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Why Do Seedlings Wilt When Transplanted

After successfully growing this year’s crops from seed to seedling to small plants inside your home or greenhouse, you are ready to move your plants to their new and final home for the season. Once you take your happy and healthy plants and move them outside, you may notice them going yellow, limp, and wilting. They were just fine before you transplanted them, so what happened? Why do seedlings wilt when transplanted?

Seedlings wilt when transplanted because they go into shock when their environment changes drastically. This process is used as a defense mechanism to keep the roots intact. 

Plants will use all their energy to preserve their root systems so that no energy goes into the stem or foliage. Whether you plan to grow your crops in pots or directly in the ground, you have to take steps to ensure a proper and successful transplant. Read on to learn the appropriate steps to keep your seedlings from wilting after transplanting.

When Do I Start Seeds Indoors

Before you can think of transplanting your seedlings, you need to begin growing them. Most gardeners will start their yearly crops indoors, either in their home or greenhouse, much earlier than they could start them outdoors because of the weather.

If you have to start your seeds indoors, be sure seeds have adequate lighting. Place them in a south-facing window to take advantage of the sun or use a grow light once the seedlings reach two weeks old. Pay attention to how long the crop you want takes to grow from seed to a mature, fruit-bearing plant. The time ranges depending on the types of vegetables and the variety.

Peppers have a long growing period, so starting them from seed in January or February is best. Tomatoes do not have as long a growing period, so you can start them from seed about six weeks before your region’s final frost date.

Keep all your seedlings and plants indoors until the threat of frost has gone and the ground has warmed up in temperature. Ideally, you want the ground temperature above 50 degrees Fahrenheit before you transfer your seedlings. 

When Do I Transfer Seedlings 

Seedlings and fresh plants are very susceptible to frost and cold weather. Therefore, it is important to keep your plants indoors until the threat of frost in your area is gone.

Most gardeners wait until about two weeks after the final frost before moving any indoor plants outside or planting new seeds in their gardens. In addition to the cold in the air, you must pay attention to the ground temperature.

Plants will not do well if they are planted in freezing soil. If your seedlings begin outgrowing their current pots while the weather outside is not ideal, temporarily repot your seedlings into a bigger pot. Plants need room to grow.

A good way to check if your plants have outgrown their pots is to check the drainage holes at the bottom. It is time to repot if you see roots beginning to come out of the drain holes. When the weather outside has become ideal for transplanting your seedlings, you can begin hardening your plants. 

What Does Hardening The Plants Mean

Plants are living beings, which is important to remember when working with them. Plants do not do well when their environment suddenly changes. They get stressed. Stress in plants shows up as yellowing and brittle leaves, wilting, and eventually, death.

We call it transplant shock when plants go into distress after being transplanted. Moving a plant to a new environment takes a toll on the plant. It will use its energy to protect its root system. Since all of the plant’s energy is being used to ensure its roots are safe, the plant is not giving any nutrients to its leaves or stem.

To help prevent transplant shock, it is important to “harden” your plants. Hardening your plants is the process in which you allow the plants to slowly adapt to life in a new location before permanently moving them there. In the case of seedlings grown indoors, we begin bringing them outside a few hours a day.

Then, we gradually increase the hours until the plant is ready to live outside full time. When first bringing fresh seedlings out during the day, avoid direct sunlight and the hottest parts of the day. Be sure to check that your seedlings get enough water. Being exposed to the heat and sun will make them extra thirsty. After your plants have been hardened, you can move them into their new spots. 

Should I Fertilize Freshly Transplanted Plants

Whether you are planting them in the ground or keeping them in pots, do not fertilize your plants for the first two weeks after transplanting them. The root system is already adjusting to the new nutrients in the soil, and adding fertilizer can cause your plant to go into shock for another reason.

It is best to hold off on fertilizing your plants until they have adjusted and settled into their new spaces. Be sure to water your fresh transplants thoroughly every few days. This will help your root systems spread out into the new soil. Your plants will most likely begin growing very rapidly thanks to the direct sunlight, so they will need the extra water to help replenish their energy. 

Do I Need To Harden Plants If I Want To Grow Them In Pots

Yes, you need to harden plants before moving them outside, even if you plan on growing them in pots. Hardening plants is less about what they will grow versus where they will be grown. Moving any plant or seedling to a new environment will be taxing on the plant. To give your plant the best chances of survival, take extra care while hardening your plant and pay close attention to it the first few weeks after transplant. 

Final Thoughts 

Growing crops from seed is exciting and fun. It is also cheaper to purchase seeds than seedlings from your local garden store if you are planning a garden. Some gardeners even save seeds from harvests of yesteryear to reuse season after season.

Since grow times are sensitive to the weather, most gardeners start their seeds indoors well before it is time to move them outside. But the weather is not the only thing gardeners have to look at when deciding when to move their plants to their gardens.

Hardening seedlings and plants allows your plants to adjust to the outside world gradually before moving them permanently. This is done by setting your plants outdoors for a few hours each day and gradually increasing the time. Hardening allows plants to adjust so that the transplant is not as shocking to them. This process increases the chances of a successful transfer. Now that you know how to successfully transfer your plants to prevent wilting, get out there and enjoy a bountiful garden!