By far, the number one reason for the death of transplanted nursery stock is a phenomenon called transplant shock. It is extremely rare (I would say impossible but there may be an exception somewhere out there in the world.) for a recently transplanted, otherwise healthy plant to die of insect or disease shortly after being moved. Within the first two seasons, and sometimes more, if plants die, it is usually because of transplant shock.

So, what does that term mean? Well, whenever a plant is moved, no matter how careful we are, it loses roots. The damage can be minimized but it cannot be totally avoided.

For a plant to be healthy and thrive, it must maintain a required balance between the volume of roots and the amount of stems and leaves. When this balance is disturbed, the plant will be under stress i.e. in shock, until it can be restored. That means that the plant has to re-grow new roots, drop some of its top growth or both to achieve equilibrium again.

The key to re-establishing the root system will be water relations. The soil needs to be moist enough to support the growth of tiny hair roots which do most of the work in transporting water and nutrients into the plant. Then, larger root branches must be re-established over time. In order for this process to work, not only must there be water but there must also be adequate oxygen in the soil to encourage root growth. So, the root zone needs to be kept moist but not waterlogged.

At times, even the best of care will not be enough to overcome transplant shock. If the root system was severely damaged during transplanting, if the plant was installed incorrectly or if the plant came from the nursery in poor condition, it may never recover. It is not uncommon to see larger trees hold on for several years and then finally give up the ghost because they never recovered from transplanting.

Note: We have provided some general information and observations on this topic aimed at the home gardener. Before you take any serious action in your landscape, check with your state's land grant university's Cooperative Extension Service for the most current, appropriate, localized recommendations.

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