There comes a time in every houseplant’s life when they have to move. It could be when you’re taking them home from the nursery. Or, maybe when you’re repotting them in the spring to keep their soil fresh. It could happen when you decide you need a refresh in your home and you start rearranging things—plants included! And of course, the move from one home to another is bound to happen for many houseplants.
While it may seem simple to move a potted plant in your mind, moving a plant too quickly can put a plant in shock. Hey! Plants can be sensitive souls, especially when you think about how their nature is to put down roots in the wild and stay there for the long haul. Even though it can shock a plant, sometimes it just has to be done. And moving a plant is certainly not impossible. We’ll walk you through the best methods for moving a houseplant in this article, covering everything from bringing your plant home from the nursery to moving states.
Oh, and for those of you frantically searching for answers to why your plant seems to be dying after a move, we’ll talk about remedies for nursing your plant back to health. We didn’t forget about you!
Moving With Care and a Gentle Touch
We’ll cover a variety of scenarios for moving a plant. But no matter the scenario, there’s always one rule of thumb: be cautious and gentle! Plants don’t like sudden or dramatic change, and they’re likely to show their distaste if you’re doing too much, too fast.
Bringing a New Plant Home
It may seem like you can pick up a plant from the nursery, stick them in your car, and then plop them down at home without thinking twice about it. While this may work if you’re lucky and have a very flexible plant, the plant is likely to go into a bit of a shock at first if you do this without a strategy in mind.
At the nursery, your plant was in absolutely ideal conditions for growing. They were probably in a warm, humid greenhouse, and placed strategically for lighting to keep the plants in shape until you came along to adopt them. So when you take that plant home and stick them in that dark corner of your home that needs some brightening up, you're taking the plant from one extreme to another.
Before bringing a plant home, try to make sure you have a place in mind that comes close to duplicating the lighting they had at the nursery. Even if they're known as a low-light tolerant plant, were they actually in low light at the nursery? Maybe not. At first, you’ll likely want to keep them closer to a well-lit window. And then, if you must, gradually transition them to the spot you were originally eyeing.
It's also worth noting that when you bring a new plant home, it's best practice to place them in a short “quarantine” away from your other plants. Pests can show up on any plant from any nursery, no matter how careful and diligent the shop owners may have been! So, while you’re acclimating your new plant to their new home, keep them isolated from your other plants and regularly check the leaves for any signs of pests.
Depending on your situation, try to take 1-2 weeks to gradually move the plant to their new spot while keeping your plant quarantined (more on this in the In-Home Relocation section). During these few weeks, don't worry about repotting.
In fact, adding the stress of repotting to an already stressed-out plant is a recipe for disaster.
If you can’t stand the look of the plastic nursery pot, consider a cachepot (just a fancy term for a decorative pot that conceals the plastic pot) in the meantime.
A fresh pot of soil is a great idea when the time is right. And while it may be tempting to move your plant to a new spot right after you repot, it’s really not advisable. As we've already noted, repotting is enough of an environmental change for your plant, so take it slow and don't stack up multiple stressors!
If you've determined your plant needs a repot, there are a few things to keep in mind. To reduce the risk of shock, repotting is always best to be done in spring or summer.
This is the plant’s natural growth stage, so they will be more resilient to change.
When you are repotting, it's generally a good idea to prune the roots and de-tangle them since you're usually dealing with a plant that's at least a little bit rootbound. But handling a plant's roots can be traumatic for the plant. To minimize damage, it's best to prepare for repotting by giving your plant a good watering 24 hours in advance. This ensures the roots are less brittle and less susceptible to damage, but you're also not dealing with soggy wet soil. In addition, if you know your plant has exceptionally sensitive roots, make sure to take extra care during the whole process. Try to be as gentle as possible.
One last note on repotting—please, NEVER fertilize after repotting. You’ve already given your plant a fresh dose of nutrients with the new soil (nearly all indoor potting mixes include fertilizers already). Adding more fertilizer will only cause an adverse reaction, even if you’re just trying to help.
P.S. If you need a refresher on the whole repotting thing, read more here!
We get it; everyone likes to redecorate at some point. Even though you may be in the redecorating mood and right in the middle of it, pause before moving your Fiddle Leaf Fig from one side of the house to another.
Many plants do not like change, especially extreme change. You may think they won’t notice, but trust us, they will!
The key to relocating a plant in your home is to do so incrementally. What do we mean by that? Inch by inch, day by day until they're in the new spot? Good question.
While it's certainly not foolproof, moving a plant gradually is the best way if you want to minimize the possibility of shock. Let your plant “try out” their new home for a couple of hours a day, gradually increasing the time spent there until they're 100% moved over. Something your plant will definitely notice (and react to) is if you pick them up from a sunny south-facing window and plop them down abruptly near a north-facing window.
