Hardening Off Seedlings

How to properly prepare seedlings for the outdoors when they were started indoors

You've spent a lot of time starting your plants from seed; you have nurtured them and watched them grow for weeks; transplanted them into slightly bigger pots so they could grow a strong root system and now they are ready to go in the garden.

But wait. If you don't acclimate them gradually to the outdoors, they could die and all your hard work is for nothing. Thankfully, I can teach you how to harden them off properly so that they can withstand the elements.

"Hardening Off" is defined as gradually acclimating a plant to the outdoors after it has been grown in a sheltered environment. Whether it be a houseplant that is going outside for the summer or new plants you have started from seed, they all need to be hardened off before going outside permanently.

Two weeks before the plants are scheduled to go outdoors, reduce the amount you are watering, stop fertilizing and lower the temperature in the growing area. After a week or so of doing this, place your plant in a shady area for a couple of hours on the first day. Make sure the soil doesn't dry out to much, especially if there is a breeze in the air.

Each day, gradually increase the amount of sun your plant is getting and the amount of time spent outdoors. If you notice any burnt or curling leaves, your plants may be getting too much sun, so pull back a little on the sun and make sure the soil is moist.

During the final few days, increase the amount of cold they will be getting at night. If night temperatures are consistently in the 50s, you shouldn't have too much of a problem with them adjusting.

Now I realize that this type of schedule may not be the most convenient for many of my readers, or even for myself for that matter and that is why I don't always harden off this way. Many times I will just put them in our covered screen house where they get indirect sun and a light breeze and leave them there for a week and then I move them under a tree where they get morning sun for a couple of hours and then dappled shade the rest of the day. As long as they stay watered, they usually fair just fine. And if there are any leaves that get damaged, new ones usually grow quickly to take their place. After they are planted in the garden and are fully hardened off, fertilizing may resume.

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