If you’ve owned any Philodendrons in your lifetime, you likely know that, while not always the most vigorous houseplants, they certainly do a great job filling out their pots. In fact, many Philodendron varieties do best when they’ve got a little room to grow, so always ensuring they are planted in a big enough pot is a great way to keep them looking strong and healthy.
When should you repot your Philodendron? If you’ve noticed that your plant’s growth rate has slowed significantly, it’s producing smaller leaves than usual, you are seeing roots pushing from the bottom or top of the pot, or if your plant just looks top heavy or too large for its current container, these are all signs you may need to repot.
It is important to keep an eye on your Philodendrons (and other houseplants) to make sure they have room to grow. They will perform better and look so much healthier when they aren’t limited by space. In this article, we’ll cover why an adequate container is so important for Philodendrons and some of the signs that indicate your plant has outgrown its pot.
Why do Philodendrons Need Space in Their Pots?
Like most houseplants, Philodendrons appreciate having a little wiggle room in the soil they are planted in so they can create and maintain healthy root systems. A good foundation of roots is what is responsible for the plant growing strong and staying vibrant over time.
When there is adequate space in the container, the soil stays well-drained and aerated while being able to retain an adequate amount of moisture the plant needs. The root system can become well-established in the soil and perform important functions for the plant unimpeded.
As the pot becomes overgrown and crowded, everything from water retention, gas exchange, and nutrient uptake becomes harder to manage and is detrimental to the plant’s development, usually resulting in a slowed growth rate. A severely rootbound plant can succumb to nutrient deficiencies, dehydration, or even root rot, depending on the situation.
When considering how most Philodendrons grow, you can expect to need to repot them every 12-18 months. You may be able to push that timeline depending on growing conditions and variety but keep in mind that regular repotting will serve the plants the best.
Do Philodendrons Like to Be Rootbound?
If you’ve done a bit of internet research before landing on this site, you may have seen an article or two implying that many Philodendrons like to be rootbound in their pot. I do not agree. At best, Philodendrons will tolerate being rootbound for a period of time. These are tough plants that grow in some pretty extreme environments, so they won’t drop dead as soon as their roots touch the sides of their container but know that the longer they are denied adequate space, the more their performance will suffer.
This is because their tolerance for being rootbound is actually a tradeoff. As your Philodendron gets more and more crowded, it is slowly being denied the ability to improve its root system, as well as access to readily available nutrients and water, all of which become limiting factors in how well that plant can grow. So, while they don’t “like” it, many Philodendrons will tolerate being rootbound, but not forever.
Signs It is Time to Repot Your Philodendron
Let’s go over several of the most obvious signs that a Philodendron might need to be repotted. Any of these on their own, or a combination of several, should prompt you to check the container your plant is potted in to make sure there’s still room to grow.
Growth Rate Slows Down
One of the most classic warning signs that your Philodendron might be too rootbound is that its growth slows down or stops completely. The growth rate is directly tied to the amount of water, nutrients, and sunlight that a plant receives, so if your Philodendron has stopped growing despite receiving the same level of care, something is going on.
As your plant becomes more and more rootbound, water and nutrients become harder to take in for a variety of reasons. Soil can become compacted or displaced so water retention is lowered. Crowded root systems can limit contact with the soil, again reducing the ability to absorb needed nutrients and moisture, essentially strangling the plant. This drop in the plant’s ability effectively becomes a limiting factor for growth, so it has no choice but to slow down or stop.
This next sign goes hand in hand with a slowed growth rate. Those same limiting factors that inhibit your plant’s growth also act on its ability to produce full-grown plant structures, like leaves. Because a crowded plant isn’t receiving what it needs to push new growth efficiently, any growth it does manage to produce can end up being stunted.
Since Philodendrons typically produce many new leaves over the course of a growing season, it’s pretty easy to spot the gradual reduction in size. In fact, small leaf size might actually be a more obvious sign that you need to repot your Philodendron since accurately monitoring the growth rates of plants can be tricky.
We all know how important proper watering is to the long-term health and well-being of our houseplants. Knowing how and when to water is a skill that can take your plant care to the next level, and should be the first thing you scrutinize when a health issue pops up. However, despite you doing your darndest to properly water your Philodendron, an overcrowded pot can make that task very difficult, resulting in a plant that is suffering anything from dehydration to nutrient deficiencies.
Again, this comes down to the roots being too crowded. A tightly wound root ball often displaces soil to the outer edges of the pot and can prevent any soil trapped within from easily absorbing moisture. As you water your plant as you normally would, much of that liquid tends to stay towards the outside of the pot and ends up running down the sides and out the drainage hole, leaving very little moisture available for the plant to absorb.
Because of this, you may notice your plant beginning to wilt or the topsoil turning dry and compacted. You may even try to remedy this by watering more frequently but with similar results. Over a longer period of time, your Philodendron might show early warning signs of nutrient deficiencies, like yellowing leaves or stunted growth.
If you see any of these signs, consider checking the root ball of your plant and seeing if it has become too rootbound or has run out of space in the pot. The key to using watering issues as an indication it’s time to repot your plant is to be absolutely sure you have dialed in your watering habits so you know your care isn’t to blame for these problems.
Roots Pushing from the Bottom or Top of the Pot
As your Philodendron continues to grow, its root system will also be getting larger and larger underneath the soil. Over time, as the plant runs out of space in its container, those roots will begin to wrap around themselves and start looking for new places to expand into. So, if you ever notice roots peeking out from the pot, either through the drainage hole in the bottom, or poking out of the topsoil, it’s a sure sign the root system is running out of space.
