Say Goodbye to Transplanting Shock: Tips for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Growing plants from seeds is a rewarding experience. Watching them emerge from the ground and thrive is truly amazing. However, when it’s time to transplant them, many plants don’t adapt as well as we’d hope. This is due to the dreaded “transplanting shock,” which can hinder the growth and health of trees and shrubs in their first year or two after transplanting. But fear not! We’ve got some handy tips to help you choose the best transplants and minimize transplanting shock.

Choose Strong and Healthy Transplants

The first step to success is selecting healthy plants from the nursery. Strong and healthy transplants have the best chance of thriving. Before making a purchase, carefully inspect the plants. Look for any signs of insects or pests, and ensure that the foliage is healthy. Avoid plants with stunted growth or visible physical trauma, such as nicks, cuts, tattered leaves, or broken limbs. These signs indicate that the plants are already under stress, which will only worsen during transplantation.

Another crucial aspect to consider is the roots. Make sure the transplants you choose are truly container-grown. Some nurseries may sell bare-root plants placed in pots with loose soil, which is not ideal. To confirm whether the plants have established roots, perform a simple test. Gently tug the plant out of the pot by grasping it at the base. If it comes out as a solid mass shaped like the pot, it is a container-grown plant with established roots. If the soil breaks apart or the plant pulls out the soil, it is a sign that the plant is not container-grown.

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Timing is Everything

Knowing the right time to transplant your plants is crucial. The timing depends on the species and the type of transplant. Generally, the best time to transplant is during the plant’s dormant stage, which typically occurs in early spring before the buds have swelled and broken, or in late fall after the leaves have fallen. For evergreens, wait until the other plants’ leaves have fallen. These dormant periods offer the safest conditions for transplanting. However, if you can’t avoid transplanting during summer, it is still possible to move truly container-grown plants between thaw and freeze-up.

Proper Planting Techniques

Proper planting is essential for root development and the overall health of the transplant. Take care not to hurt or damage the plant during the planting process. Remember that a transplant’s success heavily relies on how it is planted.

Caring for Your Transplant

After transplanting, it’s important to provide proper care, including watering and fertilization. Newly planted trees and shrubs have delicate root systems and cannot tolerate drought or over-watering. Therefore, it is crucial to create an appropriate watering schedule, keeping the soil evenly moist throughout the growing season. Avoid over-watering by checking the soil moisture near the base of the plant. If it is still moist, there’s no need to water. If it’s dry, it’s time to water.

When it comes to fertilization, it’s important to note that trees and shrubs should not be over-fertilized. Unlike many annuals and perennials, trees and shrubs do not require heavy fertilization, especially during the first year after transplantation. Focus on helping your tree or shrub establish a strong root system. Utilize root-boosting fertilizers, such as bonemeal, bloodmeal, or micorrhizal stimulants, mixed with the planting soil. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers until the plant is fully established, which typically takes one growing season.

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Supporting Tree Growth

If you’re growing a new tree, it’s important to assist it in developing strong roots. This advice applies to new shrubs as well. New trees and shrubs are susceptible to damage from high winds, which can jostle them and harm their roots, especially for top-heavy trees. Staking young trees (or even shrubs) using the two-stake method can help maintain balance and protect them in their first and second years after transplanting. Remember to remove the stakes after two years to ensure the tree develops a strong trunk.

Observing Your New Plant

Even with proper care, transplants will experience stress from the move. It’s important to watch for any additional problems, such as pests or diseases, which can further harm your tree or shrub. Regularly examine the leaves for signs of pests or disease and observe the overall health of the plant. If you notice any issues, consult an expert to identify and address the problem correctly.

If your tree or shrub undergoes transplanting shock in its first year, don’t worry—it’s normal. Give your plant a full growing season to adjust and establish itself. Follow the tips above to assist its growth. Over time, your tree or shrub will recover from the transplanting shock and thrive beautifully in your garden!

Photo credit: Theen Moy

Ames Farm Center