Plant Shock: Causes and Solutions To Fix It

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If you’ve experienced plant shock, you know it’s heartbreaking to see your once-blooming garden lose its beauty. Picture this; you’re making your way to your garden, which you suppose is teeming with all the changes you’ve recently made. New plants getting ready to flourish, you can almost picture what they’ll look like once they’re in full bloom and your oldest plants have a new angle of the sun, thanks to some rearranging. At surface level, this seems harmless. What could some menial changes possibly do? 

These changes may do more harm by sending your plants into shock. Plants don’t like it when you make big decisions without consulting their needs, and their disapproval will show on their anatomy. Withering leaves and stems, diseased roots that leave your plant with a matter of days for survival, and an overall unhappy plant are signs of plant shock. Read to find out what plant shock is, how it manifests itself and how you can tackle it to get your plants happy again.

What Is Plant Shock

Believe it or not, our plants can be pretty picky, especially when we surprise them by changing their environment; this causes them a world of stress and sends them into shock, i.e., plant shock. Plant shock occurs when significant stress is placed on a plant because of sudden changes to its environment. 

Plant Adaptation and Vertical Gardens

Green walls are vertical gardens in which vertical structures feature different plants. We plant them in a growth medium comprising water, stone, and soil and usually have a built-in irrigation system. After installing a green wall, the plants need time to adjust to their new environment, which will require some post-installation maintenance to adapt the plants to their new conditions.

Once you’ve installed your vertical garden, keep an eye out over how it develops. Adapting to different humidity and lighting takes time, so they’re bound to experience “post-planting shock” or plant shock. Symptoms of post-planting shock include:

  • Small dark spots on leaves
  • Individual plants falling
  • Leaves turning yellow, dry

4 Types of Plant Shock

Plant shock is a result of an individual factor or a combination of factors. Some types of plant shock give way to others, resulting in a more severe case of plant shock. 

1.      Plant Shock – Light Changes

Light Changes

Plants get their energy from light. It also acts as a signal that starts up special sensory cells, regulating their physiological development, metabolism, and growth. It goes with mentioning that they are super sensitive to their light conditions and require varied light quality. 

Improper lighting disrupts a plant’s growing habits and transplanted tropical plants and potted plants, in particular, face immense plant shock when their light quality changes, even if it’s the right light. Exposing a plant to light contrary to its needs can cause severe damage. Interestingly, plants in the shade will naturally grow towards a light source.

Symptoms: 

  • Curling, discoloration, drooping leaves
  • Browning, burnt leaves (extreme cases)

How to fix it: 

  • Reposition your plant if the discoloration and limping don’t change by altering its light exposure. 
  • Do some research to find the ideal light conditions and consider using timers, shade, and grow lights to create the respective conditions.

2.      Plant Shock – Rotting Roots

Rotting Roots

Root rot disease interferes with food production and plant growth, which causes a plant to grow weak and vulnerable to other infections and pests. In extreme cases, plants with root rot may die within ten days, which goes to prove that this disease cuts your plant’s life incredibly short if ignored. 

Overwatered or poorly drained soil are the culprits behind root rot because the over-moist conditions deprive the roots of the oxygen they need to live. These oxygen-starved roots die and rot, spreading their decay to healthier roots even if you have corrected the soil.

Sometimes, a dormant fungus in your plant’s soil can be regenerated when it becomes saturated with water. This revitalized fungus can attack the roots and cause them to rot and die. Common fungi and parasites that cause root rot are: 

·         Pythium

Formerly categorized as a fungus, this plant parasite is also a pathogen of animals. Its transmission mode is through the feet of the fungus gnat, a small fly that infests soil and potting mix. Its larvae feed on other fungi and organic material in soil, and they chew on roots.

·         Phytophthora

Also known as “the plant-destroyer,” this class of plant damaging fungal microorganisms appears as water molds under a microscope. Though this species is not visible to the naked eye, it can wreak havoc on the environment, natural ecosystems, and crop production.

·         Rhizoctonia

Rhizoctonia is a soil-borne class of anamorphic fungi and thrives in warm, moist, and sandy soil. Rhizoctonia solani is the fungus responsible for Rhizoctonia root rot. We found this fungus in most soils, and it survives as sclerotia, a protective structure for the fungus. It accounts for 48% of root rot cases and can cause seedling death.  

·         Fusarium

These fungi are a master of disguise. But you can identify them by their filamentous appearance. They’re widely distributed in soil and mostly considered as harmless saprobes that live off decaying organisms. They only become parasitic when they feed off a living organism, which is the case with Fusarium wilt. 

The fungi that cause Fusarium wilt are specific to their host. For example, the fungus that causes carnations to wilt is Fusarium oxysporum, and Fusarium oxysporum lycopersici will attack tomato plants. This fungus can produce different spores, some of which have thick walls and are resistant to drying and adverse conditions, which allow them to survive in the soil for extended periods. 

