Transplant shock is named for the stress a plant experiences during and after a transplant. As a gardener, the primary goal for you as you move a plant from one home to another is to reduce stress and foster a smoother transition. The easier the move for the plant, the sooner it can dig in, literally, and work on its root development.
Learning to transplant any kind of plant, from seedling to clone all the way up to mature trees, requires an understanding of the species, and grasp of technique and getting your hands dirty. Even a grower with little experience can master the art of a stress-free transplant given the right knowledge.
The following covers the basics of transplanting, including the specifics for seedlings, clones, mature plants, and even a few tips for large trees. We’ll go in depth into how soil or soilless mediums affect transplants and hydroponic solutions.
Tips for a Successful Stress-free Transplant
- Never, ever, forget to water your new transplant.
- Avoid moving between growing mediums, if possible.
- Apply natural growth hormones such as Azos and Mykos to ease the transition.
- Check back daily for signs of stress. If the plant starts to wilt, water with a weak nutrient solution.
Does Transplanting Stress Plants?
Even experienced gardeners, using well-established techniques stress out their plants when they transplant them. Seedings, clones, full-sized mature plants - all go through a period of adjustment post-transplant. Removing the plant from one location to another disrupts the root network, which disrupts the ability to feed and pull moisture from the surrounding environment.
Until the roots establish within the new medium, the plant won’t be pulling as many nutrients as it needs from the surroundings. Furthermore, if there is too much shock during transplant, the roots never fully recover. They don’t return to full function and therefore restrict the plant's future growth.
How to Transplant Seedlings and Clones
The most common time to transplant is after the very early stages of growth when it’s time to move the plants from the seedling tray into the garden or a larger container. Both seedlings and clones require specialized environments during the first few weeks of development to allow either the seed to sprout roots and it's first few leaves or the cutting to take root and stabilize. Once the roots are fully formed, usually poking through the bottom of the tray, it’s time to move the little plant into a long-term container.
Seedlings and clones may first begin their life in either soil systems, like peat plugs or rapid rooter trays or in a hydroponic medium like Rockwool. Generally speaking, you’ll want to maintain consistency when you transplant, keeping the growing medium the same. It is possible to move from soil to a hydroponic system, or vice versus, but it will put additional stress on the young plant in the process.
Before getting starting with the transplant, you’ll want to research and prepare the following:
- Nutrient Solution: Prepare a very weak nutrient solution, combining water and a suitable fertilizer for the plant species.
- Prepare Soil or soilless medium suitable for your plant.
- Transplant only when roots are well-established, or for larger plants, when they are in the vegetative stage of growth.
Basic Steps to Transplanting Seedlings and Clones
- After preparing soil (or purchasing pre-mix mediums from a garden store), fill the new container over halfway full.
- Using your hand, create a small well in the center of the container large enough to fit the seedling or clone plug.
- Gently remove the seedling or clone from the tray, careful to maintain the integrity of the roots. If possible, choose a clone with well-developed roots popping through the bottom of the tray or pellet.
- Preserving the roots as much as possible, place the young plant into the well, and fill in with soil (or medium). Top up the container to the rim so that the stem is fully supported by soil.
- Compress the soil gently around the stem. Avoid pushing too hard, as this packs the soil down and makes it hard for roots to grow.
- Place the container in the tray, and water using the prepared solution.
As mentioned you can transplant a clone or seedling from the soil, into a hydroponic medium like coco coir or Rockwool. The only difference is you’ll need to remove as much of the soil as possible from the root system without damaging the plant. Moving around the young roots, even very gently, places undue stress on the plant, which is why it’s usually suggested to keep the growing medium the same during transplant.
Once you have watered the newly transplanted container, you want to avoid overwatering as it takes root. Do not water again for a few days, and only when the soil has had a chance to dry out. You may also want to consider adding Mykos into the mix, which is a beneficial fungi solution which improves nutrient and water absorption during these early stages. Azos is another option, a beneficial bacteria which works to pump out more nitrogen from the soil - making it available for your new plants.
How to Transplant Mature Plants in Soil or Coco
The process for transplanting mature plants in either soil or coco is essentially the same as with small seedlings but with a few very important differences.
- Always water the plant the night before transplanting, this ensures the roots are fully saturated and sets them up for success beforehand.
- Water the new location before planting.
- After removing the plant from the old container (if not coco), gently loosen the soil from the roots. If the plant was root bound, this may take some work.
- Do not leave the root-bare transplant out in the air for long. Work on one plant at a time. Roots are very sensitive and dry out easily when exposed to air and sunlight.
- If working with a coco coir root ball, water the ball and the hole before planting. Dig the hole slightly deeper than the ball, so you can cover the ball with soil after transplant. This prevents exposing the Coco coir to the air, which increases evaporation.
How to Transplant Mature Plants in Hydroponics
Not to sound like a broken record, but again, moving between mediums is stressful. It sometimes is required though, especially if you are working with cannabis and want to move into a hydroponic system. The steps for transitioning to hydroponics follow more or less those highlighted above, but with a few changes in how you treat the roots before transplant.
- Once the plant is removed from the original container, work away as much soil as possible.
- Wash any leftover soil, until you have a clean root mass to transplant (as clean as you can.
- Add the washed roots of the plant into the net pot or similar vessel for your hydroponic system, and gentle cover with the growing medium. This may include coco coir, Rockwool, vermiculite, clay pellets, or any other common soilless compound.
- Place within the hydroponic system, ensuring that the plant will receive water and a dilute nutrient solution to start. Even with access to water, it will likely go through a period of shock as it works to re-establish its roots and adapt to a new environment.
Should I Transplant While my Plants are Blooming?
Short answer - no. Plants in bloom are pushing 100 percent of their energy into flower and reproduction. Normally transplanting takes place in the seedling or vegetative stages of growth, whereby the plant has much more energy reserves to put into root development and recovery. Once the plant has recovered from the shock of transplant, it is then ready to bloom.
Transplanting using stress-reducing techniques, and specially designed natural growth hormones like Azos and Mykos are great ways to get through the transplant and into bloom.
Can You Safely Transplant Large Plants?
Larger shrubs and trees require a bit more attention than the little seedlings do during transplant. Each species may have unique requirements, and depending on what you are dealing with you may want to seek out the advice of an expert. A few points to keep in mind as you think about the massive undertaking ahead of you:
- Transplant trees after the leaves have fallen in autumn, but before the buds come out in spring.
- Prune the roots (a special technique) at least six months before the actual transplant. Never prune if the tree has leaves or is in bloom.
- Six months post root prune, return the to tree and dig another trench around the tree. You’ll aim to capture all the roots (new and old) within a burlap wrap and bind it for easy transport.
- The new hole should be as deep as the old hole, but likely 50 percent wider than before. Cover with soil, pack down, and thoroughly water.
- Larger trees might need some brute force to move them, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Transplanting seedlings, clones, and even mature plants is a skill all gardeners should learn in the course of their work. With the right mindset, about root preservation and reducing stress, everyone can make their next transplant a success. The three takeaways from this article are:
- Never forget the first water using a weak nutrient solution appropriate to the species
- Strive to keep the roots intact as much as possible
- Rely on beneficial fungi and bacterial additives to make the new environment more friendly for the new transplant.