Moving on Over: Top Four Transplanting Mediums and Methods

By Karen Wilkinson
Published: September 1, 2020 | Last updated: April 30, 2021 02:04:17
Key Takeaways

It’s said that transplanting is one of the most stressful times of a plant’s life—for many, it can be a matter of life and death. And while a newly rooted clone’s fate depends upon a variety of factors, the most important is the handling and care it receives right after going into a new home.

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Just like a newborn baby, clones should only be taken from one environment to another when they are strong, healthy, have an ample supply of quality nutrients and are in nurturing, caring hands. And just like a baby, clones’ lives are in your hands, so it’s up to you to choose a home where they can grow and thrive to their fullest potential.


There are so many new homes to choose from for these little babies, too! From traditional soil to rockwool and coconut fiber, the mediums can be tailored to fit the plants’ needs, depending on the available space and environment.

So, here are a handful of the most widely used grow mediums, as well as tips on how best to transplant your little seedlings to best ensure their future success. Keep in mind that due to the stressful after-effects, it’s ideal to limit the frequency of transplants. So, if your plant’s ultimate home is a 10-gal. pot, transplant it directly into that container once it’s rooted.


Transplanting Seedlings and Clones into Traditional Soil

Soil is so...earthy. It’s natural, it’s the medium in which many of us first learned to grow fruits and vegetables and it’s forgiving. It’s one of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts, and is many plants’ innate, native home. And it can be used at ground level, or gathered into containers for a more mobile gardening experience.

Transplanting into soil requires a bit of finesse, but is still simple enough for a child to maneuver. You’ll want to do so when the roots are relatively short—about 2 to 4 in. long—as opposed to waiting until they’ve become lengthy, which is preferable in hydroponics units.

As the roots grow longer, they can also become tangled in the cloning unit and can suffer damage when removed. As well, if such mangled messes are put into soil without being separated, the likelihood of root rot killing off the plant increases. So, stick with the short-rooted clones for soil transplants; anything else will just cause unnecessary frustration.


When it comes to brand type, it’s generally a matter of the plant species, personal preference and whether it’s nutrient-rich or poor. While some people prefer nutrient-free soil (with which the control over the plants’ diet is in the hands of the grower), you ultimately just need be sure it’s fresh, free of pests and disease, and reputable.

When watering your newly potted plants, find the balance between being overly generous and stingy. Overwatering is a surefire way to promote root rot, disease and unhealthiness, and not watering enough is just as bad. If you’ve got a small plant in a large pot, water around it and the roots, but don’t saturate the soil. Watering at the roots allows the plant to dry out quicker and pushes the roots to spread out for more water sources. Increase the watering as the plant grows, but only as needed and without drowning it.


Read More: 5 Mistakes Rookie Home Growers Make

Speaking of roots, another way to increase your plants’ success rate is to use mycorrhizal fungi—which puts a blast on the roots’ nutrient uptake—while transplanting.

Transplanting Seedlings and Clones into Coconut Fiber

This is a truly organic growing medium that’s recently grown in popularity. For good reason, too—it’s made from coconut husks and shells, has an amazing ability to retain water and oxygen, is high in root-stimulating hormones and protects plants from a host of issues, including root disease, pythium and fungal infections. An added organic perk is its biodegradable qualities and nearly neutral pH. It can be composted after use, is renewable and doesn’t damage the environment.

Coconut fiber is also referred to as palm peat, cocopeat, cocos, kokos and coir, and is commercially available as compressed bricks (it expands when water is added). It can also be found in loose or dried forms. This product can be mixed with other growing media, including soil and hydroponic systems, and some growers blend it with perlite or expanded clay to aid in drainage.

When preparing to transplant your rooted clones into coconut fiber, it’s important to remember that quality pays off in the long-run. So, don’t be cheap; buy reputable, healthy stuff. Some not-so-quality brands can have high sodium content, which isn’t ideal for plants. Also, wash the coco prior to using and get the “double-washed” coconut fiber if possible. And like any transplanting method, be gentle with the plants’ delicate roots.

