Transplanting Hydroponic Plants To Soil

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Hydroponic gardening is a hot trend, but what happens if you want to transplant crops into soil?

The answer is the hydroponic plants may thrive or die when you move them to the soil, depending on how you do it.

If you want your plants to flourish, you’ll need to overcome the plant shock from the change in the growing environment.

To understand what you need to know about transplanting hydroponic plants to soil and learn the steps to do so safely, stay right here!

Can You Transplant Hydroponic Plants To Soil?

Yes, you can safely transplant hydroponic plants over to soil.

Doing so requires care both during and after the transition to ensure the plant survives.

Many gardeners prefer a hydroponic system to start seeds so they can get a jump on their spring garden. Avoiding the mess of soil or growing mediums is why other growers prefer to start plants hydroponically.

Another reason to transfer plants to the soil is that some growers have large plants overtaking their hydroponic system. Moving plants outdoors or into a large pot allows them to continue growing.

Other growers may move plants over to soil pots so they can sell them.

It’s best to take care when transitioning water-grown plants to the soil because of the dangers of transplanting shock.

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

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

Dangers Of Moving Plants From Water To Soil

Transplanting shock is the main danger of moving plants from water to soil.

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

With water such an excellent transporter of nutrients, a plant creates thinner and shorter roots as this is all they need to survive.

Plants grown in soil need to have thicker roots that grow long in search of nutrients and are much tougher against adverse climate and moisture conditions.

What Is Transplant Shock?

A sudden change of moisture and nutrients to a plant’s roots 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.

Most gardeners will witness transplanting shock over the years, but rarely do they lose a plant because of it.

For plants coming from a hydroponic system, the “water” roots are so tender that it’s almost inevitable that transferring them to the soil will create some level of shock.

Luckily, there are ways to diminish the shock to hydroponically-grown plants when you move them to the soil, which I explain in the steps below.

How To Transplant Hydroponic Plants To Soil

Step 1 – Reduce Water To Your Hydroponic Plants

The week before you transplant into pots, reduce the amount of water your hydroponic plants receive.

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. Cell walls of plants grown in water are much thinner than plants grown in soil.

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 – Find The Right Size Pot

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 them much easier to move around during the process.

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

Step 3 – Fill The Pot With Growing Medium

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 – Form A Hole In The Potting Mix And Place The Transplant

Using a spoon, open a hole in the center of the pot. Dig down far and wide enough to easily fit the root ball of your transplant.

You will want to move plants quickly from the hydroponic water to the soil, so prepare as many pots as you need before you start.

Once you prepare all your pots, consider adding a sprinkle of mycorrhiza to each hole.

These special fungi form a beneficial symbiotic relationship with plant root systems that enable 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 carbohydrate 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 5 – Trim And Transfer Your Plants Into The Pots

It’s helpful to trim back some of the leaves and stems from the transplants. Doing so lessens the plant’s stress to provide water and food to sustain dense foliage during the soil transition.

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

After trimming, lift the plant from its hydroponic garden and quickly, yet gently, place the root ball into the hole. Sprinkle soil lightly to fill the void over the roots.

Gently pack the soil around the stem to hold the plant upright but try to avoid pushing down onto the roots.

Step 6 – Water And Watch Your Transplants

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.

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’re only watering the plant once a week or so. As the roots toughen up, their need for constant moisture decreases.

Step 7 – Begin Hardening Off The Transplants

Once you place your transplants into the soil, group them in a large tray and move them to an area that receives more light.

Begin with bringing them into a bright, sunny room and place them there for several days. If you see plants drooping, move them away from direct light exposure and ensure the soil is moist.

Next, move the plants outside during the warmest hours of the day, usually between noon and 1-2 PM, and bring them back inside overnight.

Extend the hours outdoors by two hours a day until they transition to both the sunlight and temperature change from indoors.

If overnight temperatures are at or above 50-degrees Fahrenheit, you can now leave them outdoors all the time and prepare to move them into the ground or container planters.

Observe the plants. Don’t panic if you see leaves yellowing or falling off.

Wilting or drooping indicates a lack of moisture, so make sure plants stay hydrated. The wind and sun quickly dry out soil outdoors, so monitor the situation carefully.

It doesn’t take long for a plant to die if the roots fail to find water, especially a delicate hydroponic transplant.

In Summary

Moving plants from your hydroponic growing system to soil-filled containers or outside vegetable plots is a great way to expand your garden.

Keeping your indoor growing spaces free of messy dirt makes starting seeds hydroponically that much more enjoyable and decreases the chances of soil-born diseases ruining your seedlings.

Now that you know the right way to transition your hydroponic plants to soil, you can keep them safe from transplant shock and watch them flourish in their new home!

About Justin Micheal

Justin has always loved gardening and caring for the outdoor spaces in his grandmother's backyard. He believes everyone can enjoy the space available to them, no matter how big or small. On Backyard Digs, he shares everything he's learned about growing a successful garden and maintaining and improving the landscape of a backyard.