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How to properly transplant houseplants outside (Plus 6 costly mistakes to avoid)

Transplanting different houseplants outside

So you’ve successfully reared the baby seedlings that you’ve grown indoors since germination and you’re ready to transplant them into the garden. Or you went the easier route and got some potted plants from the garden center and you’re ready to put those into the ground.

Learn how to transplant your plants and make sure they do well in the new location. 

Transform your garden into a high-performance garden by learning how to properly transplant houseplants outside. 

A high-performance garden is incredibly enjoyable, weed-free, and easy to achieve if you know how to manage it. One of the best ways to get started is with seedlings, which you can then transplant from houseplants to outside. 

How to Transplant Houseplants

Transplanting house plant into outdoor pot

When transplanting you should make the bottom part a little bit bigger than the top part of the plant because the roots have to get enough moisture up to support the top of the plant. Bring the plant into balance by protecting its crown. the crown is where the roots and the top of the plant meet and that’s where the life of the plant really is and its survival after transplant depends on its strength and health of this.

You can protect the crown of the plant by clipping out half of the leaves that are sticking out around it. This will create a strong plant once you transplant it and the goal is to ensure that the root section is larger than the top section of the plant to guarantee successful transplanting.

The next thing to do is dig a hole in your bed and set the roots down and squeeze the soil back in around the crown of the plant. The main thing that you don’t want to do is to hurt the crown.

Any plants that are coming from a greenhouse will need to be hardened off before they’re transplanted into direct soil. Otherwise, they can be sunburnt or windburnt fairly easily, causing them to be stunted or even die. 

Transplanting Plants That Are In a Newspaper Pot

Once you see roots coming out at the bottom of your newspaper pot, then they’re ready to go into the soil. You can also plant them as the adult leaves start to emerge by burying the plant up the stem to right up until the baby leaves. You’ll want to rip away some of the newspaper pot or biodegradable pot so you can open it up while saving the roots. 

Then, dig a hole using a small shovel and drop the plant down before you bury it deep. You can put your organic fertilizer or composite down the bottom of the hole if you want to feed your plant, or you can top dress it instead. 

Transplanting Easy vs Fussy Transplants

Transplanting small plant to outdoor garden

With easy transplants, you’re able to transplant plants straight from a pot or bare root right to the garden and for fussy transplants, you need to take a little bit more care and jump through a few more hoops. Examples of fussy transplants include cucumber, butternut, beets, etc. 

The first thing that you want to do is reach down underneath the roo structure and lift your plants from the bottom instead of pulling from the top as that can break the roots off. This is called bare rooting and from here you can see the roots hanging down from the bottom.

Regardless of whether you’re bringing fussy or unfussy plants from indoors to outdoors, you need to harden them off and give them some shade so that they’re not vulnerable to damage by the elements. Your plants will thank you and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts.

Transplanting Houseplants from the nursery

Transplanting flower from nursery

Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the pot that it’s coming from. Add a bit of organic potting soil as well as some fertilizer. Give the plant enough nutrition and enough water so the plant doesn’t go into shock and that it has the best start in life. Then you want to gently release the pot away from the plant, remove any plastic tags and check the root system. If the root are tightly bound up, take the time to loosen them and try to keep as much as the soil intact because that’s what the plant is used to and you don’t want it all bare-rooted once you stick it into the soil. Pat it down gently and give it a good watering and let the water soak in. 

Mistakes to avoid when transplanting houseplants outside

Transplanting can hurt or help your plant depending on how you do it. Here are some mistakes to avoid when transplanting your houseplants outside.

