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Should You Pack Down Soil When Transplanting? Here’s how much

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When transplanting, the rule of thumb is that you should firm the growing medium around the base of the stem only as much as needed to support the plant. 

Packing down soil when transplanting is done to ensure the plant has proper support and stays upright afterward. When transplanting, the soil should be packed down gently to the touch. This ensures that soil around the roots are not compressed to the point that its aeration and drainage is not affected.

During transplanting, the plant can easily tilt to one side or the other when you carry it, water it or expose it to the wind. Therefore, firm support is necessary to ensure plant safety.

But, how much should soil be packed to safely transplant the plant without hurting or shocking it? 

How Much Should The Soil Be Packed When Transplanting?

Packing down soil when transplanting seedlings

As the soil present in the pots does not have access to earthworms and other natural decomposers, it lacks the natural process of having pores in the soil for aeration. 

So, while transplanting the plants from one pot to another pot, make sure the soil has some way for aeration. 

Oxygen is needed by roots that are transported to them through the spaces present in the soil. You should pack the soil only as much as to allow drainage and aeration. 

As part of having good drainage and aeration, the plant should have the roots in a condition where they can support the whole plant.

Pressing the soil too much will close the spaces present in the soil for aeration and drainage, which can ultimately harm your plants. 

Therefore, your soil should be packed enough to allow easy drainage and aeration while still providing firm support.

I use Miracle Grow Potting soil when repotting my plants. It’s cost-effective and specially formulated to give the best results after repotting. You can find it by clicking here.

Miracle Grow Potting Mix

Why Should Soil Be Packed When Transplanting?

Transplanting a plant is a very sensitive procedure because it can harm the plant and send it into what we call transplant shock.

Transplant shock is a term that refers to the stresses which occur in recently transplanted plants. It involves failure of the plant to adapt and root well in its new environment. This can lead to the death of the plant if not properly addressed.

Generally, while transplanting the plants into new pots it is advised to carefully pack the soil present around the roots of plants. 

Note: The transition period of removing a plant or seedling or plant from its old pot and placing it into a new one can affect the plant as the roots are being exposed to an unfamiliar environment.

See our article on how long can a plant survive out of its pot.

It is done to make sure plants get enough support to stand after transplanting. Small plants and seedlings need little firming down of the medium around them, but larger plants often do.

When transplanting seedlings, soil should be packed down slightly compared to a more mature plant since the seedling is at a delicate stage of development and can suffer from shock and never grow as intended.

However, never pack the soil tightly because it will make the roots die from lack of air. The soil around the roots should be packed to keep them in place.

What are The Symptoms of Soil Being Too Packed?

If the soil is packed tightly while transplanting the plants, it can affect your plant’s health. Your plants will suffer plenty of situations that can work as a hurdle in the way of plants’ survival.

Before growing the plants, whether in your garden or the pots, make sure the soil you are going to use does not compact. There should be enough space for the air and water to pass to the roots.

The soil should have the correct ratio of soil amendments to soil to ensure there is proper water retention along with soil aeration for the roots to grow healthy.
See our detailed article on soil amendments and how to use them.

The following are the major symptoms of soil being too packed:

Bad Drainage:

The elements that play the most important role in a plant’s life are water, nutrients, air, and sunlight. 

Water is an extremely important element for the growth of plants. If you have packed the soil around the roots tightly, the plant will suffer from bad drainage. Bad drainage means:

  • The water will not reach roots and roots will not be able to grow properly. 
  • The roots cannot get nutrients from the soil for plants. 

You will notice water remaining on the surface of the pots. Your plant will take more time than usual to drain the water. 

Over time, you might notice some leaves turning yellow due to a lack of nitrogen from the soil. Your potting soil particles will be packed together into clods or lumps.

Bad drainage can also cause some branches or stems to die back and decolonize the soil.

Lack of Aeration For Roots:

Photosynthesis and respiration are the most crucial processes that are being carried out in plants. 

Both processes depend on the oxygen supply to plants. So, if the plant does not get enough oxygen, photosynthesis, and respiration cannot take place. 

If your soil is packed down too tight, you will notice poor nutrients and water intake by the plants. Lack of aeration can dramatically affect plant roots’ growth. The roots of your plants will not grow normally and will show shunt growth.  

Lack of aeration also affects shoot fresh weight and leaf elongation (size).  Your plant may grow smaller leaves and shoots.

Bad aeration (oxygen deficiency) will also cause plant roots to turn brown and mushy rather than strong and white. Similar to bad drainage, lack of aeration can cause leaves to droop to be pale green or yellow. 

NOTE: Just like other living things, respiration takes place in all the living cells of plants, including in the roots. Respiration can only be carried out in the presence of oxygen to convert stored sugar into energy that can be used by the cells of the plant. Without larger pore spaces to store oxygen around the roots, the cells in the plants will starve for energy and die.

Here is a cost effective soil amendment I found at a great price on amazon which helps my plants thrive after transplanting. You can find it by clicking here.

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How To Pack Soil When Transplanting To Ensure The Plant is Not Harmed?

As mentioned earlier in the article, never pack the soil tightly. You should not press the soil too hard as the roots might die and it should not be too loose as then the plant will not be stable. 

Good drainage and aeration are compulsory for plant survival. Therefore, do not pack down the soil too tight to block aeration and drainage.

The ideal rule is to simply press the soil a bit and then add water. Water makes the air pores in the soil settle a bit and then you can add more soil and press a bit softly again. That will work for most of the plants.

Leggy plants like tomatoes or plants of the nightshade family can be transplanted with the stems being buried up to two thirds into the soil along with packing down the soil to ensure that the plant is stable after transplanting.

See our detailed article in how deep to bury stems when transplanting.

Should You Water Right After Transplanting?

Whenever we move the plant from its old environment into a new environment it goes into a shock that is called transplant shock. 

One of the most important ways to avoid transplant shock is to give plenty of water to the plant after transplanting. It will help the plant to settle down into its new environment. 

You can water your plant after transplanting daily depending on the weather of your location. If the weather is hot, you can water your plants twice a day to help them to develop their roots deeply.  

The amount of water needed by the plant after transplanting is also based on the size of the plant. If the plant is bigger, it will need more water to thrive in its new environment.

I use a very durable and cost-effective watering can that makes watering plants fun and easy without the mess. You can find it by clicking here.

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How Do You Stop Potting Mix From Compacting?

Compaction could be a real problem in any growing media. In a growing media, the larger pores are the pores that retain the air and water that the plant roots used to grow healthy.

The problem is when the media is compacted, those larger pores collapse and as a result, the plants can’t acquire oxygen and water.

To prevent potting soil from compacting during transplanting, make sure you don’t water plants with a hose at high pressure. 

Compaction can also occur with watering if your water pressure coming out of your hoses is too high. Watering with high pressure can cause more of the media to be pressed down and compressed even by the simple force of the water. 

The Takeaway:

To conclude, you should pack down the soil when transplanting to make sure your plants get enough support to stand the period of transplanting. However, if your plant is small, transplanting can be done even without packing down the soil. 

Don’t pack down the soil tightly as it can cause your plant to have bad drainage and lack of aeration. Both drainage and aeration play a pivotal role in the growth of plants. 

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