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Manage Tree Transplant Shock

Spending time in your garden is fulfilling. Collecting a harvest from your garden even more so. Transplanting a tree, though? That can be very stressful. Plants are meant to stay in the ground. Once they put down their roots, they have found their home. Sometimes, however, we choose or need to move a tree or add a tree to our landscape. As rewarding and in some cases as necessary as it is to move a tree, it causes stress to a tree and can result in that tree getting sick. This is called tree transplant shock.

What Is Tree Transplant Shock?

So, what is tree transplant shock? It’s simple: it’s your tree showing signs of stress caused by moving from one home to another. Transplant shock can happen not only to trees but to other plants as well. The size of the plant doesn’t matter. A smaller plant or tree can be going into a different pot and a larger plant or tree can be transferred into the ground. The bottom line though: any plant that moves will experience some stress.

What Causes Transplant Shock?

The roots of a plant play a large role in its health. A strong root system means a strong, healthy plant or tree. When a tree is removed and re-potted or planted in the ground, even when done with care, the root system is affected. All trees will experience stress, but not all trees experience transplant shock. Some experience the stress and recover just fine, while others start experiencing more extreme symptoms, such as:

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  • Branch dieback
  • Leaf scorch
  • Stunted twig or flower growth
  • Late spring budding
  • Brown leaf tips
  • Premature fall color

How to Prevent Extreme Symptoms

Though all trees will experience some stress during a transplant, there are ways to help give your tree a better chance of experiencing an easier transition.

  • Healthy start. Make sure you start with a healthy tree. If you start with a tree that is diseased or already experiencing stress, transplanting that tree will only cause more stress and possibly more extreme symptoms of transplant shock.
  • Timing. Transplanting in spring or fall is the safest time. Scorching heat beating down on your tree can make it very difficult to recover, as can extreme cold.
  • Protect the roots. It’s impossible not to bother the roots a little bit, but do your best to minimize jostling as much as possible. Do not shake out the soil, and take care to keep the root ball intact and moist. The tips of the roots are the most necessary for the tree’s health and growth, so the more roots you keep intact and undamaged, the less chance of transplant shock. Place the tree in a hole deep enough for the roots to have room. The roots of your tree should not be curled up or tucked to fit in the hole.
  • Water. It takes about three weeks for roots to restabilize. Ensuring proper watering after a transplant is one of the most important aspects. Overwatering is unnecessary, but keeping your tree hydrated for those first three weeks after transplanting is imperative. Prune any dead parts to help your tree focus on strengthening and moisturizing the roots and expending less energy and hydration to other unnecessary areas.
  • Close watch. Keep an eye on your tree after transplanting. Sometimes newly transplanted trees are attacked by insects or pests. Your tree doesn’t need any added stress, so staying on top of its needs will help reduce any new stressors that may arise.

How to Treat Transplant Shock

No matter how carefully you’ve transplanted your tree, sometimes they still experience tree transplant shock. After taking care to make transplanting as stress-free as possible for your tree they may show signs of transplant shock, which often vary quite a bit, but can sometimes mimic signs of a dying tree. In most cases, it takes a year for trees to completely get rid of their stress symptoms. In some cases, it can take two to five years to fully recover. Staying patient with this process is crucial. If your tree does experience transplant shock symptoms, here is how you can help your tree gain its health back:

  • As stated before, don’t let your tree’s roots dry out. It takes a while for them to restabilize.
  • Reducing top growth can help your tree keep the water where it’s needed. If there has been damage to the roots or loss of too many roots, this will help your tree hydrate the roots, which are more important to hydrate after a transplant. Removing some growth is helpful and can improve the health of your stressed tree. If you’re unsure of how to do this, having a certified arborist reduce the top growth will be safest.
  • Remove any weeds or unwanted plants near your newly planted tree that might be competing for moisture. Since moisture near the roots is so important right now, your tree does not need to fight for the hydration you’re providing to restabilize its roots.
  • Consider adding a root booster to your transplant. Transplanting fertilizers are available to help strengthen the root system of your tree. A big part of a tree struggling with stress is the amount of root loss. In some cases, a tree can lose up to 95 percent of its roots. Taking every precaution to preserve as much of the roots as possible, as well as nourishing those roots and adding to their strength, will help your transplanted tree begin to thrive again.

Transplanting a tree can be stressful. Not only for the tree but for us as well. Sometimes, it’s a smooth transition with very minimal stress, but sometimes it takes a lot of care and effort to get a transplanted tree back to its original vigor. If you need help caring for a tree with transplant shock, need help transplanting your tree, or have any questions about the process, our caring and highly trained arborists are happy to help. Mr. Tree has over 30 years of experience in residential and commercial areas and can easily help with any of your tree needs. Please feel free to call with any questions you have. You can feel confident you’re in great hands.