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How to Transfer Potted Plants

By Kay Dean ; Updated September 21, 2017

You received a potted plant from a friend and you would like to re-pot it in a container that matches your decor. Your fern appears to be root-bound and needs to be transplanted in a larger container. Whatever the reasons, re-potting a plant begins with preparing the new container and then transferring the plant. This provides the plant adequate room and a healthy environment in which to grow.

Cleaning and Disinfecting the Pot

Clean the pot where the plant will be transferred. Empty the old soil from the flowerpot. Wear gardening gloves when emptying the soil; insects, including spiders, might have built a nest in the pot or soil. Discard the old soil or add to the compost; do not reuse the soil in another pot.

Use a butter knife or stiff brush to remove mineral deposits or soil stuck to the inside of the pot. If the pot has a saucer, scrub it as well.

Clean and disinfect the pot. Iowa State University Extension recommends soaking the pot, “in a solution containing one part household bleach to nine parts water for a minimum of 10 minutes." Wash the pot in a solution of water with a squirt of dish detergent. Rinse the pot thoroughly.

Place the cleaned clay pot in a container of water until it is ready to use. Porous clay pots, according to Iowa State University Extension, wick away moisture from potting soil if they are dry and can dehydrate newly transplanted plants. This is not true for plastic or glass containers; once cleaned, they are ready to use.

Transfering the Plant

Fill the clean pot half full with fresh potting soil. Add water until the soil is covered and allow it to drain.

Remove the plant from the old pot. Use a trowel to loosen the soil around the plant. Slip the trowel under the roots of the plant and use it to lift the plant. Hold the plant with your other hand to steady it, but do not tug on the plant, to avoid damaging the stems.

Shake the old potting soil off the roots, rinsing them if necessary. Trim off damaged or dead roots.

Place the plant in the new pot. Lift and add more soil underneath so that the place where the roots meet the stems is about 2 inches below the top edge of the pot. Add more potting soil, until the roots are almost covered. Add water until the soil is covered and allow it to drain. This helps settle the soil around the roots and removes air pockets.

Finish filling the pot with soil until the roots are completely covered. Tamp down gently. Place the saucer under the pot and move the pot to where it will be located. Water again.


Things You Will Need

  • Flowerpot
  • Gardening gloves
  • Butter knife
  • Stiff brush
  • Household bleach
  • Dish detergent
  • Trowel
  • Gardening shears (optional)
  • Quality gardening soil


  • New flowerpots are not sterile and need to be washed and disinfected before using them.

About the Author


After attending Hardin Simmons University, Kay Dean finished her formal education with the Institute of Children's Literature. Since 1995, Dean has written for such publications as "PB&J," Disney’s "Family Fun," "ParentLife," "Living With Teenagers" and Thomas Nelson’s NY Times bestselling "Resolve." An avid gardener for 25 years, her experience includes organic food gardening, ornamental plants, shrubs and trees, with a special love for roses.