Transplant shock in plants is almost unavoidable. Let’s face it, plants were not designed to be moved from place to place, and when we humans do this to them, it is bound to cause some problems. But, there are a few things to know about how to avoid transplant shock and cure plant transplant shock after it has occurred. Let’s look at these.
How to Avoid Transplant Shock
Disturb the roots as little as possible – Unless the plant is root bound, you should do as little as possible to the rootball when moving the plant from one location to the next. Do not shake the dirt off, bump the rootball or rough up the roots.
Bring as much of the roots as possible – Along the same lines as the tip above for plant preparation, preventing shock means when digging up the plant, make sure as much of the root as possible is brought up with the plant. The more roots that come with the plant, the less likely transplant shock in plants will set in.
Water thoroughly after transplanting – An important transplant shock preventer is to make sure that your plant receives plenty of water after you move it. This is a good way to avoid transplant shock, and will help the plant settle in to its new location.
Always make sure the rootball stays moist when transplanting – For this transplant shock preventer, when moving the plant, make sure that the rootball stays moist in-between locations. If the rootball dries out at all, the roots in the dry area will get damaged.
How to Cure Plant Transplant Shock
While there is no sure-fire way to cure plant transplant shock, there are things you can do to minimize the transplant shock in plants.
Add some sugar – Believe or not, studies have shown that a weak sugar and water solution made with plain sugar from the grocery store given to a plant after transplanting can help recovery time for transplant shock in plants. It can also be used as a transplant shock preventer if applied at the time of transplanting. It only helps with some plants but, as this will not harm the plant, it is worth a try.
Trim back the plant – Trimming back the plant allows the plant to focus on regrowing its roots. In perennials, trim back about one-third of the plant. In annuals, if the plant is a bush type, trim back one-third of the plant. If it is a plant with a main stem, cut off half of each leaf.
Keep roots moist – Keep the soil well watered, but make sure that the plant has good drainage and is not in standing water.
Wait patiently – Sometimes a plant just needs a few days to recover from transplant shock. Give it some time and care for it as you normally would and it may come back on its own.
Now that you know a little more about how to avoid transplant shock and how to hopefully cure plant transplant shock, you know with a little plant preparation, preventing shock should be an easier task.
4 Steps to Prepare
Transplanting is one of those skills that you absolutely must learn if you want to garden. At some point, you will inevitably need to transplant a seedling or a plant that you purchased at the garden center.
But even though it’s super common, many people do it wrong. With gardening, doing things the wrong way can mean killing your poor plant.
Here are the steps you should take to transplant the right way and keep your garden doing well.
1. Plan Ahead
It’s all in the timing when it comes to transplanting your plants into your garden. If you do so too early in the spring, your plants might be killed by the frost or the cold temperatures.
If you transplant too late, the hot sun could fry them, or they might not be ready to harvest in time before the first frost date.
Planning is key, so here’s how to prep in advance:
- Know your average first and last frost dates for your region. Your last spring frost is used as a guideline as to when you need to start seeds inside and when to transplant them outside.
- Figure out when each of your plants can go outside. Cool-season crops typically can go outside 2-3 weeks before your final frost date they can handle light frosts. Warm-season crops need to wait until any danger of cold weather is gone.
- If you started your plants indoors from seeds, mark that in your calendar so you know when it’s time for them to go outside.
- Always watch your local forecasts before you transplant. This year, for example, we had a frost almost a week after our final frost date, killing many people’s warm-season crops because they simply go by the date without looking at the predicted forecast.
2. Get Your Garden Beds Ready Ahead of Time
Don’t wait until the day beforehand to prepare your garden beds for transplanting your plants. Here are the steps you should take well in advance!
First and most important is to test your soil.
You should get your soil tested every year before you plant. It’s much easier to amend the soil before you’ve planted. You can buy a soil test or see if your local extension office offers the services for residents.
Check for a deficiency in the top three nutrients: Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
Pay special attention to the phosphorous levels.
Phosphorus is a necessary nutrient to promote healthy and strong root development, and it needs to be available in the root zone as your new transplant tries to establish.
To add phosphorus, mix a 15-30-15 starter fertilizer into your soil. Then, you can address any other issues.
- If you live in a region that receives snow, your soil can become compacted over time. To encourage root growth, loosening and aerating it is a good idea. That means you’ll need to use a hoe or a rake to break up the soil.
- Erosion is far from uncommon you might need to add fresh soil to your beds or address erosion years in advance.
- Mix in fresh compost. It’s always a good idea to add more compost to your garden beds. They need additional nutrients each year because the plants absorb a good deal while growing.
- Try tricks to increase the temperature of the soil in your garden beds. It helps to decrease any shock that plants might feel once exposed to the cold ground. Try frost blankets, plastic ground cover, or landscaping fabric.
3. Look for True Leaves
Are you wondering if your seedlings are big enough to go out in your garden? This is a good question that most gardeners ask at one point or another, but there is one big problem.
There is no hard rule to follow about the size of your plants!
Seedlings all grow at different rates and to different sizes, so you can’t judge it based on how tall your plant is. The best way to decide whether or not your plant is big enough to go outside is to look at the number of true leaves.
