Some of you newbie gardeners may be scratching your head right now. What the heck is ‘hardening off’? When I first started gardening I thought that it might be this big complicated process. It’s not. As a matter of fact, this will likely be my shortest gardening post because it’s such a simple concept.
If you started your seeds indoors your seedlings need to get adjusted gradually to outdoor conditions. Although simple to do, you do not want to skip this step or you will likely ruin all the hard work you’ve done up to this point as the seedlings are still fragile. The sterile conditions of the home growing environment often do not produce wind, temperature fluctuations, precipitation, abrupt atmospheric changes, and other things that your seedlings/plants will experience once they are outdoors. The consequences of skipping this step can destroy most of your seedlings in various ways.
1) Check the weather for the upcoming week.
Try to start hardening off on a warmer, sunny day with a light breeze. Avoid extremely breezy days to start hardening off.
2) Place the seedlings in the shade for the first couple of days.
3) Gradually increase the amount of time the seedlings are outdoors.
On day one leave them outdoors for an hour. Day two, two hours. Day three, three hours, and so on.
4) By the end of the first week move the seedlings to full sun.
5) If possible, allow seedlings to experience natural rain.
6) Seedlings should be left out overnight towards the end of hardening.
Make sure you protect your seedlings from vermin! I leave my seedlings on the steps, but I do put up a dog gate so the wabbits won’t come munching.
Things to watch for as the days progress.
1) Strong winds – strong winds will snap delicate seedlings. Bring them inside on extreme windy days especially at the beginning of hardening.
2) Heavy rains/hail/snow – heavy precipitation can damage seedlings or flood them as the drainage in the temporary pots may not be sufficient. And snow? Well, it happens on occasion but really you should not attempt to harden off your plants until after the risk of freezing has passed for your area. Check the Farmer’s Almanac for estimated last frost dates for your area.
3) Cold temperatures – do not harden off on cold days/nights (below 40/45 and higher at about 50+ for melon/squash/beans that are extremely cold weather sensitive as seedlings)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Seedlings will tend to dry out quicker outdoors. Be sure you are watering daily. More about how to water later, but try not to use chlorinated tap water.
Upcoming Gardening Posts: Transplanting in the Garden and Pots, Mulching and Watering, Growing Herbs
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