  1. Planting too early: Find out when your last frost date is which is the average day in your area that your last frost occurs on. Whenever you plant anything, you have to know when that is so that you can transplant each particular plant at the right time. Failure to transplant before your last frost date for most things means that you’re planning them before they’re ready and this could be risky for your garden. 
  2. Not hardening plants off. You can’t just rush out plants and take them from a secure, stable indoor environment and into the harsh outdoor environment with full sunlight, etc. it takes 3 to 7 days to harden off plants depending on the method that you use.
  3. Don’t strangle your plants when getting them out of the container. You don’t want t handle a plant by the stem as this will likely kill the plant. For best results, squeeze the plant out of the container turn it upside down and try to get it out without really touching the plant. 
  4. Planting them out at the wrong time of the day. If it’s an overcast day, it doesn’t matter when you plant them. If it’s a sunny day, you don’t want to add more stress with the sun beating them down all day. You want to transplant around dusk because they have all night to recover from that stress before the sun comes out in the morning. 
  5. Planting too deep or too shallow. You must plant transplant your houseplant the exact same soil level of the container they’re growing in. too low, and it’s going to rot, too high and the roots might dry out or topple over.
  6. Not mulching: any type f mulch will work, such as straw, wood chips, grass clippings, newspaper, cardboard, composite, etc. to hold the moisture in so you don’ have to worry about the soil drying out because you need the plant roots to stay moist after transplanting as it is acclimating to its new environment. 

FYI Cucumbers, melons, okra, and peppers are especially fussy and can have their growth stunted by incorrect planting.

Why transplanting is important

As your roots expand in your soil seeking out nutrients, their network will grow to claim as much space as possible. Once they fill up the entire perimeter of the pot, they’ll end up looking for more and more room, which is when root-bound happens. So if you can transplant before any of that happens your roots will be able to keep growing freely.

When to transplant

  • You know it’s time to transplant when the leaves are sticking out.
  • If your plants are growing super quickly, make sure to transplant before the growth is stunted.
  • If roots are starting t bulge out of the pot plant, they’re ready to transplant.
  • If your plants are getting more and more thirty quicker then you know they’re ready to transplant. 

Transplanting mature houseplants

Transplanting mature houseplants outside

The first thing you need to do when transplanting a mature houseplant, whether it’s an ornamental plant or a perennial herb, is to dig it up with a shovel while ensuring as little damage and stress to the roots as possible. Once you’ve got the root ball out, get a coffee sack or a wheelbarrow to move the plant with as little root stress as possible and keep as much soil as possible on the roots while you move it to the new location.

Start by pruning the plant so that it’s easier for it to root and settle in its new place. This reduces photosynthetic activity so that if you root it well, it’ll put its energy into rooting in the new place thus setting it up fr optimal success.

In simple terms, pruning the plant stops the energy of the plant from focusing on the ends of the tips of the branches, and instead puts its energy into growing new roots and getting well-established, picking up nourishment and moisture through the seasons.

When you get to the spot where you’re going to transplant your houseplant, dig a nice big hole that’s bigger than the plant’s root ball so that you can add a medium around the roots such as compost. You can also add some fish-based bone meal to help the rooting system take as the plant goes through the challenges and stress of finding its way into a new home in the garden. You’ll also want to add some lime to neutralize the Ph in the soil.

Once the plant is in its new home, water it to dissolve the lime and the bone meal and set it up for a good successful season. Keep it well-mulched to suppress any moisture loss and give the roots lots of opportunity to grow. Also, if you keep the plant moist in its first year in the new location, it’ll easily take off and handle the conditions that nature throws at it.

How to avoid or minimize transplant shock

Transplant shock is a gardening term that refers to a phenomenon that happens in the days following a move from one container to another. Growth slows to a crawl and your plants mope around in a depressed state thus diminishing their chances for survival. Here are some tips to avoid transplant shock and give your chances the best start:

  • Ge the timing right: If your houseplant hasn’t completely colonized its existing location, then you’re transplanting too soon and risk damaging the roots in the process. You also know your plants are ready for a transplant when you need to water them every day.
  • Water them well: A big cause of transplant shock is not watering enough or overwatering. Proper moisture is essential to ensuring that your plant succeeds. When your plants are overwatered, oftentimes you’ll see some yellowing of the leaves. The reason this happens is that roots need oxygen to survive and thrive so if they constantly sitting in water they’ll actually go anaerobic which means without oxygen.​​​​​​​

When transplanting our houseplant, not everything is going to go perfectly every time. There are going to be little failures in there but it’s all about learning from those mistakes.