Repotting with Perfection | Shock Free Repotting

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Transplant Shock example, most of the leaves are drooping

Repotting is as simple as taking the plant out from the old pot, grabbing a new pot and filling it with some soil, putting the old plant in the new bigger pot and then filling the soil up. It's simple, until the plant gets a transplant shock.


Root shock or transplant shock is a fear for all gardeners. The plant or a tree can suffer shock during planting when they are moved from one container to another, or to the ground. Some plants don’t show much stress/shock at all and you won’t know they are having problems while others will start losing all their leaves, wilting and stop growing altogether.


Transplant shock happens when the plant roots are disturbed or the change in temperature, humidity and light occurs suddenly. The plant perceives the shock as it will not receive nutrients for an indefinite amount of time, so it stops providing nutrients to the plant and focuses on saving the roots.


How to Prevent Transplant Shock when Repotting

There are exactly 12 ways you can repot professionally to be sure you prevent transplant shock, and here they are:


  1. Hardening


If you are moving a plant from a greenhouse to outdoors, you should gradually introduce it to this change in weather and location (acclimatizing). This will make sure the plant does not experience shock.


  1. Transplant in cool weather


Transplant towards the end of the day when the temperatures are low. Avoid transplanting early in the morning to prevent the plant from facing the harsh afternoon sun. Heat can be intense and it can make the plant even more prone to shock. Keep the plant away from direct sun for at least 10 days after repotting or when you start seeing some new growth, it is an indication that the plant has established successfully.


If you live in a cool climate that experiences frost, the season to do repotting is late winter so there is no frost risk.


If you live in a hot tropical climate that experiences temperatures above 100 degrees during summer, the season to do repotting is winter so the plant is not repotted in an extremely high temperature. Also, keep the plant away from direct sunlight for about 10 days before introducing direct sun. 


  1. Add some epsom salt in the soil


Epsom salt increases chlorophyll production and helps the roots absorb more nutrients, thereby preventing root shock.


  1. Remove the Clay soil of nursery


Nurseries tend to contain the roots of the plant by using a clay soil, even for plants that ideally prefer well draining sandy soil. 


If that’s the case, make sure to soak the root ball in a tub of water for about an hour to easily remove all the clay based soil first. If you keep the clay based root ball in a sandy soil, the water will drain off from the sandy portion but will keep the root ball soaking wet, which will lead to root rot.


  1. Pick a Light Colored pot


A light colored pot will reflect the harsh sunlight and keep the root ball from heating up. A black or green colored pot can reach a temperature of more than 115 degrees F during peak summer days that will cook up the roots. Paint all your black pots to white, and you can reduce about 5.6°C. Do not use deep colored pots unless they are under a shade.


  1. If you prune the roots, prune the plant too


The roots have grown and that is why you see all that growth on the plant. If you are pruning away the roots, make sure to also prune the plant to balance the stress.

Also, prune all the dead leaves and branches when you are repotting.


  1. Don’t transplant when plant is fruiting


Plant that is bearing fruit should not be repotted as it causes an added stress and can compromise the quality and/or the yield. It is recommended to get rid of any fruits and flowers before transplanting so that the plant can focus its energy on root development and leaf development in the new pot.


  1. Detangle encircling roots

Root bound plant, showing encircling roots and girdling

If you are transplanting and you find the plant was root bound (roots circling within the pot), the roots will keep encircling in the new container as well if you do not untangle the roots. Shake off the soil and pull out the roots, and you may need to cut some roots so that they start growing downward. This will make sure that the roots are not girdling and eventually choking the roots and killing the plant.


  1. Do not bury the plant too deep

Roots must be set at the same depth as they were in the previous pot. Make sure to note the level at which the soil was filled and do not fill the soil above the level at which the plant was potted earlier, as it can lead to stem rot. On the contrary, protect the roots from being exposed on top of the soil and fill the soil a little bit above the root zone to protect the roots from elements, especially sunburn.


While keeping the roots at the same depth, make sure to have at least 2 inches of pot free from any soil so you can water efficiently without overflowing the container.


  1. Water thoroughly and keep the soil moist


Water thoroughly after repotting. Make sure after transplantation, the soil remains moist for a couple of days, especially if you are transplanting during the summer.


  1. Do not plant a young plant directly in a big pot.


Reason is that it will waste your soil, and you will need to add more water to the container than the plant actually requires. If you have too large of a pot, it would have too much wetness that will not dry out enough which may lead to root rot and death of the plant.


At any time, pick a pot that is about 25% bigger than the root ball of the plant and keep up-potting every 6 months as your plant grows in size.


  1. Don’t repot right away after buying


Some plants can get a shock with movement and as soon as you bring a plant from a nursery to your balcony, they may start shedding some leaves. So wait at least 10 days, and if you live in a hot tropical climate, keep the plant in shade for 10 days so it can acclimatize to avoid any shock.


How to Fix Transplant Shock

If you notice a repotted plant is under stress and has started drooping or dropping leaves, follow the following tips:


  1. Cut some leaves of the plant in half to reduce the stress and prevent the stress from continuing for days.
  2. First 3 weeks, keep watering frequently and keep the soil moist (but not soggy else it will rot the roots).
  3. Keep the plant away from direct sun.
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