I have a plant that I think had a high salt content in the soil, likely from watering it with tap water instead of distilled water. To fix this, I followed someone's recommendation to re-pot the plant using new potting soil. However, there was lots of soil in the root ball that I wasn't able to remove for fear of damaging the plant.

I tried to shake/brush off as much soil as possible, but how much is enough? Are there any other techniques or suggestions about how to handle the tradeoff between replacing enough potting soil vs avoiding too much damage to the plant?

I understand that this issue my be solved by getting a "feel" for it. But I'm a fairly novice gardener, so a thorough description about how to remove the proper amount of soil from the root ball would be very helpful.

Here are some pics from my repotting attempt:

Before the repotting: enter image description here

The initial rootball: enter image description here Rootball after shaking off some soil: enter image description here After fingering through the rootball, here it is before replanting: enter image description here

1 Answer 1


In theory, when you perform a transplant you should avoid damaging any of the roots at all, since any damage to roots causes the plant stress during transplant. In practice, you will always damage some small number of roots no matter how careful you are, unless you transplant a gigantic sized root-ball. So my answer to your question is you should move a root ball large enough to hide/contain all of the roots in the plant if possible.

Some other transplant advice that might help are:

Best time to transplant is late fall after leaves have fallen or early spring before new growth.

Best time of day is late afternoon and during a cloudy, non-windy day if outside.

Disturb the root ball as little as possible and make sure it stays moist. Water the plant well after transplanting.

After transplanting, orient the plant so it faces the same direction relative to the sun as before the transplant.

There are also plant supplements you can add that reduce transplant stress.

As far as your plant having too much salt from tap water, there are several types of 'salts' in tap water. The most common salts in tap water are sodium chloride (table salt), magnesium salts and calcium salts. Magnesium and calcium salts are actually needed by plants, so if you use distilled water you will want to supplement it fertilizers with those elements, since distilled water has no salts at all.

In your case, your problem was too much sodium chloride in the soil, which causes a plant to dehydrate. Fixing this in a potted plant is most easily done by flushing the salt out of the pot soil rather than trying to replace the soil by transplanting. To do this, just move the potted plant to a location where you don't mind extra water (like a shower if indoors) and overwater the plant with a non-salty water (like distilled). Salt is water soluble, so as the water passes through the soil it will pick up and carry any salt away as runoff. This flushing process will remove other water-soluble nutrients from the soil, so add them back in (fertilizer or plant food) to avoid nutrient starving your plant.

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