Transplant Shock: 10 Ways To Minimize Transplanting Shock

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The fun of growing vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and trees from seeds and cuttings is so rewarding. But plant transplant shock loss can take all the fun out when plants don’t grow or show the same vigor.

Plants are designed to stay in one place. They put down roots, deep or wide, and remain there until they die. It is who moves them around to a new home.

transplanting a young tomato plantPin

When plants move from one place or area to another, it’s a shock. It’s difficult to watch newly planted plants adjust their new growth to the new environment.

Sometimes plants die as a result of the move, and you can call it death from transplant shock.

Plant transplant shock is caused by harm to the plant roots during the transplanting process.

Transplant shock happens to seedlings, bedding plants, newly planted trees, and, yes even cannabis plants.

While the thickest roots are closest to the root ball, the most important roots… those necessary for the plant to survive and thrive, are farthest from the plant.

These minor roots are like thin, tiny hairs that absorb the majority of the water spread throughout the soil away from the plant.

Many new gardeners do not consider minimizing the transplanting shock since they’ve never experienced the loss of a plant dying after transplanting.

They see transplanting as a simple task of moving the plant’s location. Some plants cope well with the new environment and landscape, while others may completely die.

Minimize plant or tree transplant shock by taking preventative measures. Other symptoms of transplant shock appear as wilting leaves (especially on recent transplants), yellowing, and leaf rolling or curling. 

10 Tips On How To Prevent Transplant Shock Symptoms

Buy Healthy Plants

Before buying a new plant, choose the best and healthiest ones. Do not buy (AVOID) any plant that looks like it is experiencing problems, suffering from pests (use a neem oil insecticide spray), fungi, diseases, or other issues.

Don’t buy root-bound plants or plants with root damage.

This increases the chances of having a successful process, as healthy plants are more likely to survive a transplant shock.

When you buy and transplant a struggling plant, you only add stress to an already stressed plant.

Know When To Transplant

The beginning of spring or the end of fall is the safest time and provides the best conditions to transplant using almost any technique.

Do not attempt to transplant plants on summer days, especially field-grown plants.

The plants never wilt, and there is likely some plant food in the growing media. There is no wind. And the light, although bright enough to grow the plants, is a fraction of what sunlight provides. 

Whether from small pots, seedlings in flats, larger containers, or a full-grown tree and shrub, experts recommend doing it in the late afternoon when the sun no longer gives extreme heat and the wind is already calm.

When it comes to transplanting container plants, you can do it any time between freezing and thawing.

Container plants transplant easier than trees, seedlings, and shrubs, especially if you know the soil and other basics of gardening.

NOTE: I always like transplanting potted plants into a well-draining soilless mix.

Try Not To Disturb Roots

When you dig or move the plants, you will probably have to bother the root system a bit. Minimize the impact of transplant shock as much as possible.

Try to keep the root system intact, and don’t shake out the soil when moving the plant.

Also, make sure the root ball remains moist. If the roots become totally dry, the roots die, and the whole plant dies.

Take As Many Roots As Possible

As we mentioned earlier, the tiny roots at the farthest end of the root ball are the most necessary ones to the plant’s health and growth.

The more healthy roots you bring along when you move the trees or plants, the lesser chance of transplant shock to occur and the more likely it will survive.

When roots do not start to grow as a result of transplant shock or lack of oxygen, newly-planted trees will use their reserves of carbohydrates, nutrients, and hormones, and small leaves will appear.

How long does transplant shock last?

The length of time will vary from plant to plant; transplant shock recovery time could last years for trees.

Plant Properly In The New Location

No matter how careful you are, plants will go through some transplant stress when moved.

You cannot prevent some:

  • Transplant stress as new transplants adjust to their new environment
  • Leaf scorch and tree transplant shock occurring from reduced root system size
  • Plants wilting after transplant, leaf rolling, and limb dieback from moisture transpiration
  • Planting in heavy soils, the improper planting depth
  • Improper planting technique adds more stress to the plant!

Dig large planting holes and provide good drainage to allow extensive root systems to develop.

Make sure you choose a location that fits the plant’s needs and the appropriate depth in the ground.

Most soils are fertile enough to support plant growth over a period of years without supplemental nutrients. 

Consider the amount of sun, soil drainage, soil type, and quality. Then plant it using proper planting techniques: appropriately deep in the ground, moving gently, etc.  

The temperature has been optimum, as has the soil moisture.  

Related: You may like our article on Dividing Transplanting Tips

Water Plants Carefully

New transplants that do not have vast root systems can become stressed due to an inability to absorb enough water. 

Plants need water to survive, so give them plenty of watering immediately after moving especially young plants.

During the growing season, landscape plants in well-drained soils should receive at least one inch of water per week. 

After transplanting, the plant’s root system will experience some “damage” and need to recover.

Watering makes a very important step to increase the defense of your plants or trees against transplant shock.

Water plants and trees immediately and religiously afterward, considering their watering needs.

A cactus will not need water nearly as often as an almond tree, for example.

If Roots Are Removed, Remove Top Growth

Except with tomato plants. Don’t trim the top growth of the plant if you’re transplanting tomato plant seedlings.

However, if woody plants or shrubs are being moved, normally, I would remove about 1/3 of the foliage or branch tips.

Removing the extra foliage reduces stress, loss of moisture, and the additional “resources” the plant needs to recover.

Never let the mulch touch trunks of trees; keep it back 2″ to 3″ inches. Black plastic should not be used as mulch.

Follow correct root pruning steps for plants and trees to transition with a higher success rate.

Fertilize With Root Boosters

Once transplanted and properly watered, encourage plant root development with a root booster transplanting fertilizer or use an Epsom salt transplant solution.

Remove Dead Parts

To help a newly transplanted plant, remove any dead parts like dried leaves, branches, or stems.

As it grows, a plant develops its root system to meet the increased circulation of sap, water, and nutrients. Upon losing roots, all of a sudden, internal plumbing vessels and tubes that carry all these fluids are oversized. 

Keep An Eye On Transplants

Sometimes newly transplanted material is attacked by pests and insects. A plant in shock doesn’t need the extra stress the bugs deliver.

Keep a careful eye on your transplanted plants, be ready to adjust, and help get your plants off to a good start in their new location.

With these ten methods, your plants will be on their way to less transplant shock and keep the “fun” in growing!

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