Depending on your plant's needs (even if they're low-light tolerant), you’ll want to ease them into the new conditions. If you’re moving them from south to north, consider gradually reducing the light the plant gets using sheer curtains or move them a bit further away from the window so the plant can begin to adapt before their bigger move.
P.S. Read more about lighting here.
This is the big one! A move is stressful enough; you don’t want to lose all your well-cared-for plant babies in the process! While moving with plants is not impossible, it will require some advance planning, TLC, and patience.
If Possible, Use Lightweight Pots:
Depending on when you find out about your move, you may want to repot some of your bigger plants into those basic plastic pots from the nursery or garden center. Why? Because they're much lighter and less likely to break than a big terracotta or ceramic pot.
You should only attempt to repot your plants into lightweight containers if you do it at least three weeks in advance. This gives your plant time to adjust to this change first before going through the big move.
Of course, the sooner, the better! Exceptions do apply—if your plant is particularly sensitive, let them stay in their pot and be heavy. Also, if you're moving in the dead of winter, it’s generally not a great time to repot and best to avoid the trouble.
Check for Pests:
Moving all your belongings, getting your plants safely from one destination to another, spending time unpacking, and suddenly realizing your plants are infested with pests?! Not a very relaxing time, to say the least!
In the month before your move, check your plants regularly for pests and take action as soon as you identify them. Your plants will have a much harder time in the move if they're also dealing with an infestation. And you definitely don’t want to carry pests with you to your new home.
Oh, and if you haven’t already, pick up some Neem Oil. This magical substance not only addresses many pest and disease woes, but it can also prevent them in the first place.
It’s no secret that smaller, more compact things are easier to move. So before you move, it can help to prune your plant a bit. While this may sound scary or perhaps alarming. Plants are surprisingly resilient when it comes to pruning. As long as you keep your pruning to less than a third of the whole plant.
Pruning off some extra weight can help rejuvenate a plant and encourage fresh new growth. Which is exactly the type of resilience and strength the plant needs during a move.
Particularly if you've been lax with pruning in the past or perhaps your plant is looking a bit leggy, pruning is a great idea. Not only will it be easier to pack and maneuver your plant in the move, but they'll also be primed and ready to grow once you arrive at your new home.
BONUS: If you’re pruning well in advance, you can propagate some of those cuttings and share them with your friends and family. What a great gift! Especially if they are helping you pack or move...
Okay, your move is now fast approaching. A key step in preparing your plants for the move will be to give them all a thorough watering. However, you don’t want to water the day of the move. Dripping wet soil will not be welcome in your moving van or car! Just allow for enough time for the soil to dry out a little but not so much time that the soil is back to bone dry.
You want the soil to have enough moisture so your plants can stay comfortable throughout the move.
Especially if you already know it'll be a long stretch in a hot van or if you suspect the plants will have to sit outside in the sun as you try to jam everything in. It can help to consider your own comfort during the move: are you expecting to be hot and sweaty and in need of plenty of hydration? Well...so are your plants!
Remember bringing your precious plant baby home from the nursery? Have you noticed that the nursery often offers to wrap your plant in a kraft paper sleeve? This is actually how most nurseries transport their plants! It can be particularly helpful when transporting plants that like to splay out or have floppy delicate leaves prone to ripping.
You can simply buy a big roll of kraft paper to wrap your plants. Start with a long stretch of paper and start wrapping, doing your best to keep the paper tight around the base of the pot, but allowing it to go wider and looser around the top of the plant (think of a flower bouquet). A few quick staples or tape will secure the seam. This simple paper sleeve goes a long way to help you protect the plant, and at the same time, contains the mess the soil might create.
After wrapping, you can also place your plants in open-top boxes or trays (depending on the size) and place extra scrunched-up kraft paper around each pot to help keep them secure.
If you happen to be driving your plants and have seats to spare in your car, you can place larger plants in those seats and literally buckle them in! How cute is that!
Plants don’t like getting too hot or too cold. They have a real goldilocks complex, okay? They want it to stay just right. If you’re feeling too hot or too cold, so are they! When moving states (or even just across town on a particularly cold or warm day), temperature swings can cause some big problems for plants.
Plants should always be the last things loaded into the moving van (or your car) and the first things brought into the new home to protect them from the elements as much as possible.
Getting Your Plant Used to the New Home:
Your plant may be a bit like an angry teenager right after the move, bristling and unhappy. Hey, we get it. You’ve just uprooted their whole life and changed their entire surroundings! They have every right.
The best thing you can do for them is to leave them alone for a while.
