Transplanting Hydroponic Plants To Soil


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Moving your hydroponic plants from your growing system to soil-filled containers or outside is a great way to expand your garden. But depending on how you do it, they may not thrive like they once did and end up dying from shock.

In this guide, I’ll show you the steps you need to take to successfully transplant your hydroponic plants to soil and what to watch out for to successfully change your growing environment.

Can You Transplant Hydroponic Plants To Soil?

You can safely transplant hydroponic plants over to soil with care during and after the transition to ensure your plants survive.

Here’s why I recommend Transplanting:

  • It’s a great way to keep your indoor growing spaces free of messy dirt.
  • Makes starting seeds indoors more enjoyable and decreases the chances of soil-born diseases that would otherwise ruin your seedlings.
  • Frees up space in your grow room

However, you can’t transition plants directly from an indoor, water-based growing method to dirt, especially to a garden plot, as the roots and plant need time to adjust.

Just as you need to harden off seedlings before transplanting them outside, you must also slowly give your hydroponic plants time to adjust to the new growing conditions.

What Is Transplant Shock?

Transplant shock is a sudden change of moisture and nutrients to a plant’s roots that will cause it to slow or even stop growth until it can adjust. Some plants can’t adjust quickly enough to avoid dying off, while others may drop leaves or turn yellow or brown, or the plant will wilt.

Note: Plants grown in water have a root system that is much more delicate than those grown in soil.

  • Water is an excellent transporter of nutrients, so your plants create thinner and shorter roots, as this is all they need to survive.
  • Plants grown in soil need thicker roots that grow long in search of nutrients and are much tougher against adverse climate and moisture conditions.

How To Transplant Hydroponic Plants To Soil

Step 1 – Reduce Hydroponic Watering

The week before you transplant into pots, slowly reduce the water your hydroponic plants receive over 2 to 3 weeks.

Lowering their water access will force their root system to grow longer, which will help them transition to finding water in the soil.

Another reason to reduce the watering schedule is that the roots will also begin to toughen up. The cell walls of plants grown in water are much thinner than plants grown in soil.

Take Your Time: Allow plants ample time to adjust at each step. Rushing the acclimatization process is a no-go.

When you move water-grown plants quickly into soil, the roots are not ready to search for food in the dirt, and the plant will suffer or even die as it can’t get proper nutrition.

Step 2 – Select Proper Pots

You need to move hydroponic plants into a pot for the transition phase before planting them in your garden. It will take several weeks to harden off the plants to survive outside, and having them in pots will make it much easier to move around.

hydroponic lettuce in pots

A pot four to six inches in diameter is best for transplanting seedlings as it allows enough room for a hydroponic plant’s root system to spread without hitting the sides.

Step 3 – Soil Preparation

Filling a pot with loose potting soil or soil-free peat mix is best for transplanting hydroponic plants.

The ample aeration, soft texture, and lightness of the growing medium give roots the freedom to grow and toughen up without heavy soil pressing against their delicate membranes.

Before adding soil to the pot, mix it in a separate container with some water to moisten it evenly. Do not soak the potting mix, as this could cause root rot.

Fill a pot 3/4 full with the moist potting mix and gently press down to create enough firmness to hold a plant upright.

Step 4 – Make A Hole

Using a spoon, dig a hole in the center of the pot. Dig down far and wide enough to easily fit the root ball of your transplant. Prepare as many pots as you need before you proceed so that you don’t miss a step going back and forth.

Step 5 – Add Mycorrhiza (Optional)

Once you’ve prepared all of your pots, consider adding a sprinkle of mycorrhiza to each hole. These special fungi form a beneficial symbiotic relationship with plant root systems, enabling both to get the nutrients they require to survive.

The fungi stretch delicate tendrils out into the soil around the roots to absorb and break down minerals, which the plant uses in exchange for giving up some of the carbohydrates and sugars it creates through photosynthesis.

Both the fungus and plant grow better under these conditions, so adding this to your pots is recommended for better transplanting success.

Step 6 – Trim Leaves

It’s helpful to trim back some of the leaves and stems from the transplants. By trimming, you’re decreasing the amount of foliage the plant needs to support, making it easier for it to adapt to the new soil environment.

Don’t clip more than 1/3 of the leaves from the plant, as that will cause shock. If your plants are seedlings with few leaves, leave them intact.

Step 7 – Transfer Your Plants Carefully

Start by carefully lifting the plant from its hydroponic system. Remember, the roots are delicate. Support the stem and leaves with one hand while you guide the root ball out with the other.

Once you have the plant out, swiftly but gently place the root ball into the pre-dug hole in your pot. This quick transition will minimize the time the roots are exposed to air.

hydroponic lettuce roots

Handle Roots with Care: Rough handling can damage the delicate root systems.

Next, lightly sprinkle soil over the roots to fill any gaps. This helps the roots contact the new soil without leaving air pockets.

Gently pack the soil around the stem. This isn’t just about keeping the plant upright; it’s also about creating a supportive environment for the roots. Try not to compress the soil too much – a light touch is enough. The goal is to make sure your plant is stable but the roots aren’t constricted by overly compacted soil.

Step 8 – Water And Monitor

Your potting mix should already be moist, but mist the soil of your transplants immediately after placing them in the pot.

Since hydroponic plants get a continual dose of water and nutrients, you’ll want to add some fertilizer to the misting water to help them along.

Gentle Watering: Use a soft-flow watering can to avoid soil and root disturbance.

Use about 1/4 the dose of fertilizer the plant gets typically, and mist the pots daily for the first week. Keeping those roots moist is critical for success.

After the first week, slowly cut back until you only water the plant once a week or so. As the roots toughen up, their need for constant moisture decreases.

Step 9 – Begin Plant Hardening

Once you place your transplants into the soil, move them to a semi-shaded area. This is their recovery zone, so it’s important to minimize stress. Keep them in this semi-shaded spot for several days, gently letting them get used to the new environment.

If you notice the plants drooping, it’s a sign they may need some relief. Move them to a less bright spot and check that the soil is moist. Hydration is key here.

As they start to acclimate, introduce them to direct sunlight gradually. Begin by exposing them to morning or late afternoon sun, which is gentler than the midday blaze.

Avoid the hottest hours initially, usually between noon and 2 PM. Extend their time outdoors by about two hours daily, slowly working up to those warmer periods.

Keep an eye on the overnight temperatures. Once they consistently stay above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, your plants are ready to live in the great outdoors full-time. This is when you can think about moving them into their final ground or container homes.

planted hydroponic lettuce in soil

Remember, it’s normal to see some leaves yellowing or dropping during this transition. It’s all part of the adjustment process. But watch out for wilting or drooping, as these are signs your plants are thirsty. Outdoor conditions can sap moisture from the soil faster than indoors, so regular watering is important.

You’ll need patience and a lot of observation because it doesn’t take long for a plant to become dehydrated, especially a tender hydroponic transplant.

Now that you have the know-how to successfully transition your hydroponic plants to soil, you’re all set to protect them from transplant shock. Get ready to watch them thrive and grow in their new, soil-based home.

transferring hydroponic plants to soil

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