How to Transplant and Move Garden Plants

Plant cutting transplanted with hands covering plant with soil

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Total Time: 3 days - 2 wks
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Planting and transplanting are two garden tasks that have a big effect on how well your plants grow. Summer is never the best time to move or transplant garden plants. The sun is too intense and the heat can be relentless. However, sometimes you have no choice but to move your plants during the hot months. With a bit of extra care, you can successfully transplant garden plants at any time of the year.

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What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bucket (if needed)
  • Floating row cover or board (if needed)

Materials

  • Transplants

Instructions

  1. Water the Plants

    Water the garden plants to be dug and/or transplanted the day before you plan to lift them. This ensures that the whole plant will be hydrated, roots, leaves, and all when it's time to transplant. Make it a good, deep soaking so the roots can take up as much water as possible. This will also make it easier for you to dig, which of course is a nice bonus!

    If you are planting something you received as a bare-root plant, allow the roots to soak in a bucket of water for a couple of hours.

  2. Choose the Right Time

    Dig and/or transplant when it is overcast or during the cooler evening hours. This will give the plant the entire night to get adjusted in its new spot before being exposed to the heat and bright light of the day. This is especially important when transplanting small seedlings.

  3. Water the Plant One More Time

    Water the plant again immediately before digging or removing it from its pot. You want the soil around the rootball to be well-saturated so that the soil will adhere to the roots when it is dug from the garden. This prevents the roots from being exposed to drying winds.

  4. Transplant One at a Time

    Never leave the roots exposed to sun, heat, or wind. It's tempting to remove all plants from their pots and place them where you want them to go in the garden, but roots will desiccate quickly. Remove each plant just before planting.

  5. Water the Transplant Hole

    Water the hole before you place the transplant into it. You want the soil so saturated it turns to mud. This is sometimes referred to as puddling.

  6. Place the Transplant

    Place the transplant into the hole, fill the hole halfway with soil, and then water again. Allow the water to settle the soil around the roots and then finish filling the hole.

  7. Settle the Soil

    Lightly firm the soil around the transplant. You want to close any air pockets in the soil, but you don't need to press so hard that you compact the soil. Let the water settle things rather than pressing with your hand or foot.

  8. Water One More Time

    Once again, water the whole plant, leaves and all. This probably sounds like too much water, but you would be surprised how much water can evaporate during the planting process. If you are working on a cool, still, overcast day, you can get away with a little less water, but never skip the final watering once the plant is in the ground.

  9. Protect the Plant

    If possible, shield the new transplant from direct sunlight for 3 to 5 days. Use a floating row cover or lean a board in front of the transplant to block the direct sun. Note, however, this is only for transplanting a new seedling or plant into the garden during the hardening-off process. Established plants don't need this protection.

  10. Engage in Long-Term Care

    Check the plant daily for the first couple of weeks. Transplants may need watering every day, if not more. Depending on the weather and the plant, you may need to water twice a day until it becomes established. The larger the plant and/or the lower roots to top growth ratio, the more water will be needed. Check the soil for dryness a few inches below the surface to determine if more water is needed. If the plant is wilting, water it immediately.

Garden watered with watering can before transplanting plants

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Transplanting hole with shovel in middle and filled with water

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Hole for transplanting filed with water

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Transplanted plants in soil and surrounded with water

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

White fabric placed around transplanted plant to protect from direct sunlight

The Spruce / Steven Merkel

Article Sources
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  1. Planting and Transplanting Tree. University of Minnesota Extension