·         Armillaria

Also known as the “honey fungi, “we can find this genus of fungi in tropical regions and can be fatal because we can only diagnose a majority of cases at a later stage. We primarily find them on trees and woody shrubs. Interestingly, they can act as hosts or parasites, depending on their interactions with other fungi.         

Symptoms:

  • Slow growth rate
  • Brown, weak and soggy roots 
  • Sudden wilting and discoloration of leaves
  • Black spots on leaves
  • Fungal growth

How to fix it:

  • Plant in well-drained soil and avoid over-watering
  • Early detection can save the plant because we can cut the infected roots off from the healthy ones. Be sure to sterilize the pruning tool before using it again. 
  • Fumigants such as chloropicrin or methyl bromide can reduce the level of infection.

3.      Plant Shock – Temperature Shock

Temperature Shock

Plants get stressed by sudden changes in temperature, which hinder their internal processes and can lead to death. Under moderate heat, plants undergo photosynthesis to produce enzymes and proteins. If we expose them to heat for an extended amount of time, these processes stop. And, to preserve their moisture, the plant will start wilting.

Cold weather naturally slows down photosynthesis. However, sudden drops in weather can cause chilling and freezing injuries. Freezing injuries happen at sub-zero temperatures where the water in the plant freezes. A chilling injury occurs between 0 and 10°C and causes slow growth, permanent drooping, and discoloration. 

Tropical plants are most vulnerable to cold weather and quickly lose their vibrancy when they suffer from cold damage. Even though you can take precautions, eliminating cold damage isn’t a given. However, they have a greater chance of being revived.       

Symptoms for hot temperatures shock:
  • Rolled, burnt leaves
  • Leaves with bleached spots, dry edges
  • Early flowering, fruit dropping 
Symptoms for cold temperatures shock:
  • Droopy leaves
  • Blackened or softened leaves
  • Spots on leaves similar to burn marks
  • Extremely loose root balls
How to fix heat stress:
  • Provide shade
  • Water your plant during the colder parts of the day and mist it to reduce the chance of plant scorch. 
How to fix cold stress:
  • If you suspect cold damage, wait for 1 to 2 weeks to allow the full extent of the damage to be visible.
  • While it may tempt you to prune away dead foliage, it’s better to leave them on to act as a layer of protection over the rest of the plant as the cold weather progresses.
  • After the cold weather has passed, you can and should prune any dead or badly damaged branches and leaves. Check the plant’s tissues beneath its outer layer to see if it is still alive. Mushy, slimy, or odorous tissue means part of the plant has severe damage, and you should prune it. 
  • Water your plants as you normally would and keep them away from windows and heat sources for indoor gardens.
  • For outdoor gardens: use a frost cover, plastic sheets, or bubble wrap for insulation. Placing Christmas lights around your plants can give them enough warmth to keep the frost away. 

4.      Plant Shock – Transplant Shock

Transplant Shock

Last but not least, we have the most infamous form of plant shock; transplant shock. It occurs when you move a plant from a container to a new pot, replant in the ground, or install it on a vertical structure. Faulty planting, improper watering, and acclimatization practices result in plant shock. 

If a plant’s root system cannot adjust properly, it will struggle to meet its needs. Transplant shock is severe in older plants as younger plants don’t have an extensive root system. However, they can suffer stress and stunted growth because of their roots not absorbing enough water. Transplant shock can cause susceptibility to diseases, insects, and temperature shock.

How to Transplant

There is a lot of stress involved in transplanting for both the gardener and the plant because it’s hard to predict how the moving will go. Sometimes, merely getting the plant out of the ground could be the most arduous task, but one thing is certain: taking care of the roots is the priority.

Transplanting can be an alternative to sowing seeds, especially if you brought home seedlings from a nursery. One significant benefit of growing seedlings is having more control over weeds; transplanting focuses more on labor and less on the seed. There are two ways to transplant; manually and mechanically. Unfortunately, because of transplanting shock, the plant will take longer to mature.

Now onto seedlings; gardeners grow them for different lengths of time in a nursery:

  • Mechanically transplanted seedlings after 15 days after seeding
  • They transplant manually transplanted seedlings 40 to 80 days after seeding
  • The improved variety of seedlings within 20 days after seeding

Manual transplanting is the most common technique used worldwide, from the rice crop seedlings in Asia to gardens in the average suburb. It is labor-intensive and can take hours depending on the plant you transplant and how many you are moving. 

Loamy soil and soil with a clay-like texture are good conditions to work with. However, they might not have enough structure to support the seedling. With sandier soil, it’s essential to work quickly before the soil becomes too hard to adjust to the plant. You can either transplant randomly or in a straight row on your plant bed or growth medium. 

Whether you choose to transplant randomly or in a straight row, spacing between your plants is vital because it contributes to the spread of disease and how their roots and leaves grow.

