Every year, countless trees and shrubs are planted in the mid-Michigan area and elsewhere. No matter what the source materials are, many homeowners and gardeners find that the new tree transplant isn’t doing as well as expected in the new location. This condition, a result of the physical stresses of root loss, is called transplant shock.
When a tree is dug up and re-planted, a big portion of the root ball is often lost. It takes a while for the plant to recover. Transplant shock results in the plant becoming more vulnerable to diseases, insects and adverse environmental conditions such as drought. The period between transplant and recovery, which may last up to three years, is very critical to a tree’s survival and long-term health.
A few key practices are important during this root re-establishment phase, for a transplanted tree to ultimately thrive in the new site:
Prepare the new site carefully
Digging a hole for a tree transplant involves more than just putting a spade to the ground. You must measure the root ball to determine what size the hole needs to be. The hole should be at least 2x wider than the root ball, and as deep as the previous planting site.
Transplant shock is also minimized when the roots are exposed to the elements for a shorter period of time. So as much as possible, dig the new hole first, and move the plant into it as soon as possible. Otherwise, cover the root ball with wet newspaper or burlap and keep the transplant out of direct sunlight.
Support the tree transplant with stakes
In addition to providing nourishment, roots also anchor the tree to the ground. A newly-transplanted tree will not have sufficient support until new roots have grown into the transplant site. Adding stakes, and retaining them for a year or two, will help stabilize the tree until enough roots have grown.
Encourage root growth
During the first year after a tree transplant, the goal of the gardener must be to encourage root growth and re-establishment. Fertilize the planting soil with root boosters such as bonemeal. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers that encourage foliage growth, which only stresses out the roots even more.
Keep the soil evenly moist
With the root system compromised, a transplanted tree will be unable to withstand any extremes in water supply. Protect it from both drought and excess water. Check the soil regularly; the soil one inch below the surface near the base of the tree should be moist.
Protect from disease and insects
Any plant in your property should be watched for evidence of insect infestation or disease. But this is even more important for newly-transplanted trees. A thriving plant may be manifesting transplant shock through its susceptibility to pests and diseases. Keep an eye on your new trees, especially over the first year.
When you start with healthy plants, and follow these tips to avoid tree transplant shock, you will ensure that your new trees and shrubs will thrive in their new environments.