Hydroponic growing is one of the neatest and space-saving ways to grow, but sometimes you’ll want to move your plant outdoors.
Or you may have decided to grow a seedling indoors until it was big enough to survive outside.
Whatever the reason, at some point, you’ll wonder: Can I transplant hydroponics to soil?
I wasn’t sure at first, so I researched and experimented. Here’s what I found.
It’s simple to transfer hydroponic plants to normal soil. Prepare the plant by reducing the amount of water it gets in its hydroponic home, transferring it soil, gradually water less frequently, and introducing more sunshine over time. Trim back 1/3 of the plant to make water absorption more effective in its new home.
It’s a simple process, but you need to know what you’re doing to avoid plant transplant shock and potentially losing the plant.
We’ve got you covered in the rest of this article, so let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Can You Transplant Hydroponic Plants To Soil?
Transplanting hydroponic plants and converting them into typical soil plants is possible, but it’s not doable if you just plop it in the dirt and give it some water.
Roots have different receptors for absorbing nutrients in different ways.
Hydroponic plants are soaked in water, not soil, so they develop to be thinner and shorter.
The roots don’t need to hold the plant stable and spread horizontally to reach nutrients from far-off soil.
They reach down and are more open to pulling nutrients from the water more effectively.
For the best results, we need to prepare the plants by lessening their reliance on water.
The roots start to change to thicken and seek nutrients elsewhere by reducing water.
But you have to then transplant the plant before it starves.
If it sounds confusing, don’t worry! We’ll go into more details in a later section.
Why Transplant From Hydroponics To Soil?
There are three main reasons people transplant hydroponics into the soil:
- The plant has gotten too big for its container.
- You grew seedlings hydroponically to give fragile plants a better start.
- You live in an area with volatile weather and didn’t want to lose new plants.
Let’s look at these in a little more detail.
The plant has gotten too big for its container.
Many plants work great hydroponically.
It’s possible to pretty much grow anything with the right size system.
But when the roots reach the limits of their container, your plant will slow its growth or stop altogether.
If you’re growing an edible plant, this isn’t a problem. You just harvest and enjoy!
But if your plant can live for a long time, you may decide you want it to grow bigger than what your space can afford.
This is when you should consider switching to the soil.
You grew seedlings hydroponically to give plants a better start.
The outdoors is a great place to grow any plant, but it doesn’t guarantee it’ll survive.
Any experienced gardener will tell you there’s a large amount of luck in how well a plant does from a seedling stage.
Hydroponics do many things well, but one of the best is how well they help seedlings grow.
The environment is under control, the water is saturated with nutrients, and using seedling mediums like Rockwool will give them their best chance at a solid sprout.
Many gardeners will sprout and grow their plants a bit hydroponically before they’re stable enough to survive outside.
We’ve even experimented with starting larger plants and trees with hydroponics and then transplanting it outside.
It saves quite a bit of money this way too!
You live in an area with volatile weather and didn’t want to lose new plants.
Our weather is pretty stable where we live in Michigan (for Michigan).
But our friends who live an hour away live in a high wind area, and the wind always kills some of the more fragile things they try to plant.
When we suggested they use hydroponics to grow new plants to a stronger size, they gave it a shot and have seen a lot of success.
Transplant Shock When Moving Hydroponic Plants
Transplant shock is a fancy word for when a plant gets sick and may die when transferred to a new location.
It happens when you move a plant from a pot to the ground or another pot.
There’s no predicting exactly how a transplant will go, but if you do the right things, you’ll make the green more likely to survive and thrive.
With hydroponic plants, the risk is much higher. The roots aren’t fully developed for living in soil, so switching too abruptly will kill it.
Experienced gardeners will often come across transplant shock, but they rarely lose a whole plant because of it.
As the sudden change in environment and moisture occurs, the plant adjusts its roots to adapt.
This will slow down or stop the growth of certain parts of the plant, often the extremities and leaves.
This is a defense mechanism; the plant is killing off the edges of its body to protect and provide enough nutrition for the core.
Signs of transplant shock include:
- Wilting or scorching of leaves
- Dying branches
- Abrupt falling of fruit or flowers
- Slower growth
- “Bendy” or weak stems
Following the steps in the next section will prevent and help hydroponic plants through transplant shock and get a good start in their new dirt home.
How To Transplant Hydroponics To Soil
Reduce The Water
Set a transplant date for your plant and start thinking ahead.
For the week before this date, reduce the water you use in your hydroponic system.
Do this gradually but always make sure the bottom of the roots is getting some water.
This prepares the roots for a change. It forces the plant to strengthen the roots and makes them grow to search for nutrition.
This will help them find more nutrition in the dirt.
