Helping Trees Recover from Transplant Shock

Helping Trees Recover from Transplant Shock

No matter how carefully we plant our trees, they stress out as they adjust to their new home. That’s what we arborists like to call transplant shock, which encapsulates the host of problems plants can experience after they’re planted or transplanted.

Transplant shock symptoms vary quite a bit but often make it look like your newly planted tree is dying. Debbie, a Davey blog reader from Texas, said her newly planted maples “greened up as expected in early March but now suddenly have started dropping leaves and looking dead.”

A stressed tree can surely be renewed, but how can you tell if a tree is just shocked or a lost cause? Here’s how you can identify and fix tree transplant shock.

Tree Transplant Shock Recovery

Transplant shock is tough for trees, but not anything they can’t bounce back from (as long as you catch it early and help them)! All you need to do is know the symptoms, recovery techniques and time it takes to repair trees.

Leaves Dropping After Transplant and Other Signs of Shock

Debbie’s maple trees are dropping leaves as a sign of shock. But transplant shock can look much different for your tree.

Other signs of a tree in shock include:

  • Leaf scorch
  • Brown leaf tips
  • Premature fall color
  • Stunted twig or flower growth
  • Late spring budding
  • Branch dieback

Is my tree in shock or dead?

Dead trees and trees in shock can look deceivingly similar, but there’s an easy way to tell the difference.

Pick a random twig on the tree and scratch it with your finger or a pocket knife. Do the same for a few other twigs throughout the tree. If they’re all bright green and moist underneath, viola! The tree is alive.

How to Save a “Dying” Transplanted Tree

One of the main reasons trees struggle after being planted or transplanted is because they lose a massive amount of their root system during the process. Sometimes up to 95 percent! And to make it even tougher, the roots that are left are often incredibly dry, but you can help out with that.

Here’s how to help solve that:

If hydration doesn’t seem to be working, think back to when you first planted the tree. Was the hole the right size? It’s incredibly important for a planting hole to be 2 to 3 times the tree’s root spread and deep enough for the root flare (where the tree starts to widen) to sit slightly above ground.

While replanting the tree yet again is hitting restart on the stressful process, it’s probably the best thing for your tree if the planting spot wasn’t quite right the first time. Here’s how to fix a tree that wasn’t planted right.

How long does it take a tree to recover from transplant shock?

The last step in a successful transplant process is patience! Some trees take two or more years to get rid of all their stress symptoms. Occasionally, it can even take up to 5 years for trees to fully recover.

In most cases, it takes a year or so for trees to shake off transplant shock.

Want an expert to help save your newly planted tree? Click here for a free consultation!

  • The Tree Doctor September 4, 2018 >Hi Marissa, Trees typically lose a large percentage of their roots during the digging and transplanting process. Following leaf-out, the reduced root system can often struggle to provide the moisture needed by the foliage, especially during periods of high summer temperatures. To conserve moisture, the tree often shuts down some of the foliage to reduce water demands. Because your tree was recently planted, this is a distinct possibility as to why your tree is losing some foliage. If you want to be 100% sure, you could have a certified arborist come out and examine the tree. Your local Davey Tree office can be reached at (707) 527-3041. You can also fill out a consultation request on their local webpage here: Best of luck to you, Marissa.
  • Marissa Alden August 28, 2018 >I have a dying Olive tree that we transplanted a month ago. I believe we transplanted the roots correctly and it’s in shock. The little branches are green after scratching but the leaves are totally brown and dead. Should I prune back the dead parts?
  • The Tree Doctor July 23, 2018 >Hi Amy, Recently transplanted trees often suffer because of the loss of roots during the transplanting process. If the twigs are still green, you may have to give the tree a little more time. If the twigs begin to brown or fade to a lighter shade of green, there may be other issues that stem from how the tree was handled before or after digging and/or planting. If this is the case, you should have a certified arborist come out and take a look. They will be able to accurately diagnose the issue and prescribe a treatment plan accordingly. Unfortunately, Davey Tree does not service your area. Here is a resource that can help you if you decide to look for a certified arborist: Best of luck to you, Amy.
  • Amy Gonzalez July 17, 2018 > Hi I'll try and make this short as possible. My husband builds houses. And the owner has them plant some juniper bushes and I think 2 trees. 5 total. He said all bushes but not really sure. Anyways then they had them dig them up cause they didn't like them. So he brought them home and we replanted them. The total time from when he dug them up and we replanted them was maybe 2 wks or so between with no water or anything. Now Its been 3 wks since we have planted them in our yard. My question to you is did they die from not replanting right away or will they be ok?? I water them 1 to 2x a week. Plus rain in between. Towards the roots it's all brown and orange looking. Sorry this long. Please let me know. Thank you
  • The Tree Doctor July 3, 2018 >Hi John, Newly planted trees sometimes take a bit longer to get started because of the loss of roots during the transplanting process. If the twigs are still green, you may have to give the tree a little more time. If the twigs begin to brown or fade to a lighter shade of green, there may be other issues that stem from how the tree was handled before or after planting. I suggest you document your tree with photos and show them to the nursery where you purchased the tree. Your tree may have a warranty period that they will honor. Hopefully, this helps!
  • John Burke June 29, 2018 >My leaves looked burnt died dead after transplant.. one limbs leaves are greenish.its mid june will my leaves come back?
  • John M. Roberts May 7, 2018 >Thank you for this great article it shares very important detail to help the trees grow stronger and healthy. Great article and a very helpful.
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