Moving from an indoor environment to an outdoor one is a very big adjustment for a plant. After all, in your home or greenhouse, the temperature is constant, watering is regular, and there is no wind nos pests to contend with.
Outdoors, on the other hand, plants confront wind, extreme temperatures, animals, and other harsh realities. So it’s a good idea to take things slow when moving seedlings from inside your home or greenhouse to the outdoors.
Here are some success tips for hardening off seedlings:
1. Make Your Plants Mobile
While you can’t make your plants move on their own, you can facilitate moving them yourself. If your seedlings are not already in flats, put the separate containers into flats that you can carry easily. This is because you will be carrying them in and out for a while.
2. The First Day – Start Slowly
On the first day you begin hardening off, take your seedlings outdoors for only about an hour. Make sure they are in a sheltered area away from harsh sun and wind. Then bring the seedlings back in again. Repeat the procedure for about a week, adding on an hour each day. After about 8 days, you’ll be up to 8 hours outdoors a day. When you get to 12 hours a day, you’ll just be bringing the plants indoors at night.
The day before you transplant your seedlings out into the garden, give them a thorough watering. This will get them ready for transplanting, and will be one less bit of stress the plant has to endure.
4. Choose a Cloudy Day
If possible, choose a cloudy day to transplant. This prevents the harsh, hot sunlight from scorching your tender plants. A day without a lot of wind is helpful, too.
5. Night-Time Cover
For the first week or so, you may want to cover your seedlings with plastic covers at night. Use stakes to keep the plastic from “smothering” the plants and pushing them down and/or breaking them. Also, this keeps air circulating around the plants.
6. Keep Watering
Water your seedlings each day for the first week or so. They will not have established root systems yet, so daily watering is important.
7. Pest Control
If you are concerned about pests (and what gardener isn’t?), then now is the time to take precautions. Dusting with diatomaceous earth is a good start.
If you are transplanting tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, or other plants that will need support, have the support firmly in the ground before you transplant your seedlings. This way, you don’t have to disturb the roots of the plant to put up stakes or “teepees.”
With a little care, you can successfully harden off your seedlings and enjoy a bountiful, beautiful garden this season.
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