And we are talking about the plants here, not the teenagers. 😅
In short, do not undertake any big projects like repotting right after you move, even if you want to get them back into their cute planters. Instead, find a place where your plant will be comfortable and check that they have their basic needs covered (water and light). Then, let them get used to their new home.
It is normal to notice some changes at first. The air is different, the lighting is different, the humidity might be different, and more. Your plant has a lot to get used to. Give them some time.
If you are moving states, it’s essential to check the regulations for the state. We aren’t legal experts here, but there are laws about plants crossing state borders. The Department of Agriculture can help you learn about all of these laws and will be able to answer any questions you have about moving plants across states.
This is mainly for a protective reason. You may be carrying pests or invasive species for all they know! So it’s better to check before you get to the border.
Also—a pro-tip here is to research moving companies. Some moving companies will not even move plants! You’ll want to vet out your moving companies or take the plants yourself if that's an option.
If you have to stop for an overnight break, make sure to take your plants inside with you. It may seem like this is a bit overboard, but if it’s particularly hot or cold, your plants won’t do well sitting in the elements overnight!
Watch Out for Shock Symptoms!
You did it. You moved your plants. Even if you followed every tip and trick and did everything right, at least one of your plants is bound to react poorly to the change.
For plants, this is often referred to as transplant shock or environmental shock, and it's exactly what it sounds like. You’ve moved your plant, and now they're in shock. The conditions aren’t the same. They're trying to adjust, but failing.
You’ll be able to tell because they'll start wilting dramatically or dropping tons of leaves, and you may think: this is the end...they're done for. But don’t panic (yet). We can help. Read on.
It’s Too Late—My Plant’s Gone Into Shock! What Do I Do Now?
Okay, you either already moved your plant because you didn’t think of what could happen with the abrupt change (trust us, we have done this too), or you moved a particularly sensitive plant, and they're throwing a fit about it.
Again, don’t panic. We can get through this!
First Things First
Everything you do should be gentle with an emphasis on monitoring rather than action. There are no quick fixes for shock. Don’t start frantically moving your plant around, looking for the “right spot” that will make them magically get better. Your plant really just needs TLC and time. More likely than not, they won't spring back to life right away. It'll take some patience on your end, but with the right care, your plant can recover.
Do you remember where your plant was before you moved them? Can you replicate the same lighting? For example, if you moved homes and your plant used to be in a south-facing window, try to place them in your new south-facing window. Sometimes, you won’t have the exact same conditions, which is fine. Just try to get as close as you can!
Just because your plant looks pretty much dead doesn't mean they don't need good light!
Try your best to give them the type of light they had when they were still happy and thriving.
When a plant is in shock, they are ultra-sensitive to their watering regimen. And you may need to check in on them more regularly to figure out their new needs.
Overwatering a plant in shock can quickly lead to tragedy. The plant is in a weakened state, which means they're also easily susceptible to root rot. If they've lost many or most of their leaves, they will probably need less frequent waterings, but don't deprive them entirely either! Just try to be extra vigilant of their watering needs as it will be a shift from what you were doing before.
A single watering won’t bring them back to health. Don’t give up. Keep being patient and gentle.
Check the Temperature
One thing plants really don’t like, which we’ve established, is a harsh change in temperature. And if they're already dealing with shock, repeated temperature swings will double down on their stress levels.
This can be one of two things in your home: a drafty door or window, or a vent! Many people may not think about a vent as an extreme change in temperature. But if a plant is right next to a floor or wall vent, they're likely getting a direct blast of hot or cold air, which makes them uncomfortable and likely to complain with leaf changes or drops.
Drafts are essentially the same behavior as a vent. Have you ever been next to a window where the wind seemed to penetrate right through it? Yeah, plants don’t like that either.
Stay Away From Fertilizer
Finally, whatever you do, do NOT fertilize your plant. Sure, you may think that adding an extra dose of fertilizer can help a plant out when they're in duress. However, the exact opposite is the case. Fertilizer will only exacerbate the condition the plant is in.
Because fertilizer can be a harsh treatment and difficult to control the exact amount and release, it's easy to burn the roots of a plant that's already struggling.
And you definitely don't want to add burned roots to the list of problems for your plant.
In fact, unless your plant is doing exceptionally well and it’s spring or summer, we don’t recommend fertilizing at all. Even though you’re just trying to help, fertilizing a plant that’s in shock will only make things worse.
Let’s Wrap Up
Moving a plant doesn’t have to be scary. Whether you are taking them home for the first time, moving them within your home, or moving states, there are always methods to get your plant from one place to another. Just remember to focus on monitoring, a gentle touch, and have patience. Especially with something as traumatic as a big move, make sure to treat your plants to all the TLC they deserve!