What to Do for an Uprooted Plant

What to Do for an Uprooted Plant

By Michael Jenkins

In many ways gardening is a metaphor for life: we adapt, we learn, and the goal is always healthy growth. And occasionally accidents happen or the worst occurs and we’re left to deal with the aftermath. Sometimes we can fix it, sometimes we learn and move on. In this blog, we’ll focus on the kind of accident that befalls every gardener on occasion—an accidentally uprooted plant. When a plant is pulled from the soil, we need to act quickly and effectively to correct the situation and give the plant its best chance of recovery. So let’s dig in, learn what to do for an uprooted plant, and perhaps get some insight about recovering from gardening setbacks.

Plant First Aid

Like people and other animals, plants can benefit hugely from a bit of first aid when accident or injury occur.  Plants can be pulled from the soil or otherwise uprooted in any of a number of ways—errant hoses, enthusiastic children, and excitable pets are all prime culprits. If you’re plant is uprooted accidentally, the first step is to stay calm. This is the kind of thing that happens in life, and getting angry at yourself, your child, your pet, or your garden hose won’t help. There are a series of steps we can take to help an uprooted plant, so if one of your garden babies has been pulled from the soil here’s a general checklist of what to do next:

  • Stay calm—this happens and it’s not something to get angry or upset about. We said it before, but we’re saying it twice because it’s important.
  • Protect the rootsfrom further damage including drying out. Wrapping them in a wet cloth or paper towel can help until you can return them to the soil. However, getting them back in the dirt as soon as possible is the goal—more on that later.
  • Keep the plant in the shade if possiblein order to reduce stress on the plant and help it regroup and recover. Plants in direct sun have to deal with the heat, increased metabolic demands, and stress that uses up their reserves of water and nutrition. They need those resources to recover, so a cool shady spot is the best plant hospital.
  • Inspect the rootsfor damage. If the root ball is mostly intact and the taproot (if any; not all plants have them) is largely undamaged, your plant stands a good chance for recovery.
  • It might sound obvious, but replanting the plantshould be done as quickly as possible. Getting them back in the soil where they belong and letting them recover in place is the best bet for saving them.
  • Water, don’t fertilize. Plants need waterwhen they’re recovering from an accidental uprooting, but fertilizer is a no-no. Fertilizers, particularly nitrogen-rich ones, fuel plant growth. While this is great under normal circumstances, a plant recovering from an injury will experience stress if it’s pushed to grow rapidly. Stress can kill the plant, so again—water, not fertilizer!
  • Keep water, and keep an eye on it! Plants are very often tougher than we think, and while transplant shock may have your plant looking droopy for a few days it may just bounce back. Keep it watered and give it some extra TLC and you’ll give it its best shot at growth and recovery.

In general, smaller plants are more likely to recover from an accidental uprooting. Larger plants tend to be less flexible and need a larger root ball to support themselves, making recovery a tricky affair for them. Give plants time to recover—there’s a lot of work for them to do in order to heal, and if your plant is still looking droopy or sickly a few days or even a week later that doesn’t mean it has given up the ghost.

There’s considerable debate about pruning uprooted plants, but our take is this: remove obviously damaged limbs or branches by cutting them cleanly with a sharp, clean tool at the nearest juncture to avoid further damage. Don’t cut the main stem or trunk of the plant, as that can kill it.

If your plant doesn’t recover: don’t beat yourself up, don’t get angry at yourself or anyone/anything else, and focus on the positive.  You did your best, you learned something, and you’re better equipped to help an uprooted plant the next time it occurs.

Gardening is about growth, and sometimes undesirable things happen along the way. By acting appropriately and adapting to the circumstances, we can give our plants—uprooted or not—their best chance at life and do some learning and growing of our own along the way.

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