It also makes the roots thicker, which will be needed to keep the plant stable in soil and the outdoors.
Don’t go more than a week with this or you risk starving your plant too much. It’s a fine line to walk, but if you follow this rule of one week, your plant should be fine.
Consider A Pot As A Mid-Step
If your goal is to move your plant to a soil pot, great!
If you want to move it outside, we recommend you consider a soil pot as a midway step.
This gets the plant adjusted to growing in the soil before you expose it to the stress of the outdoor weather.
If you do, give it a few weeks to a couple of months to harden to living outside in the pot before transferring to the ground.
For seedlings, get a pot 4-6” inches in diameter.
If the plant is bigger than a seedling, make sure the pot has twice as much space as the roots require in the hydroponic container.
This will give it room to grow.
Set Up The New Plant Home
This next step equally applies to the midway pot step and the outdoor final home step.
Use loose potting soil as the main growing medium for your hydroponic plant.
A soil-free peat mix will work great too!
It’s a light soil, perfect for allowing the thinner roots to gain traction and push through. It also provides plenty of aeration and holds water to help give the transplant and boost and a better chance of surviving well.
Pro-tip: Add a little bit of water and mix up the soil before putting it in the pot or ground.
This will better distribute the moisture for the plant.
After you fill pot 3/4 full or fill your outdoor area with the potting soil, press down gently but firmly to give some stability to the ground.
Your hydroponic plant hasn’t been used to holding itself help, so any help it can get it good.
Once the soil is down, make a hole in the middle of your pot or spot in the ground using a spoon or your fingers.
The size of the hole varies widely depending on the size of the plant.
Here are some good rules of thumb:
Make The Transplant
When you’ve completed the above steps, it’s time to make your transplant.
The faster you make the switch, the better the chance of survival.
If you have multiple plants, you need to switch, get all of their new homes ready at the same time, so you do a bunch of transplants all in a row quickly.
Pro-tip: Add a sprinkling of mycorrhizal fungal powder to the hole to provide a boost of nutrients and security to your plant, giving it a boost for the transplant.
The one we’ve used with success is the Myco Bliss Organic option (click to check price on Amazon).
The fungus works well with plants and joins with the roots as they spread throughout the soil.
When you’re ready, move the plant into the soil.
If you use a plastic netting pot, you’ll need to gently get the roots out as quickly as possible.
Put the plant in the soil, Sprinkle more soil over the roots and up to the base of the plant, and gently press the soil into the plant to give it support.
Avoid pushing down where possible because this will hurt the already-thin roots.
Trim Off The Longest Pieces
When transplanting, consider trimming back some of the plant, especially long branches or stems from the main body of the plant.
This won’t hurt the plant, and it’ll help it conserve energy by sending energy and nutrients to fewer areas.
Plants will struggle a little (no matter what) to gather food and water like they used to, so you’re helping out a lot by making what it does get more effective.
If the seedling is small with few leaves and stems, don’t trim anything.
Never trim more than 1/3 of the plant.
Water Heavily And Then Reduce
Right after planting, mist the soil to add some water on top of the soil and directly onto the plants’ leaves.
Remember, we mixed some water in the soil, so it’s already moist.
Add some of the fertilizer from your hydroponic solution to the water you mist on the plant for another boost of nutrition.
Mist the soil 1-2 times per day to keep the soil but not saturated.
Using about 1/4 of the water you normally would when they were in the hydroponic container originally will do just fine.
If the plants are doing well after a week, cut back to watering once every three days and then to once per week.
Also, begin to switch the nutrient water for regular water.
Gradually Get Them Used To More Sunlight
If you’ve moved your plants straight to the outdoors, skip this step. There’s no way for you to control how much sunlight they get outside.
If you used a midway pot as a way to raise their chance of survival, we need to get them gradually used to the outdoors and more sunlight.
This process is called hardening.
Start by putting them in a sunny room, getting sunlight directly through a window.
If they wilt a bit, move them out of direct light for a few days and try again.
Always make sure the soil is damp; sunlight evaporates more than you’d think.
After a week or more of this, move them outside during the warmest parts of the day to get full sun.
Do this for a couple of hours and then bring them back inside.
After three days, leave them out longer. Repeat until they’re outside all day.
If the weather stays warm at night, leave them outside all the time.
Once they’ve started growing again, it’s time to switch them to real soil (or leave them in the pot longer).
If you do switch again, repeat the steps that apply from this section.
Warning! When a plant is moved outside, don’t panic if you see some yellowing and wilting.
Direct sun, wind, and outdoor air dries out the soil quickly.
Always make sure the soil is damp and consider offering more water for a bit until it greens up and gets used to the new environment.