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

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    Danny Lipford


    Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio,, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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