Whether you’ve started plants from seed or purchased starts from a local nursery, they’re eventually going to need to move from the pot they’re in to a larger pot or a garden bed. But this isn’t always a simple task, and few things are more heartbreaking than putting an otherwise healthy plant in the ground and finding it dead from transplant shock the next day. So how do you prevent transplant shock? Here’s a helpful breakdown of 7 ways to reduce transplant shock and ensure your plants settle into their new home without a hitch!
What is Transplant Shock?
Transplant shock is the term used to describe the stresses a recently transplanted plant, shrub, or tree can experience when being placed in the garden or moved to a larger pot. Unfortunately, transplant shock could result in the loss of your plants.
Transplant shock occurs because seedlings don’t tend to have an established root system extensive enough to keep up with the plant's needs. As a result, seedlings can suffer stress during transplant because the disturbed root system can’t absorb enough water to supply to the plant. Worse, a plant experiencing transplant shock is more susceptible to disease, insects, and harsh weather conditions.
7 Ways to Reduce Transplant Shock
The good news is that there are several things you can do to avoid transplant shock this gardening season. See below for our list of 8 ways to start your new plants strong.
#1 Start With a Healthy Plant
It should come as no surprise that starting with a healthy plant is the first step in avoiding transplant shock. A plant that is rootbound or has a weak root system may be difficult to transplant successfully.
#2 Always Harden Off Seedlings
If you started your plants in the house or purchased them from inside a greenhouse nursery, your plants will need to be hardened off before placing them outside. Skipping this step can be detrimental to seedlings that have only known a closed environment. Tender plant babies need time to adjust to direct sunlight and windy conditions.
To harden off your seedlings, start by setting them out for a few hours in the early morning or late afternoon (not the heat of the day). Over the next 5 - 7 days, gradually lengthen the time each day so that they get more and more exposure. Once you can keep them outside overnight for a couple of days, your plants are ready to be set into the ground.
#3 Mind the Time
Moving your plants in the heat of the day will make them more vulnerable to stress due to the extreme temperatures! The ideal times for transplanting plants are early morning or later in the evening when the temperatures are cooler.
#4 Disturb the Roots as Little as Possible
It goes without saying, but be gentle when you move your plants! The root system is literally the plant’s lifeline, and one of the biggest causes of transplant shock is damage to delicate root systems. A plant absorbs most of its moisture and nutrients from the tiny root hairs that extend out from the primary root ball. Once exposed to the world, they can get easily damaged.
Most plants are not fond of their roots being disturbed. When transplanting seedlings for up potting or into the ground, take care not to jostle, shake or disturb the dirt surrounding the roots. If you’re working with a plastic nursery pot, squeeze the sides to loosen the soil, and turn the post upside down to remove it. Never yank out a plant by its stem.
The only exception to this rule is if your plant is root bound. If your plant is root bound, you’ll need to untangle the roots and remove some of the soil attached to give your plant more breathing room but try to disturb the root system as little as possible.
Another tip is to ensure the hole you’re placing your start in is big enough. Jamming a plant into a small hole can cause abrasion to the roots.
#5 Add Fertilizer
Giving your plants a boost of fertilizer to the root system when transplanting can go a long way toward providing new seedlings a healthy boost. Several transplant fertilizers are available for purchase, but you can also make your own. In our garden, we use a mix of Biochar and worm castings when transplanting.
#6 Prune Wisely
Remember that seedlings often have undeveloped root systems. A great way to help your plant get established is to follow the guiding principle of “if roots are removed, remove top growth.”
If a shrub is being transplanted, consider removing about a third of the foliage to reduce stress and moisture loss. Follow the proper pruning techniques for plants and trees to help transition them more successfully.
#7 Be Water Wise
Watering your plant deeply during transplant will help its roots settle into the new soil. With each seedling we transplant, I dig my hole, add in my fertilizer, fill the hole with water, and then place my plant in the hole. Once fully planted in its new location, I water it deeply from the top and then mulch it in place to help retain moisture.
Wishing You a Succesful Gardening Season
Inevitably, moving your plants will always pose some degree of risk, but if you follow the tips above, you can significantly reduce your plant loss this season. We have a 2,500 sq ft garden, and last year by following the practices outlined here, we only lost two plants during transplant!
What are your top tips for avoiding transplant shock? Tell us all about them in the comments below. And as always, until next time,