Fact or Fiction? Plants like being rootbound & smaller pots are better
No. Plants don’t ‘like’ being rootbound! Why don’t plants outdoors have compact little root balls, only growing directly underneath them in nature? Exactly. So why do we do this to them? To save our plants from us!
Kept in ‘too big’ a pot the chance of root rot goes WAY up. Lots more substrate means lots more capacity to hold water. Root rot can be a death-sentence. A smaller pot reduces the chances of root rot, protecting plants from over-watering. Under-watering and less substrate is much safer. Water again too soon or keep substrate too moist, or use a substrate that holds too much water, and that smaller pot could be a life saver.
Another benefit (for us) is forced reproduction. In response to the stress of being rootbound, plants can divert their energy from growing roots & leaves to survival mode. For some that means flowers, for others pups.
Since flowers make US happy, it’s easy to think flowers mean a happy plant, but they might be super stressed, responding to conditions that tell them they’re going to die.
Limiting space for roots, limits growth. Want a bigger plant? Don’t be scared to pot up. BUT - and this is biggie - be extra careful about what you pot into. The bigger the pot, the more important a free-draining, airy substrate becomes.
Typical indoor potting mix holds too much moisture. Buy or DIY a substrate that holds little to no water to make a larger pot safer. My current favourite is the Bioleaf Medium / Chunky Potting Mix.
You’ll often see advice to pot up only 1 to 2 sizes. For example, from a 14cm wide pot up to 16cm wide. I follow the same rule myself. The slower-draining or more moisture retentive the soil is, the smaller the pot size needs to be, so plants can use the water from the soil, and air can return faster to protect from root rot. But if you increase the particle size of your potting mix, the size of the pot can also increase.
Another benefit of not potting up too big is leaf growth. When you jump up in size, a plant can ‘stop growing’. That’s normal. Once recovered from repotting, plants shift growth to below-ground instead, sending roots out to explore all that new space first, instead of growing leaves.
Another consideration is looks & space. With a jungle my size, huge pots restrict how many plants I can fit. That's no fun at all. See? All about me again. Plus I admit some plants look plain silly in a pot that’s ‘too big’.
Instead of forcing your plant to suffer from being root-bound, go ahead and try a larger pot, but make sure you change to a more free-draining, chunkier mix that holds less water. So GO BIG if you want to! Just take extra care with substrate and watering.