How to Top-Dress Houseplants

This mixed planting doesn’t need a bigger pot, so I’ll just top-dress it this year.

As I inspect and repot my houseplants in early spring, I often find plants that seem to fall “in the middle.” Perhaps they’re very large or sensitive plants, making repotting difficult. Or they may be happy in their pots, but the soil is looking a little old. Finally, there might not be anything actually wrong with the plant, but I might want to give some extra TLC.

In cases like this, top-dressing is a great solution, and it’s quite easy. Here’s how:

  • Step 1: Water your plants lightly to loosen any hard-packed soil.
  • Step 2: Using your fingers or a small trowel or spoon, very gently scrape away the top 1”- 2” of potting soil, until you begin to see the top of the root ball. Try not to damage or tear any roots!
  • Step 3: Add fresh compost to refill your pot. Make sure to keep the plant at the same depth – don’t pile more soil than was in there before. If you like, you can mix in some slow release organic fertilizer, following package instructions to get the correct dose.

Gardening Tip

If you don’t have a compost pile, you can purchase bags of compost at your local garden center. You can also use organic potting mix in a pinch, but compost will add a much more potent boost of nutrients. As the compost breaks down, the organic matter and beneficial microbes will filter throughout the pot and improve your soil.

  • Step 4: Water again to settle the new soil. Don’t leave water sitting in the plant drainage tray.
  • Step 5: While you’re at it, gently clean the dust off your plant’s foliage, trim away any dead parts, and pinch back the ends of leggy branches.
  • Step 6: Finally, toss the old potting soil on your compost pile, where it will mix with other goodies and get its own second chance!

Further Information


  1. I have several small old round concrete planters. I want to put them in our flowerbed for spots of color but I don’t want to plant in them. When I buy annuals how long will they last in the container they are purchased in if properly cared for? What would be the best flowers?
    Than you.

    • Hi, Pamela,
      Gardening questions can be tricky since the rules change based on the region. You didn’t include the location, so we suggest contacting your local Master Gardeners association.
      Master gardeners train on a range of topics so they can provide advice, at no charge, for people in their area.
      Thanks for your question, and good luck!


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