In severely rootbound pots, the root system may have wrapped around itself so many times that it begins to lift the plant out of the soil. Again, this is a clear indication it is time to transplant your Philodendron to a larger vessel.
Keep in mind that Philodendrons often produce aerial roots that may appear near the base of the plant and might even burrow down into the soil. These are not what you should be concerned with. These are mainly structural elements that help the plant stabilize itself and can often be clipped back if they are in the way.
Your Plant Looks Top Heavy or Too Large for Its Container
Not all warning signs need to correspond directly to your plant’s well-being. In fact, your Philodendron could be perfectly happy growing along in the pot it’s planted in, but aesthetically, it has outgrown its container. Plants are living things and will continue to grow as long as you care for them and, as a result, their longer vines, larger leaves, or sturdier stems can end up dwarfing a container that once complimented your plant’s size quite nicely. Sometimes things start to look a bit top-heavy.
Vining varieties of Philodendron are less susceptible to this look, as most of their growth is maintained at the ends of the plant. However, if you have some prized self-heading or non-trailing varieties that have put on some height over the last season, feel free to upgrade the pot size to complement the plant.
One word of warning is to not go too big. If you overshoot the pot size too much, you’ll need extra soil to fill it, which may end up retaining more moisture than the plant actually needs, potentially exposing it to issues caused by overwatering.
Repotting Your Philodendron Plant
If you investigate any of these warning signs and conclude that it’s time to repot your Philodendron, know that it’s a pretty easy task to do. All you’ll need is a larger pot, some potting soil, and a little know-how.
The Best Pot for Your Philodendron
The first thing you need to do is to determine what pot you will be planting your Philodendron into. This choice is determined by what size is appropriate for your plant rather than things like container material. Pick a pot that is a few inches wider than the root ball of your plant. You want to have about one to two inches between the roots and the walls of the pot. This will allow the plant room to expand its root system while retaining the appropriate amount of moisture.
We also like to pick a container that has an extra inch or two of height above the soil line. This extra room is great when watering or if we ever want to top-dress a plant with feed or soil amendments. Also, if you want to save yourself a boatload of heartbreak and worry, make sure the new container you are considering has a drainage hole at the bottom. This is one of the best ways to ensure you are providing your plant with the proper amount of water and is often the only reason a plant avoids getting root rot.
The Best Soil for Your Philodendron
If you have the time and energy, you can travel down several extensive rabbit holes researching soil mixtures fine-tuned for your plant’s specific needs. I know people that do it and, let me tell you, their houseplants always look amazing!
If nerding out on soil science isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Luckily, Philodendrons are a pretty low-maintenance group of plants that can grow very well in simple potting soil mixtures. However, keep in mind that these plants are pretty regular feeders that originate from humid, wet environments, so making sure your soil mixture is nutrient dense and retains the right amount of moisture will set them up for success.
We typically start out with a well-balanced, high-quality potting soil mixture to use as our base. We try to pick something that avoids larger bark chips or has too much sand in it. Many potting soil mixtures have a small charge of slow-release fertilizer in them, which we find helpful for the plant as it gets established in its new pot.
We also find that, despite their quality, a lot of potting soil mixtures tend to get compacted over time and can sometimes be hard to water if they get too dry. Adding some perlite, pumice, or even cactus/succulent soil is a great way to maintain a well-drained, airy mixture, perfect for Philodendron roots. We usually start with a ratio of about one part succulent soil (or pumice/perlite) to three parts potting soil.
The ultimate goal is to create a mixture for your Philodendron that stays light and well-drained while retaining enough moisture in between waterings.
Transplanting Your Philodendron
Once you have your new pot and potting soil mixture ready to go, it’s time to repot your Philodendron. Start by removing the plant from the old container, running a butter knife along the edges of the pot if the plant seems stuck. Gently remove the plant, being careful not to break stems or large roots. This is a great time to inspect the root ball for any signs of rot or severely tangled roots. Feel free to clip out any unhealthy-looking roots or sections that are preventing other roots’ access to soil.
Place some fresh potting soil into the bottom of your new container and place the plant on top of it, making sure the crown of the plant sits about an inch below the rim of the planter. Fill in around the root ball with new potting soil, gently working it down around the plant to secure it in place.
Once the plant’s roots are covered and it feels secure in the pot, water the whole thing deeply, allowing any excess liquid to drain out the bottom. Place your freshly repotted plant back in its spot in your home, making sure to give it plenty of light, and monitor it over the next several weeks for any signs of distress. It will take your Philodendron several weeks to reestablish itself in its new home before resuming growth, as usual.
Putting It All Together
Periodically repotting your plant into larger containers should be considered part of the regular maintenance of your Philodendrons. Because they are such good growers, these plants inevitably outgrow their homes and, if left in a pot that is too small, will start to exhibit signs of distress.
If you start to see evidence of slowed growth, small leaves, roots pushing from the soil, or watering issues that can’t be attributed to improper watering habits, it is likely time for you to transplant your Philodendron.
Pick a container that can easily accommodate your plant’s root system and use fresh, high-quality potting soil so that your plant can thrive through its next phase of life. You’ll be rewarded with a healthy, vibrant plant that can put out stunning foliage throughout your home.