No-Damage Pot Removal

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The potting season is fast approaching, since the ideal time to repot your houseplants is when they start their growing season. That would be somewhere between late February and early May in the Northern Hemisphere. But before you can put a plant in a new pot, you first have to remove it from its original container.

Your goal is to get the plant out of its pot with as little root damage as possible. Grabbing the plant by the base and yanking it out of the pot is rarely a good technique. Half the time, you tear off a good portion of the roots. Here’s the method gardeners have been using for centuries.

First, if there are roots coming out of the drainage holes, remove them with pruning shears, as they will hinder your unpotting efforts. You’re not sacrificing much, as those roots be damaged anyway during the repotting process.

Now, turn the pot upside down, and, holding the base of the plant between your fingers, bang on the bottom of the pot with the palm of your hand. Give it a fairly hard knock: you want the rootball to come loose. This is usually all it takes and you can slip the pot right off with no effort. For plants that are too big and too heavy to turn upside down, place the plant on its side, hit the bottom of the pot with your hand to release the rootball and pull the pot off.

Sometimes this doesn’t work and the plant still clings stubbornly to its pot. If so, and if the pot has flexible sides (usually the case with plastic pots), try to compress the pot with your hand in two or three places, turning the pot so you free the rootball on all sides. Now try to remove the pot. If it’s still stuck, insert a butter knife (a sharp knife will do more harm than good) between the pot and the root ball, then run it around inside of the pot. This should free any roots that are stuck to the side of pot. Now try again to pull the pot off.

It still doesn’t work? There are situations where the pot simply will not come off. If so, more drastic actions will be needed. With a pair of metal shears (you could try pruning shears, but they’re not nearly as efficient), literally cut through the side of the pot from the top to its base. Now pull it off. If the pot is clay or ceramic, take a hammer and smash it. Sure, you’ll destroy the pot… isn’t it better to sacrifice the pot than the plant?

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