Preventing transplant shock | Living the Country Life

Preventing transplant shock

Take steps to prevent transplant shock both before and after uprooting that tree or shrub
Photo courtesy of Clemson Cooperative Extension

Radio interview source: John Fech, Extension Educator, University of Nebraska


Listen here to the radio story mp3 or read below

Digging up trees or shrubs and moving them to another location is stressful on the plants.

John Fech is an extension educator at the University of Nebraska. He says trees and shrubs that are moved from one location to another can go into transplant shock. This happens because of a break in the plant's ability to extract enough water and nutrients out of the soil. Leaves lose their density and appear droopy and off-color. Fech says to prevent this, first root prune the plant 4-to-5-months before you transplant it. This encourages the plant to produce more roots.

"Let's say you're planning to transplant a lilac in the spring, you would root prune it this October," says Fech. "Take a sod spade, a straight spade, and this just goes straight into the ground. You would just make a circle all the way around the shrub as far down as the blade will go. This will sever the roots at a time of year when it's not stressful for the plant. This is why I recommend it for September and October. Then you'd water it of course to make sure it doesn't dry out."

Make sure the new roots are included in the root ball. The root ball will be bigger, which helps the plant deal with the shock. Once the plant is in place, Fech says there are some things to remember.

"You don't want to fertilize at the time of transplanting, because that might tend to burn those new roots. Use the native existing soil that you've got, and back fill it with that," says Fech. "Plant it a little bit on the high side, and let it settle in. Keep it moist, but not soggy. A common mistake a lot of people make is to overwater. The key is water to the bottom of the roots, and an inch-or-two-more. And then, keep the roots moist."

Applying an anti-desiccant spray to the leaves about a week before transplanting will help with water retention.

Find more tips for moving trees and shrubs from one place to another



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