A hand dropping perlite into a pot of soil
(Image credit: CemSelvi / Getty Images)

I absolutely adore my houseplants. One could say I have too many. Actually, I do have too many considering the lighting I have in my home. In spite of huge picture windows with western exposure, very little light enters our house. There are a few times during the day where sun patches form on the carpet, but otherwise we live in a dim environment. So I have had to resort to plant lights. My plants seem happy enough but I also have to consider their fertilizer, water, and container needs. Keeping plants alive has been a bit of a challenge and re-potting plants is another challenge due to the shortage of available soil.

Re-Potting Requirements

When you live in the middle of nowhere and gas is at a premium, you tend to avoid trips to the big city. We go once per month and get the necessities such as toilet paper, food, cat needs. The trip is expensive and the car is filled to the brim. We also have to add in anything we need for the home such as furnace filters and any car needs. Home project materials have to be purchased and fit in around the big bags of cat food and 24 pack of toilet paper. Packing the car is a huge undertaking as we cross things off our list. So potting soil takes second place to most of our shopping endeavors.

I buy potting soil in spring when it is on sale, but by fall, I am out of the precious stuff. When I have potting soil, I generally will repot a few plants but I never get to all the flora that needs it. I have tried making my own potting soil since I have a compost tumbler and can make my own compost. However, the soil in the garden is heavy, holds too much moisture, and is not an ideal mix for compost. The resulting mixture is not a great medium for most of my plants.

The long and short of this situation is that my plants are woefully neglected where re-potting is concerned. It's not that I don't want to do it, it's just that it isn't always feasible. I have learned to recycle the soil in my outdoor containers that housed summer plants. It is usually still fairly good when augmented with some compost. Yet, even by recycling soil, I still never get to all the plants.

Re-Potting Frequency

Take my Norfolk pine for instance. It is a huge tree at this point. I re-potted it three years ago. I haven't got nearly enough soil in any fashion to give it a new mix for its roots. I did top the container with some newly made compost, and this seems to be holding the health quite well. I am certain though I should give it new soil this coming spring. That means planning a trip to the big city that will include at least two large bags of soil. Depending upon what else we will need, that acquisition may be reduced to one bag or even no bags. I'm sure you can see the dilemma.

Regular potting soil is not the only problem around here. I have specialty plants. Numerous succulents which require a looser, dryer mixture. Plants like African violet and orchids that need singular soil mixes. I have been known to order such things, but delivery in the boonies is not that easy, especially with a P.O. box. Few things can be delivered directly to my home. So re-potting on a schedule for my little unique varieties is also not on any particular schedule.

When Do You Need to Re-Pot?

I'm lucky my plants are forgiving. I watch them for tell-tale signs they are struggling. If I see any leaves dropping, puckering, roots showing at the top of the soil line, or other signs of ill health, I will re-pot. If the plant has outgrown its container, it is time to put it in a larger container. This requires hoarding some soil until it is absolutely necessary to give a plant a new home. I am literally a soil hoarder.

In spite of my inability to get new soil on a regular basis, things are thriving. My miniature pomegranate flowered and has some little fruits growing. The citrus tree is about to bloom. My indoor basil plant is providing me with delicious leaves for pasta. The Christmas cactus is about to flower. My neglected Norfolk pine has lighter green, new growth on the tips. Everybody seems to be just fine. So I will get as much potting soil in spring as I can, and re-pot anybody that hasn't had new soil in a while. It's the best I can do and I'm grateful for the stoicism of my houseplants.

Bonnie Grant