Transplanting in Agriculture: Process, Pros and Cons

Transplanting in Agriculture: Process, Pros and Cons
External Guest Writer
July 14, 2022

What is Transplanting?

Transplanting is the process in which rooted plants are transferred into an open garden bed, or moved to a bigger pot to allow the root system to spread. Transplanting often comes with high risks for the plant, as the exposed plant roots can suffer from shock.

Monitoring garden soil temperature, season and weather patterns, and soil sterilization minimizes the risks of shock, and can promote faster plant growth. Vegetable plants, trees, and leafy greens are often transplanted in the early morning, and the majority of crops do well when transplanted in early spring.

Transplanting is beneficial to young plants, as many plants require transferring to a bigger space as they grow. Transplanting provides seedlings with space for root systems to stretch, allowing the plants to take in more nutrients needed for cultivation. Growers often start germination in seed trays, transplanting only healthy seedlings into the garden bed.

Why Is Transplanting Important?

Transplanting is not always necessary, particularly for household plants with shallow roots. However, there are plants that thrive best in large spaces, or require bigger pots before becoming root-bound. Transplanting allows roots to breathe and spread out in bigger spaces, allowing the plant to grow.

Transplanting seedlings is a common gardening practice popular for small-scale farms, and urban gardeners. Seeds are planted in separate trays instead of direct seeding, and the grower can monitor the success rate of seedlings that germinate. This removes any sickly plants before they are planted into the ground, and increases the resulting yield during the harvest season.

Growers can use this transplanting technique to start their next season's harvest before their current crops have been completely harvested. This allows growers to increase their harvests, and grow plants with short harvesting periods.

plant and soil

The Process of Transplanting

Step 1: Preparing the Plant for Transplanting

Days before transplant day, the plants set to be transplanted should be irrigated to prevent shock. While it may sound like a simple step, it is essential in keeping the plant roots hydrated to prevent transplant shocks. 

For trees, most growers typically do root pruning long before the tree is set to be planted elsewhere. Professional tree movers will usually root prune by cutting off the roots year by year, starting from one side of a fully-matured tree, working their way all around the tree to complete the root pruning by year 4.

Step 2: Choosing an Adequate Location

The next step is to choose a new container or location for the plants that will suffice the plant's nutritional and lighting needs. These may be prepared by forming a planting hole per plant that has the same depth as the recommended root depth. Growers prepare the soil by sanitizing, and the nutrient soil level is topped off with slow-release fertilizer, compost, or other solutions.

For trees, the area where the tree will be planted is often decided years in advance, and should be an area wherein the tree will no longer require transplanting as tree transplant is a tedious and lengthy process.

Step 3: Transplant Day

On transplant day, the new location is irrigated to keep the soil moist. Keep the roots moist as well to avoid shock, and carefully detach the plant from its current container. Dig around the diameter of the container, and very gently shake out the plant from its pot. Be incredibly careful, particularly with sensitive plants to avoid breaking the roots.

For trees, professional tree movers would usually cut around the trunk diameter, being careful not to cut the roots. The tree is lifted using heavy equipment, and the soil root ball is kept intact for moisture and for protection of the roots against external forces. 

Step 4: Inspect and Loosen Root Ball

Inspect the root area and check if the roots have intertwined around each other, which can cause nutrient deficiency problems in the future. Remove any excess soil, being careful not to disturb the roots as much as possible. Check for the condition of the root growth as well, and whether they are thick and fleshy - indications of a healthy plant system. 

Turn the pot upside down for an easier removal, and keep as much of the soil together as possible up until the excess can be shaken off once the plants are free of their containers. This way, it is easier to prevent root breakage, and to inspect the soil for soil pests as well.

Discard plants that have blackened, browned, or tattered roots as these are symptoms of root rot and pests - which will spread into your entire garden when allowed to thrive. Unfortunately, plants with root problems would most likely perish even when transplanted.

Step 5: Place the Plant into its New Location

After preparing the planting hole and ensuring the soil surface is ready to receive a new plant, place the plant into its new location - gently. Take care to keep the roots buried by adding soil, and avoid moving the plants around too much to prevent shock. During the growing season, plants can be placed side by side in garden beds for easier harvesting. 

Step 6: Irrigate the Soil

Irrigate the soil to keep it moist, and to remove the air pockets created during the preparation process. Place the plant in an area away from direct sun, but in a location bright enough for the plants to get enough light to photosynthesize. If the planting site is outdoors, place protective sun covers and wind breakers to protect against the elements as the plants go through an adjustment period.

Step 7: Monitor the Condition of the Plant

Keep the plant away from direct sunlight after transplanting, as plants need time to adjust to their new surroundings. Keep the soil area moist, but not soaked. Watch out for signs of transplant shock, such as drying and dead leaves, pests, fungus, and other factors that may harm your plants when stressed. 

Trees may take months to years to recover from shock, so it is best to avoid disrupting the tree as it adjusts into its new environment. Watch out for common shock symptoms such as wilted leaves, scorched foliage, premature fall color, and more.

The Pros and Cons of Transplanting in Agriculture

Transplanting has a lot of benefits for plants as they eventually outgrow their containers, and need to move into bigger spaces. The process allows plants to grow to their fullest potential, gaining lush and leafy crops for agricultural purposes. 

However, there are cons to transplanting, one of which is transplant shock. Shock happens when plants are not prepared to move into a new location, either due to stress, sickness, or susceptibility to pests. The roots get damaged in the process, and thus cannot absorb water and nutrients. 

Shocked foliage can also have difficulty with propagation, and can completely die off in a matter of hours after transplanting. For this reason, growers typically make necessary preparations weeks to years in advance before transplant day.