How to Minimize the Transplanting Shock for Trees and Shrubs

Trees and Shrubs
Tree Transplant Fertilizer

Growing plants straight from seeds can be so rewarding. It's great watching your plants popping out of the ground and growing strong and healthy.

However, that's when the problem often arises. The transplants will go strong but once the time comes to transplant them, turns out that many transplants are just not as strong nor healthy as the new seedlings.

Most of these problems arise due to the issue known as "transplanting shock". It is the shock the new plants go through when they are transplanted to a new location and made to grow. Trees and shrubs are known to suffer from transplanting shock, so they often don't grow as strong and healthy in their first year or two after transplanting.

To minimize this problem and to make your transplants strong and healthy, you need to know how to choose the best transplants and how to provide them with the best care.

Check out these handy tips on choosing the best transplants and minimizing the transplanting shock:

Choose Healthy Plants

The first thing to ensure a success is to choose the healthy plants at the nursery. Strong, healthy transplants have more chances of growing without a problem. Always choose the best plants your money can buy.

Before you buy any plants, it's important to inspect them carefully. You should make sure that they don't have no insects or other pests. Check out the foliage: is it healthy? Also, make sure that your chosen plant doesn't have stunted growth.

It's also best to avoid plants that have obvious physical signs of trauma, such as nicks, cuts, tattered leaves or broken limbs. Don't choose any plants that are spindly or weak.

All these problems are a sign that the plants are already under stress. When you transplant them, they will suffer from even more stress, which will lead to even more problems.

One other thing you need to pay attention to at the nursery are the roots. Make sure that the transplants you're buying are truly container grown. It means that they have established roots. Sometimes, nurseries receive bare-root plants and then just place them in pots with some loose soil and sell them like this.

To make sure that the tree or shrub you're buying has truly established roots, do a simple test: grasp the plant at the base and gently tug it out of the pot. In case it's a truly container-grown plant with established roots, it will come out as a solid mass shaped like the pot. On the other hand, if the plant pulls out the soil or if the soil breaks apart, it's a sign that the plant is not truly container-grown.

Choose the Transplanting Time Wisely

You should know when the best time to transplant your plant is, and it depends on the species and the type of transplant. Generally speaking, it's best to transplant your plants when they are still in their dormant stage. It usually occurs in early spring, before the buds have swelled and broken. Another dormant time occurs in late fall, after the leaves have fallen. For evergreens, watch out for the other plants and transplant when the other plants' leaves have fallen.

These are the safest times to transplant your plants, regardless of the transplanting method you may want to choose. Also, for the bare-root plants, this is the only good way to transplant, so it's something you should pay attention to.

Other types of plants (filed-dug, machine-dug, balled and burlapped), this transplanting time will give you the greatest chances of success. It's important to avoid transplanting in the heat of the summer. On the other hand, if you can't avoid it, you can move truly container-grown plants at any time between thaw and freeze-up.

Ensure Proper Planting

There is one thing you need to remember: proper planting is crucial for root development, so you need to pay attention to this. A transplant is dependent on how you plant it into its new home, so you need to be careful and ensure that the plant is not hurt or damaged during the planting process.

Know How to Take Care for Your Transplant

Another important thing to pay attention to is the care you need to give to your plant after transplanting. It includes things such as watering and fertilization.

You need to understand that newly planted trees and shrubs don't have a strong root system so they can't tolerate drought or over-watering. This is something to keep in mind when choosing the watering schedule.

The goal is to keep the soil evenly moist throughout the entire growing season but you should never over-water your new plants. Water only when necessary and avoid watering when the soil is still moist. Stick your finger about an inch into the soil near the base of the plant. If it is detectably moist, you don't have to do anything. If it's not, then it's time to water.

When it comes to fertilization, you need to know that many people make a mistake of over-fertilizing their plants as soon as they transplant them. These people seem to believe that this will make the plant grow fast and undergo a growth spurt.

It's important to understand that fertilization depends on the plant in question. Many annuals and perennials do benefit from heavy fertilization, but not trees and shrubs. This is why trees and shrubs should never be over-fertilized.

Keep in mind that, unless they were truly container-grown, their roots have been compromised, so they shouldn't be made into a fast growth without an established root system to support them. Instead of over-fertilizing, you should spend your first year making your tree or shrub properly established. Use a mix of root-boosting fertilizer, such as bonemeal, bloodmeal or a micorrhyzal stimulant. Use it with the planting soil. Never use high-nitrogen fertilizers until the plant is fully established, which takes about one growing season.

Stake the Trees

If you are growing your new tree, it's important to help them get established. It means growing strong roots. The same goes for your new shrubs. There are many things that can damage new trees and shrubs, such as high winds. These winds can jostle the newly planted trees and shrubs and badly damage their roots. This is a problem for many trees and shrubs, especially for top-heavy trees.

To minimize this problem, it's best to stake young trees (or even shrubs) to make them balanced. The two-stake method (at least 180 degrees apart) seems to work the best. It will help you secure the tree in its first and second year after transplanting.

Make sure to remove the stakes after two years, or else the tree will develop a weak trunk. After two years, the tree is strong enough to survive the winds, and winds actually help it develop a stronger trunk.

Another thing you might do to lessen the demands on the new root system is to prone out some of the top growth. However, experts don't agree whether this is necessary or not. There is some evidence that leaving the top growth actually stimulates the growth of the root system. Also, rich top growth provides balance of its own so you might not want to disturb it.

All in all, people disagree about whether pruning is necessary or not, so each person should decide if this is something they want to do or not. In any case, it's not recommended to prune simply for the balance. The tree or shrub will heal on its own and provide the balance needed.

Observe Your New Plant

It's important to know that any new transplant will be stressed out from the move alone, so you need to make sure that there are no other problems (such as pests or diseases), making the state of your tree even worse.

For this reason, it's important to observe your new plant and examine it carefully for any signs of pests on the leaves and other potential problems. Check out the leaves on top and bottom. Make sure there are no pests on the base of the plant. Observe the plant for any potential signs of disease.

When in doubt, consult an expert. What you observe might be just a sign of a transplanting shock or it might be something different. This is why it's important to identify the problem correctly so you know what to do about it.

In case your tree or shrub goes through a transplanting shock in the first year, don't worry: it's fairly normal. Keep in mind that your new plant needs about a whole growing season to adjust to the new environment and to establish itself. Allow them to grow and get established, and simply observe them to see if there are some other problems you should check out.

In case your new plants don't look super-healthy in the first year or two after transplanting, accept this as normal and give them time to establish themselves. Do what you can to help them out (see the above tips) and in time, they will recover from any transplanting shock and they will look great in your garden!

Photo credit: Theen Moy

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