When you planted your seedlings, the first leaves that emerge are called cotyledons. They look different than the leaves you’ll see later because they are there to provide the stored food to the seedling.
After the cotyledons, the true leaves begin to grow. They emerge and create energy from photosynthesis – the process we all learned about in elementary school.
The general rule to follow is that a seedling is big enough to go outside when it has 3-4 true leaves. That’s when your plant has enough leaves to sustain its growth through the season.
4. Start The Hardening Off Process
Without a doubt, one of the most important parts of preparing to transplant your plants is the hardening off process. This is when you will introduce your plants to life outside. Believe it or not, it’s quite a difference from life inside for little plants.
Hardening off takes time each day, you have to move your plants outside then back inside. Here is an example of the steps I follow to transplant my seedlings.
- Starting 10-14 days before I plan to put my plants into the ground, I place them outside in dappled shade that’s protected from the wind for 2-3 hours. Then, I bring them inside.
- The next day, I do the same thing, but I leave them outside for another hour or two longer and expose them to a bit more sun and wind.
- Each day, you want to lengthen the time that they’re outside while also increasing their exposure to full sunlight and wind conditions.
During this period, you should keep the soil moist. Hardening off and exposure to new elements will cause rapid water loss.
Final Thoughts On How To Avoid Tomato Transplant Shock
Although transplanting may seem like an easy process, it is indeed a painful process when it comes to your seedlings. It is a crucial phase of the plant’s life, and whether or not you will enjoy the productive yield relies on the success of transplanting.
When considering transplanting, remember to give your seedlings a couple of days to adjust before the scheduled day.
Allow them to acclimatize the fluctuating outdoor temperatures, bright sunlight, and strong wind movements.
Gradually introduce them outside about a few hours on the first day, making it a half-day on the following day, then a full day, and finally a full day and night.
As we already know, transplants are sensitive to shifting temperatures. They cannot withstand extreme hot or too cold, particularly frost.
Sometimes, frost occurs late in the season, so it is best to prepare a protective barrier like a row cover. If the temperature forecast drops below 40°F, reschedule the day of the transplanting.
When using a row cover, don’t forget to support a frame to avoid direct contact with the freshly transplanted seedlings. Such an occurrence can damage the plants badly.
Another way to avoid transplant shock is to replant tomato seedlings on a cloudy day. Make sure the air and soil temperatures are cooler when transplanting, so the heat won’t burn your young tender seedlings.
Also, airflow is essential when replanting your tomatoes. When considering replanting in-ground, ensure the right spacing to avoid blight and other fungal diseases.
Watering your newly transplanted tomatoes is essential, but overwatering can cause root rot and fungal diseases. Water seedlings thoroughly after transplanting but allow the soil to dry when hydrating again.
Do the soil finger test to ensure it is dry, and that the plants need water. Try to stick your finger in the soil about two inches deep from the surface, and if you feel it wet, do not water the plants.
Adding mulch and trellises after a few weeks of transplanting is essential to ensure the plants get the ideal temperature and support they need. Mulch prevents weeds from taking nutrients your plant needs aside from helping regulate soil moisture.
Finally, don’t forget to monitor the freshly replanted young plants, particularly their health and growth. It is especially essential in the seedling stage. They are too young to compete with persistent weeds and resist pests like cutworms and flea beetles that love tender plants.
How to Fix Transplant Shock
There’s no tried and true method for curing transplant shock, but there are a couple of ways gardeners can lessen the symptoms. The first step is to once again keep the roots moist so the plant is getting enough water to survive. Pay attention to the soil and apply a little water when the top starts to dry out.
A curious tip that goes around gardening circles is to add a little sugar to the soil. Surprisingly, this actually works. If you have a plant that is going into transplant shock, try mixing sugar and water and gently misting the result into the soil. It provides extra nutrition and can keep the roots healthy and strong.
If nothing seems to be working, just give the plant time. It can take weeks to become adjusted to a new location, so just water regularly and ensure all sunlight and nutrient needs are met in the new space.
Some things just don’t like to be transplanted. Snapdragons, nasturtiums, spinach, beets, carrots, and peas are examples of plants that like to start and finish in the same place, mostly due to having a delicate root system. Things that are quick to germinate are great to start from seed, like radishes, beans, peas, beets, and turnips.
Starting plants from seed allows you more choice in the variety that you grow. You can browse seed catalogs and choose from the infinite options, rather than being confined to growing whatever transplants your local farmer or garden center has to offer. Often, starting from seed can be more cost-effective, especially if you are growing something in significant quantity or plan to grow in succession.
Consider that direct sowing—planting seeds right into your garden soil—can be riskier than using transplants because those seeds have to contend with weather hazards (e.g., drought, flood, high wind) and weed pressure. Be sure you have a plan in place for giving your seeds the best chance possible.
Be prepared to thin your seedlings, which means pulling out a few plants as you go down the row to make sure your crop is spaced evenly. For example, you’ll want to make sure your beet seedlings are a rough 2–4 inches apart so that each plant has room to make an average-sized beet. Crowded plants compete for light, water, and nutrients. Also, lack of airflow will encourage diseases.
Veggies to Direct Seed