Transplant Shock

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

A number of watermelon fields have had issues with poor plant performance and plant losses after transplanting in the last 10 days. Transplant shock is most prevalent when there are cold, windy conditions after transplanting and when night temperatures drop below 50°F. Plant and planting conditions that increase the risk of plant shock include:

Poor hardening off. Plants that come directly out of greenhouses or that have just recently come out of houses are most at risk. A proper hardening off will include reducing fertilizer and water and exposing plants to outside conditions in a protected area. It takes a minimum of 5 days to harden off plants.

Different plant maturities. Younger plants are more susceptible to shock. In watermelons, pollenizers are often younger than seedless due to having more rapid growth. Pollenizers are often most susceptible to plant shock after transplanting.

Small root systems. Plants grown in small cell sizes have fewer roots and if rooting conditions after transplanting are not favorable, they will be at a higher risk of shock than plants with larger root systems.

Root bound plants. An opposite problem can occur where plants have been in trays too long and roots have become root bound. Root bound plants dry out more quickly and often do not send out new roots as quickly because many roots in the root ball have died or are growing in circles in the cell.

Root systems not fully formed. In cells of plant trays, if the plant has not produced sufficient roots, it will not pull out of the tray properly and roots will be damaged when extracting plants and plants will be more susceptible to shock.

Rough handling during transplanting. If transplant crews damage plants when pulling out of trays and when setting plants, there will be increased plant shock. This includes stem crushing or damaging roots when extracting plants.

Setting plants too low or too high. In the transplanting process, burying plants too deep where green stem or leaf tissue is below ground can lead to that tissue being exposed to rotting organisms. Conversely, if root systems exposed (set to high), they can dry out and cause plant loss.

Inadequate plant water. If there is inadequate water at transplanting, plants can dry out and losses can occur.

Too much fertilizer. Too much fertilizer in the transplant water or in beds near the plant can cause salt injury and plant losses.

Poor plant handling. Keeping plants in tight conditions such as plant trucks for long periods of time, in extreme heat conditions, or where they have no light for an extended period will weaken plants and when exposed to the direct sunlight after transplanting, losses can occur. Plants shipped in that have been in transit too long or where truck conditions were stressful (cold or hot) will have more risk of shock. Plants that have dried out before transplanting are also at risk.

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