Need to Transplant? What To Do

Relocating your plant to a new home can be a little stressful to your plant. It’s suddenly got a new home, with new light, a new container, and room to grow. If you were a plant, what would you do first? Grow more leaves? Grow more roots? Just sit for awhile and ponder the meaning of this new life?

I know, I’m being silly, but in honor of our Fall Starter Plants arriving this week, I wanted to do a quick reference article to give you some Transplanting Tips for our starter plants.

Starter Plants at Shell’s Feed & Garden Supply, Tampa, FL

All around the internet you’ll find gardener’s best transplanting tips, and a LOT of them are very different. That’s ok! The beautiful part about gardening is that we all have different experiences…we live with different soils…we have different plants. My best suggestion? Read as much as you can and figure out the best way for yourself. These are my tips that work for me.

Please note: This article is mostly referring to small vegetable and annual plants. Trees and shrubs have a different planting process, so make sure you know what to do with those!

Transplanting Tip #1 – Amend Your Soil First

Before you put your plant where you want it to be, prepare the area first. Whether your plant’s new home is a bigger container, in a raised bed, a square foot garden, a hay bale, or in the ground for a landscape, soil matters.

Soil that’s rich in organic matter – did you know you can make your own by Composting? Take our Composting 101 class November 2, 2019 to learn more!

If you’re using fluffy potting soil in a container, you’ll need to add a bit more water at first. If you don’t, you’ll find that when you water your container for the first time, the soil will sink down. Now what looked like a full container will only be half to two-thirds full, and when you refill it you’ll bury your starter plant. That’s not good.

For in-ground and raised bed gardens, weed the area, pull back any mulching to expose the soil. Mix a palm-full of fertilizer (I like Shell’s Organic 3-3-3 – specially formulated for Florida Soil) into the top 6-10″ of soil with a trowel to aerate and loosen the soil. You want the bottom of the hole to be loose, un-compacted soil for several inches below where your plant’s root ball will be.

The little bit of fertilizer will help your plant through its initial period of adjustment, sometimes called “transplant shock”. Don’t use a lot, just mix in a small pile on your palm in about a 6″ x 6″ area.

Healthy, crumbly soil. Did you know our local Extension Offices can test your soil to help you determine what it needs? It’s a great place to start.

If the soil is really dry, add a little water to help the soil reach a “crumbly” consistency, not muddy. This will help you with Step 2.

Transplanting Tip #2 – Make a Hole That’s Juuuuust Right

Goldilocks wasn’t a plant, but she had the right idea – she wanted everything “just so.” Plants do too, which is why we fuss over them, right?

I usually guesstimate the size of the root ball by the size of the container the plant is in. Using that approximation, I use 2-3 fingers on each hand to reach into the loosened, crumbly dirt. I then pull back the dirt into a hole that’s approximately the same width and depth as the root ball.

Don’t worry if the hole is not THAT perfect. I mean wow…

If you have a spare container laying around that’s the same size as the one for the plant you’re planting, you can use it to check your depth, but it’s not truly necessary.

The point of making the hole in this way is to keep you from burying the root ball too deep. You also don’t want to leave air pockets. Soil needs to touch roots to do its job.

Transplanting Tip #3 – Check Your Roots

OK, now it’s showtime. Grasp your plant loosely at the base of the stem with one hand, and the container with the other.

Lightly squeeze the soil inside the container, then lift the stem. If your container is flexible enough, you can also push the root ball up from the bottom.

Now look at your plant’s roots. Are there lots of visible roots that are thick and matted? Or is it mostly dirt showing there? Here’s an example of a root-bound plant versus a normal starter.

That’s pretty exaggerated on the right…our starter plants at Shell’s arrive at the perfect time to plant, so root bound issues are rare.

If your plant is severely root bound, you’ll need to squeeze and pull the roots gently apart to get them a little untangled. It’s a starter plant, so you don’t have to go crazy with this step, but they need a little separation so that they can find their new path into the soil’s ecosystem. Sometimes a couple of small slices with a pointed trowel will do the trick.

Transplanting Tip #4 – Place Your Plant In Its New Home

Alright, you’ve arrived ahead of time and put all your plant’s favorite things in its new home. You opened the door. Now it’s time to welcome your plant home!

Place the root ball gently into the hole you made. Your starter plant’s soil from its original growing container should just about line up with the soil of the plant’s new home.

The top of the starter plant’s soil is about level with the soil of its new home. Great job!

Gently but firmly press the root ball and the new home’s soil together to get them acquainted. You want to make sure the big air pockets are eliminated and that your soil won’t sink too far when you perform the next step.

Don’t press so hard that you break the connection between the stem and the roots! I’ve done it. That’s why I wanted to mention it.

Transplanting Tip #5 – Water It In

Whether you’re planting one plant into a new container, or an entire bed or row of them, the last step is to water them in.

Watering helps eliminate the remaining air pockets from the transplanting process and helps the roots shift into a position to grow in a downward direction like you want them to.

You don’t need to water a lot at first. Do the initial watering of the soil, avoiding the stem and leaves if possible, until the soil is wet but no puddles remain. Give them a day to get adjusted to their new environment.

The next day you can add them to your normal watering routine. I will say that most starter plants will need to be watered a bit more until they get established. The soil doesn’t have to be drowning, but it shouldn’t completely dry out either (unless you’re dealing with succulents or cacti – that’s a whole new ball game right there).

I hope my transplanting tips are helpful to you as you plant your garden this season! What are your favorite tips and tricks for transplanting new plants into your garden? Tell me in the comments below.

Let’s get growing!

Sincerely,

Marissa

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