Recently, I posted pictures of a root-bound ZZ (Zamioculcus zamiifolia) plant on my Instagram account and received quite a few questions about them. I talked about whether I was going to up-pot it or re-pot it because it’s fall here in the northern US and the daylight hours are waning. You can read about up-potting a dracaena (sansevieria) here but with different circumstances. What I want to talk about is the conditions the plant will be living in should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to repot or up-pot your plants in the fall. Yes, there is a difference between the two.

Getting the plant out of the pot

When I removed this ZZ plant from its utilitarian grower’s pot, I found this root mass. Below you can see a plant I had before that was so rootbound it had to be cut out of the pot after cutting off roots protruding from the drainage holes.

Loosen the roots

When a plant is rootbound, the roots will do better if loosened before planting them into new containers. It stimulates new root growth and helps them spread out in their new pot. I usually use clippers or a knife to slice through the roots along the sides and the bottom. If they aren’t too tightly bound, I use my fingers to loosen the roots. Whatever works is fine as long as the roots are untangled.

Repotting vs. up-potting

What is the difference between repotting and up-potting? When you repot a plant you are removing it from the grower’s pot it came in and planting it into the same size decorative pot. If you up-pot the plant, you are moving it into a pot that is larger than the one it came out of. Only go up one size so that there isn’t too much wet potting medium around the roots. How do you decide which to do?

Growing conditions are the key

Before deciding whether to repot or up-pot a plant it is imperative to take into account the conditions it is growing in and the time of year. Right now, it’s fall and the days are getting shorter. That means there is less time for the plant to photosynthesize and “eat”. So, in the case of the top ZZ plant pictured, I simply put it into a pot approximately the same size as the pot it came out of. It was a bit taller so those loosened roots on the bottom will have a bit of room to spread out. It is known to be a low light plant so it could be placed in a spot that gets very little light. With the shortened days and the likelihood of being placed in a spot without a lot of light, this isn’t the time to up-pot the plant. Next spring will be the time to move it up into a larger home, or up-pot it. If this had been a plant being placed in a high light situation or under electric grow lights, I probably would have potted into a larger size now.

So before you decide what to do with your plant, whether you repot or up-pot, look at the conditions it is or will be growing in. The best time to up-pot a plant is in the spring, as a rule, but there are exceptions. Do you up-pot plants in the fall? How do you decide what to do?

Have a great week!

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