Symptoms of transplant shock:

  • Leaf scorch, bronzing of leaves
  • Wilting, droopy leaves
  • Curled leaves

What to do before and during transplanting:

  • Acclimate your plants by gradually exposing them to their new environment’s sun and wind conditions while cutting back on their water supply. 
  • Handle the plant carefully as you remove it from its original environment and watch for damaged roots. You’ll want to trim damaged roots to prevent overworking them.
  • Replant in a larger holder filled with enough soil, fertilizer, or fill to keep enough moisture and allow for sufficient drainage.   

How to fix it:

  • Keep to a watering schedule because stressed plants need lots of water
  • Alternate between pruning and mulching to balance its temperature and nutrition

Other Ways to Fix Plant Shock

1.      Keep the roots moist

Even though the plant needs lots of water to recover from some cases of shock, its soil should never be waterlogged. Watering and good drainage go hand in hand to keep the plant healthy and prevent infections.

2.      Sweeten things up!

A spoonful of sugar makes everything better? Yes! A simple sugar and water solution could be the answer to plant shock. A classic ratio of one tablespoon of sugar to 3 liters of water sprayed over a plant after transplant can boost its recovery time. You can also use it while you are transplanting to prevent shock. 

Sugar comprises molecules containing carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. The solution provides carbohydrates as a source of food for the soil organisms that enrich its minerals. Keep in mind the number of other solutes in your plant’s soil, specifically the fertilizer. 

Use this information to gauge how much sugar water you can give to your plant because an oversupply can cause fertilizer burn, characterized by discoloration and withering. Using sugar water will only work with some plants, but it won’t harm the plant if you decide to try it.  

3.      Have patience

Plant shock is one thing you, as a plant parent, will have to go through as you cultivate your garden. So be patient with your plant as it adjusts to its new environment because that is when it needs you the most. 

Prevention and Tips

1.      Start with healthy plants

When you purchase or gain new plants, ensure they’re healthy, which means they’re free from diseases, fungi, and pests. Starting with a healthy plant increases its chances of surviving plant shock. Avoid plants with tangled roots. They usually experience stunted growth and roots with any damage.  

2.      Transplant at the right time

Late autumn and early spring are ideal times to transplant because the weather is cooler and humid. The autumn rains will give the new roots time to grow before summer’s heat is in full swing. The roots may get a feel of the chilly weather. Although spring plants will have greater exposure to the summer heat, early irrigation will help prevent shock.  

3.      Fertilize with a root booster

Once you’ve transplanted and watered your plant, encourage the development of your plant’s roots with a root booster. It is a natural root growth supplement containing humic acids, enzymes, and vitamins that naturally stimulate root mass and establish healthy root systems.

4.      Keep the root ball moist when transplanting

The root ball is the most important part of the plant, so you must keep it moist even during transplanting. A dry root is a dead root, and a dead root is a dead plant. 

5.      Move as much of the root as possible

This step goes hand in hand with how you dig up the roots. Make sure most, if not all, of the root is dug up with the plant because the more roots the plant has, the lesser it suffers from transplant shock. 

6.      Try not to disturb the roots

As you dig and move a plant, you are disturbing the root system. When moving the plant, you can keep the roots intact by being gentle and not shaking off the soil (stuck to the roots).

All things considered, it’s fascinating how plants can communicate how they feel, from their loam-covered roots to the surface of their leaves. You might think they’re outspoken, but it’s for the betterment of your garden.

Summary for Plant Shock

Plant shock can take anywhere from a few days to at least a month to be alarmingly visible, and its effects lie on a similar scale. Some types of plant shock, such as root rot, can be life-threatening if a diagnosis is overdue. 

Others, like cold temperature shock, are relatively inevitable for tropical plants and vertical gardens at large that thrive in hot and humid climates. Alas, most types of plant shock, like transplanting shock, result from biological processes to show how well a plant is adjusting to its new environment. 

FAQ

In warm weather, annual flowers like marigolds or impatiens, and green vegetables like lettuce, are easier to transplant

Plants aren’t big fans of being moved around, but they have the means to adapt to change. It just takes time. A plant’s epidermis plays an important role in its ability to adapt to an environment; it is the outermost layer acting as the protective barrier against water loss and infection. If a plant is in low light, the epidermis is thin. In direct sunlight, it is thick; hence it can adapt to change. 

It’s okay, as long as the plant receives the right amount of light, temperature, and water. Potted plants aren’t the most forgiving to move as they could incur damage, and you need to be precise about the place you are moving it to, ensuring it has the same conditions. 

Throw it out. This is the best and most effective way of dealing with contaminated soil. Alternatively, you can treat your soil with a Hydrogen Peroxide solution. Pour the solution around the base and roots of your plant. It will kill off the fungi and aerate your soil, preventing future infections.

Plant shock is hard to predict; it can last anywhere between two weeks to five years. This depends on the size of the plant, as plant shock lasts longer in woody shrubs than in a perennial plant.

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