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How do I transplant a marijuana plant?

by Nebula Haze

Why Should I Transplant My Cannabis Plants?

There are advantages to transplanting. If you start your cannabis plants in a small container they will grow faster than if you planted your seedlings in a big container. This is because it's easier for a small cannabis plant roots to get the right mixture of air and water when they're not waterlogged in a big container. 

Small Cannabis Plants Grow Faster in Small Containers

Cannabis seedlings grow faster in small containers, but they will need to be transplanted

But if you do start small, you need to transfer your plants to bigger containers as they grow, which ensures the roots have plenty of room to expand. When roots don't have enough room, they'll eventually form a "wall" around the edges of the container. This can cause an array of strange root problems.

If left in a container too long, the cannabis plant will actually become "root-bound." Think of it as if the roots are choking themselves.The plant roots are unable to effectively get the right ratio of oxygen, water and nutrients. Unless the plant is transplanted, the problem continues to get worse as the roots wrap tighter and tighter.

A root-bound cannabis plant - transplant your plants before it comes to this!

A rootbound cannabis plant - the white roots are wrapped all around the edges

When a plant is root-bound, it may display a host of seemingly random symptoms such as drooping and nutrient deficiencies, but usually the main symptom is slow growth.

Remember, it is okay to plant your young cannabis in a large container right from the beginning, just know that they may grow a bit slower for the first few weeks. If you do want to achieve faster growth rates with transplanting, here's a good general guide to make sure you transplant at just the right time, so your plants never get stressed out, and grow as fast as possible.


How to Transplant Cannabis


  1. Water your cannabis plants 1-2 days before transplanting. This will help the growing medium stay together (since it's moist), but still slide out easily (since it's not soaking wet).
  2. Before you get started, fill your new pot with potting mix. Don't fill the pot to the top, instead leave about 2 extra inches (5 cm). That way you can easily water the plant without all the water running off the sides. 

  3. Water this new container of potting mix before you begin the transplant so it's nice and moist. If you don't water the new soil first, it can have a hard time absorbing water after the transplant, and your roots won't like that!

  4. Since you will soon be adding a new plant, you want to dig out a hole in the middle that's about the size of your old container.  

  5. Take your plant, and carefully slide a butter knife inside the container all around the edges to help separate the rootball from the sides of the pot. Avoid grabbing the plant directly by the stem. Try to grab the whole top with a flat hand, and turn the container upside down so you can gently pat the rootball out and catch it with your flat hand. You may have to gently pull the plant out of the container, but go slowly and be gentle!

  6. Plant the rootball directly into the new container, placing it in the hole you dug out earlier. You may need to add some extra soil to ensure a nice flat topsoil.

  7. Gently pat down around the roots, to help press everything together slightly, then water your plant immediately. If you do it right, it won't stress your plants at all! Read a few more tips here.


Cannabis Transplant Guide

1.) Start seeds or clones in a seedling plug/cube or germination station and wait until you start seeing roots come out the bottom (or skip this step and plant seeds directly in a solo cup).

This grower may have waited just a bit too long before transplanting to bigger container
(it's good to transfer once you start seeing roots)

This grower waited too long before transplanting seedling to a bigger container


2.) Place young plants in a solo cup with holes in the bottom to allow water to drain freely.

Day 13 marijuana plants - Auto Northern Lights

Allow them to grow a few sets of leaves, like this...

This young cannabis plant is ready to transplant to a new container

Instead of pulling the whole plant out of the container, it's often easier to just cut away the solo cup when you plan on transplanting. This is one of the advantages of starting in disposable cups - it makes transplanting easy and stress-free.


3.) Transfer plants to a 1, 2 or 3 gallon pot, like this

Cannabis plants were just transfered to 2 gallon containers

Plants are ready to transfer again when they have about doubled in height.

They should look something like this...

Cannabis plants are ready to transfer again


4.) Transfer cannabis plants into their final container! That's it. You're done with transplanting!

Now you just need to worry about taking care of your plants until you're ready to start flowering/budding. Remember plants will usually double (or even triple) in size from when you first initiate the flowering stage.

How do I get my cannabis plants to start flowering?

Transplant cannabis plants into their final container


Tips For Easy & Stress-Free Transplanting: How to Minimize Transplant Shock

The process of transplanting can shock your cannabis plants, especially if you wait too long to transplant. The way to avoid causing your plants stress during transplant is to transplant after roots have begun to fill container (to help hold all the growing medium together) but before the roots have started wrapping around the edges (plants have become rootbound).​

  • By transplanting your cannabis plants so they're always in the right sized container, you can increase the speed of vegetative growth!You can skip some of the steps in the cannabis transplant guide. Just make sure you're careful not to overwater small plants. Once plants start growing vigorously, you don't need to worry as much about overwatering.

  • It's better to transfer too early than too late!

  • If the roots haven't grown all around the sides of the root ball (plant isn't rootbound), avoid disturbing the roots if possible. There's no need to shake out dirt, just carefully move root ball directly into the next pot.

  • Make sure your plants are in their final container at least 1-2 weeks before you switch them over to the flowering stage, and avoid transplanting plants during the flowering/budding stage if you can since the stress may affect your final yields.

  • Sea-kelp extract can help sooth plants suffering from transplant shockIf your cannabis plants seem like they are suffering from transplant shock (leaf symptoms, drooping, slowed growth), it can be helpful to use a seaweed kelp extract (often available as a liquid fertilizer) to help your cannabis recover more quickly.

  • If transplanting seems scary, it's okay to plant your seed or clone in its final destination right at the beginning, just be wary of overwatering until the plant is growing vigorously and has a few sets of leaves. You can increase the amount of oxygen available to your plants by adding extra perlite to loosen the soil and allow water to drain through more easily

  • Water your cannabis properly after they've been transplanted for the best results!


If you follow all these steps, you may notice that your plant doesn't show any signs of stress at all!


What Size Should the Final Container Be?

This depends on what size plant you plan to grow, since bigger plants require bigger containers, while smaller plants grow fastest in a relatively small container. For the best results, you need to match the size of your plant with the size of your container.

A general guide is to have up to 2 gallons per 12" of height. This isn't perfect, since plants often grow differently, and some plants are short and wide instead of tall, but this is a good rule of thumb.

So if your final (desired) plant size is...

12" ~ 1-2 gallon container

24" ~  2-4 gallon container

36" ~ 3-6 gallon container

48" ~ 4-8 gallon container

60" ~ 5-10 gallon container

Go Bigger If You Need to Spend Time Away From Your Cannabis

However, if you plan on being away from your plant for more than a day or two during the grow, it can't hurt to go up a size or two. The bigger the container, the less often you need to water. So even if you get slightly slower growth in a too-big container, you will definitely be able to spend more time away from your plants without having to water them!

Learn more about containers for growing cannabis!