce healthy growth.
The Best Time to Repot Succulents
While you might think that the best answer would be “when they need it”, there’s a little more to it than that.
Before you look at repotting your succulents, it’s worth knowing that several types go dormant, some in different seasons, and repotting a dormant succulent can cause problems.
Those that go dormant in winter include Agave, Echeveria, Euphorbia, Sempervivum, Sedum, and Tillandsia.
Those that go dormant in the summer months include Aloe, Aeonium, Cotyledon, Crassula, Sansevieria, and Senecio.
It’s better to leave your succulents alone during their dormancy stage, only watering very occasionally, if at all, and refraining from repotting them until you start to see new growth again.
While some might not enter dormancy at all when exposed to temperatures indoors, it’s better not to risk it, as they will still have a slower growth rate, and recovery times are lower.
Not all succulents go dormant, and those you can repot whenever they need it.
How to Tell if a Plant is Pot-Bound
While this can be tricky when you don’t want to disturb the soil, there are a few signs that you can look out for which will tell you if a succulent is pot-bound, without causing damage to the plant.
The first is to lift the succulent out of its outer container, and inspect the drainage holes. If there are roots coming out of the pot, it’s ready to go into a bigger one.
You can also wait until the soil is bone dry, and very gingerly lift the plant from the pot. You won’t need to ease it out all the way, just enough to get a look.
Most likely, the soil will come out in a pot-shape, which will avoid any mess. If you see roots going around the whole shape, it’s time to repot.
Tools You’ll Need in Order to Repot Succulents
The pot you choose should be bigger than the old one. You want it to be able to sit in it happily for about a year, so make it one which is a couple of inches bigger than its current pot.
A lot of people prefer to have an outer decorative pot which has no holes, and an inner plastic pot which has plenty of drainage.
Choose your new pot wisely. Plastic is fine, but terracotta or ceramic is better if you can get it. Terracotta is made of clay, which helps the roots grow, and these pots also drain faster than plastic.
With terracotta pots, you don’t need inner pots as long as they have drainage holes. The most important thing is drainage.
You want the water to be able to drain from the plant, without sitting in the soil or near the roots, or forming a huge puddle in the outer pot which will cause root rot.
Always check the outer container after watering, just to make sure that there won’t be any standing water.
Soil & Horticultural Grit
Getting the soil right is also a vital part of repotting any plant, but especially succulents.
If you’re growing them indoors, create a specialist compost by mixing half sandy compost and half horticultural grit or perlite. This mixture is much more open, allowing a greater airflow, while also improving the drainage.
Leave some room at the top, for a 2cm layer approx of grit. This will stop any leaves or parts of the plant rotting on the surface of the soil, and it will also encourage the water to drain properly.
If you’re keeping hardier succulents which live in your garden, use a mixture of sandy compost and grit, about 60% compost, and 40% grit.
If you don’t have grit, you can use sand or perlite. It will do the same job. Again, top dress the surface with grit, as this will help improve drainage.
You can also incorporate a small amount of slow-release plant food into the compost, which will help feed the succulent and support healthy growth.
Before you start, it’s worth grabbing a few sheets of newspaper, scrap paper, or something else to lay across the surface of where you’re going to pot up.
This is handy regardless of whether you’re repotting on your carpet or in a greenhouse. This saves a lot of mess later.
Depending on how tightly compacted the soil is, you may need something to lever the plant out of the soil, like a dibber or a pen.
If you have any thorny or spiky succulents, you’ll need some good gloves. Cardboard helps, too. Succulent spines are difficult to extract from your fingers, and they are obviously painful!
You can use your hands or a small trowel for potting up the plant, whichever you prefer.
How To Repot a Succulent
Repotting a succulent is easier than it seems. When you’ve repotted one, the rest will be easier.
Some people find it helpful to water the plant a couple of days before repotting, to soften the soil and pull the plant out.
I find it’s easier to wait until the soil is bone dry, as you’ll need to water in the plant in its new home, and you won’t want to drown it after all your hard work.
Working with dry soil means the plant is much easier to maneuver out of the pot.
It’s important to wear gloves if you’re repotting a spiny or thorny succulent, but otherwise they are not essential.
Just make sure you don’t touch your face with dirty hands, and wash your hands after you’ve repotted everything.
Grab the new pot, and put a thin layer of grit into the bottom. This will stop the fine soil from washing out, and it will also improve drainage.
In most cases, you should be able to remove the plant fairly easily by gently squeezing the sides of the pot to loosen the roots a few times. You’ll feel the soil give. Tilt the plant so it falls into your hand.
The easiest way to hold it without damage is to put a finger either side of the plant stem, holding the surface of the soil rather than the plant itself. Keep your grip extremely light.
Strip any dead leaves while you’re there, discarding them. If there are any pups which are big enough to survive in their own pots, divide them as necessary, otherwise leave them until they are bigger.
Gently take your fingers to the roots, and break off some of the old soil. You’ll need to get it so that it still has some familiar soil, but it’s no longer shaped like a pot. Don’t break the roots.
Gingerly place your succulent inside the new pot, on top of the layer of grit. If it’s nowhere near the height it needs to be, take it out and put some new compost in.
Cover the roots completely with new compost, making sure you don’t fully compact the soil, as the roots will need room.
The succulent needs to sit on a layer of grit on the surface of the soil. Give your succulent a good drink to get the roots to establish in its new pot, and put it somewhere light.
Give it some time to adjust, and you should see new growth within a couple of weeks.