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The Freedom and Beauty of Re-Potting a Plant

Every living thing outgrows its surroundings sometimes. With gentle care, we can all open up to new light.

Potting plants
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This year, my impulse for spring cleaning is mostly focused on my houseplants. During the pandemic, I’ve learned a lot about propagating baby plants, placing my plants in areas of my home that let them thrive and watering with something approaching regularity.

Having improved my indoor gardening skills, though, I noted with concern that several of my plants seemed unhappy—sluggish, stunted, not living their best lives.

A friend whose guidance has never steered me wrong diagnosed the problem: the plants are root-bound, having outgrown their pots.

Re-homing my squished, thirsty plants turned out to be an object lesson in freedom, space and joy. Stationed outside, surrounded by my plants and a bag of fresh potting soil, I took each one in turn, sliding it out of its pot and marveling at how tightly the roots had wound around each other, holding to their center while pressing against the constraints of their ceramic home.

Gently, slowly, I teased the roots apart, allowing soil to fall into a container to be mixed with fresh soil before replanting into its new, bigger pot. The roots astonished me in their complexity, their resilience and their patience as they waited for me to get the memo.

Once liberated, the roots became a lacework of delicate tendrils, vulnerable in the early spring breeze, yet ready to be tucked into a pot that’s right for them at this stage of life, a pot that will give them someplace to go, room to grow and the space to breathe and be nourished.

As I re-homed each plant, I felt myself more and more buoyed by the idea that every living creature needs a fresh start sometimes—and a helping hand to tease apart the places where we are holding too tight to a place that no longer serves our thriving.

Now, I gaze at the plants—which I could swear look happier—and am reminded to breathe into the space I have and to never be afraid to keep growing.

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