If you have gone through a move recently, you know how it can affect your sense of well-being. In fact, relocating makes the list of the top stress-causing life events for humans. This is also stressful for plants. Even though we often have to move plants from one location to another—from one pot or landscape to another—the change can be detrimental to their health. Transplant shock can damage a plant or even lead to death.
Three main causes of transplant shock are damage to the roots, insufficient water, and a change in light conditions. Keeping these factors regulated during the move can limit the damage your plant suffers. So just as you prepare for a move to a new apartment or house, you must prepare your plants for transplanting. Here are some factors to consider.
If you started your seedlings indoors, you can gradually introduce them to the cooler outdoor temperatures before transplanting through a hardening off process. Moving your plants to a screened porch, if you have one, is a good first step. If you don't have an area like this, you can skip ahead and start moving them outside in a protected location for a set amount of time every day. Start at an hour the first day, and then gradually increase the amount of time they are outside every day for a week or more until they spend the entire night outside.
In order to reduce the stress your plants endure after being transplanted, prepare the soil in your garden or in your larger pots before moving them. Loosen the dirt and work in some organic matter so there is adequate drainage and plenty of nutrients available from the very beginning.
Check with your local extension for the best times your indoor flowers and vegetables can be transplanted outdoors to avoid freezing temperatures or too much moisture. Ideal transplant times vary from plant to plant, but overcast days usually work well for giving them the most neutral conditions possible.
Try to accomplish the transplanting during the cooler early evening hours of the day as well. This timing gives the plant time to adjust to its new surroundings before the heat and bright sunlight of day.
Avoid exposing your transplants to any extreme weather conditions. If windy or stormy conditions are predicted, put off moving until things are calmer. Set up a shade or wind barrier to help protect your newly transplanted plants.
Be careful to disturb the tender roots of your plant as little as possible. Do not expose them to sunlight, heat, or wind, since they can desiccate quickly. Instead, only remove each plant just prior to replanting.
Water the plant immediately before digging or removing it from its pot. The moisture helps alleviate stress on the plant.
After you've actually replanted, add organic mulch material to help the soil retain moisture and keep weeds at bay. Leave about an inch of space between the mulch and the plant’s stems, so they can gain the maximum amount of air circulation as the plant adjusts to the new environment.
It is amazing how much moisture a plant can lose during transplanting, so at this point in the transplanting process you'll want to add more water to keep the plant moist and supple. Check daily for moisture loss. Depending on the type of plant and the weather, you may need to water it twice a day until it is well established in its new location. The larger the plant, the more water it probably will need.
For more protection from the elements, cover your plants for about two days after transplanting. Lightweight cloth held above the plant with stakes works well.
So long as you make the proper preparations and care for the plant afterward, your transplants should thrive. However, it is still important to keep a close eye on them for a short while, just in case. Struggling transplants can be saved if you catch the problem quickly. Look for signs such as lack of growth, wilting, shriveled or curled leaves, and discoloration to see if your plant is suffering from transplant shock. If you notice any of these, act quickly. Adding more water and/or moving the plant to a more shaded location may do the trick.
For more tips on transplanting, here are a few sites to visit: