Transplanting cannabis: what exactly does that mean?

In the world of cannabis, growers seldom raise a plant from a seed (or a small clone) all the way to a seven foot tall behemoth in one medium and in one spot.  Rather, growers choose to transplant once or twice, or even more throughout the plant’s life.  

When we use the word transplant, all we mean to say is that plants are being moved from one container to another.  This typically occurs when they have completely “colonized” their current container.

Why do we transplant?

Cannabis plants, or more specifically hemp plants in the case of 4 Corners Cannabis require varying amounts of space and attention as they grow.  When they are young and fragile seedlings, it’s a good idea to have them consolidated in a smaller space.  This way, they all receive the same environmental benefits with minimal deviation in appearance or health.  

When they’re older, their nutritional demands  increase greatly, but the amount of attention each plant needs reduces by quite a bit.  In this stage, plants just need a lot of space for their roots to stretch and collect much needed nutrients and water.

Medium.com spells out the need for transplanting better than just about anyone in their article A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Cannabis Part 2: Transplanting.  The author states, “When you were born, you didn’t wear the same size pants as you do now, right?”  Just as we don’t wear adult clothes as toddlers, cannabis plants like size-appropriate containers.  

When to transplant cannabis plants

As plants grow, they’ll need to be transplanted in order to avoid becoming “rootbound”.  This condition arises when roots try to grow to gather adequate water and nutrients, but can’t due to spatial restriction.  In this case, the plant has fully “colonized” its container and has no more space to grow into.

Transplanting cannabis prematurely also presents issues though.  In Transplanting Cannabis Plants: Why, When & How, we learn that transplanting early removes the advantage of the transplant strategy since the root system isn’t large enough to take advantage of all the new space and media available to it.  You should make sure your plant has colonized its current container before “potting up” (moving your plant to a larger pot or container).

If we can’t get a good eye on the roots though, how will we know when to transplant cannabis plants?  You can approximate the appropriate time with pretty darn good accuracy just by observing plant growth above the soil.

Milestones to take note of

Generally, growers will start their seedlings in soil cubes (even marijuana clones and hemp clones are typically started in cubes).  This a common starting place.  Although different growers have different approaches, they typically end up transplanting around the same time frame.  When seedlings develop three true nodes, many growers will choose to pot up.  Another measuring stick is the number of leaves your plant has.  In Garden Rebels’ article How to Transplant Your Cannabis Plants for Maximum Growth, they state that seedlings are ready to move to a new container when they develop four or five sets of leaves.  You will have to decide for yourself which metric to use when preparing to transplant.

Around the time of their first transplant, our hemp plants have moved on from the seedling stage into the vegetative stage.  They have made the move from tiny soil cubes to pint-sized containers (many growers even use solo cups in this stage).  Plants should be left to grow here until they have at least doubled in size.  From there, they can be moved to any larger container.  

Most growers want this to be the last time they disturb and uproot the plant, so they move it to a container with ample room for growth.  For some, this means upgrading to ten gallon containers.  For 4 Corners Cannabis, it means getting our hemp clones out in the field.

How to transplant cannabis plants

All this shuffling and moving of plants does us no good if plants can’t survive the transition, so the manner in which we move them matters immensely.  Their recovery should be monitored closely.  Plants that decline after being transplanted often suffer a condition called “transplant shock”.  This is usually caused when roots are damaged in the transplanting process. To successfully transplant and to avoid shock, Coco For Cannabis recommends following these steps deliberately:

  • Prepare each plant’s new home for the incoming plant.  

When moving from cubes into pint-sized containers, the receiving container should be half full with your growing medium.  When transplanting from pint containers into larger containers, the receiving container should be mostly full with your growing medium with a depression in the center big enough for the incoming plant.  The medium in the receiving container should be somewhat saturated so that incoming plants have immediate moisture and nutrients available.

  • Prepare the plant for its big move.

Soil shouldn’t be too dry or too wet.  That’s when root damage can occur.  Soil should have just enough moisture to stay bonded together during the transplant process to preserve and protect the root structure.

  • Remove the old container.

This part can be tricky, as it usually involves tipping plants and potentially loose media upside-down momentarily (when transferring from cups, in particular).  If you transfer from a fabric pot, you may need scissors to fully remove the old container.

  • Transfer to a new container

You can now place your transfer plant and media into the well-prepared pot that you tended to in the first step.  Gently push the growing medium in your new pot evenly and inward towards the transplant as you situate it.

  • Double check your plants

Your plants are now in their new home and in the recovery stage.  That being said, you should still monitor them closely for the next few days.  Some plants may take more time to recover from transplant than others do, so be patient and attentive until they seem happy where they are.

Transplanting can be very beneficial if done properly.  Even as a new grower, it may not be that difficult to avoid transplant shock and other transplanting pitfalls.  Just try to apply some of these principles to your transplanting protocol to optimize your plants’ health and maximize their output.  You’ll be surprised at how big a difference the smallest tweak in your approach can make!  If you’re curious about other topics that pertain to growing cannabis, give our articles on lighting, nutrition, and watering a quick read.

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