Read More: Why Growers Are Crazy for Coco Coir

Transplanting Seedlings and Clones into Expanded Clay

This growing medium is incredibly popular due to its versatility and amazing ability to hold oxygen and nutrients while being lightweight and nearly inert. It’s pH neutral, releases virtually no minerals and is ideal for growing rooted clones and mother plants.

The pellets can also be reused and is therefore considered an ecologically sustainable growing medium. Expanded clay can be mixed with other growing media to increase the oxygen retention, and the pebbles are best suited for net pots, drip irrigation systems, water culture systems and ebb and flow systems. There are a variety of brands on the market, and is sold under the names Hydroton, LECA, GroRox, Geolite and others.

With roots that are at least 1 in. long, rooted clones should be handled gently and placed into clean clay. This means thoroughly washing new pebbles until the water runoff is clear. If reusing the medium, clean with a sterilizing solution, remove any dead roots and rinse. Also, for a thoroughly clean job, use a bleach–water solution or hydrogen-peroxide–water solution for optimal results.

Read More: The Do's & Don'ts of Expanded Clay Pebbles

Transplanting Seedlings and Clones into Rockwool

Comprised of spun rock and sand, rockwool is a relatively new growing medium that has an incredible ability to retain water. It also holds onto air, making it ideal for newly transplanted clones’ vulnerable roots. It comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The medium, which originated in Denmark, does have its drawbacks and criticisms. It never decomposes, can be hazardous if its fibers or dust particles are inhaled, has a high pH and has been referred to as “the Styrofoam cup of hydroponics.” Harsh.

Nonetheless, growing medium preferences are based on what fits best for the situation at hand. Rockwool allows for newly rooted baby clones to be transplanted rather quickly after developing (they can have roots 0.5 to 1.5 in. long).

Speaking of size, short and sweet is key here. The sooner the plants are transplanted after roots have developed, the better. At between 0.5 to 1.5 in. long, they can be transplanted into 1.5 in. cubes (or larger ones, if desired).

Be careful as well when separating the rockwool cubes from the mat. Use scissors and wear gloves, as the fibers can latch onto and dig into your skin. Remember, it’s spun rock and sand and you would not want those materials on or in your body.

When transplanting, split apart the rockwool and gently pinch back together around the roots. Or use a large cube, maybe 4 in., and place the cutting in the center indentation and fill with loose, shredded rockwool. Whatever you do, however, don’t squeeze, squish or otherwise manipulate the cubes’ shape, as it can disrupt the air/water balance.

Depending on the stress caused by the move, consider misting the plants right afterward. While not a necessity, it can’t hurt and it will limit undue stress. When watering, pH test that stuff to between 5.5 and 6.5, as rockwool inherently has a high pH. Then dip the bottom half or quarter of the cube into the water, allowing it to uptake a healthy amount without becoming soaked.

Read More: The Do's & Don'ts of Rockwool

BONUS MENTION: Transplanting Seedlings and Clones into Recycled Glass Foam

This medium is made from recycled glass beverage containers that are ground into a fine powder before being combined with a natural foaming agent and heated in kilns. The result is highly porous pieces of glass foam aggregate that provide an effective ratio between aeration and moisture. When irrigated, water is held in the substrate’s micro pores, but quickly drains through the macro pores to allow fresh air to flow through the substrate.

Since this medium is made from vitreous soda lime glass, it has a naturally high pH and must be buffered before use. Once stable, simply fill half your container with glass foam, then take your seedling with the substrate still attached to the roots, hold it in the container and fill up the rest of the pot with more glass foam. Then irrigate immediately.

The fate of your newly transplanted clones is in your hands. Their success is dependent on you choosing the right medium where they will grow and thrive, and giving them the best care after they are transplanted.

Read Next: Why More Growers are Switching to Fabric Pots


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Written by Karen Wilkinson

Profile Picture of Karen Wilkinson
Karen Wilkinson is a budding gardener with previous experience working in the hydroponics industry. Her background includes daily reporting, technical writing, marketing and promotions. After spending years living along California’s northern coast, she made her way to Sacramento where she currently lives and breathes the yoga lifestyle.

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