Hardening Off Seedlings

May 21, 2006

You’ve put the time and effort into growing your own healthy vegetable transplants indoors under lights and now it’s time to transplant them into the garden.

But before you head for the garden be sure to harden off those tender seedlings or you’ll be making a mistake that could destroy all your careful efforts.

Hardening Off for Healthier Vegetable Transplants

Even after the temperatures rise, conditions outside in the garden are still much harsher than your home grown vegetable seedlings are accustomed to. If you were to take those sensitive plants and move them directly into the garden there’s a good chance that they would not survive the transition.

What the vegetable plants need is a hardening off period where they can slowly adapt to the more intense light, winds, temperature variations, and other conditions that they will encounter in the outdoor world. Hardening off requires time but the process itself is a simple one.

The Hardening Off Process for Home Grown Seedlings

Begin by carefully transporting your seedlings to a somewhat sheltered location where they can get their first taste of what life outdoors is going to be like. This initial exposure should be brief, only an hour or two during the early morning or late evening hours.

Go slowly in the beginning, and if the plants protest by wilting or flopping over take them back indoors until the following day. Some seedlings such as tomato plants will benefit from a trick that I posted previously at the following link and described as “tickling” to help grow stronger tomato plants.

Start the hardening off process a couple of weeks before you anticipate planting the seedlings out into the garden. Each day you will be moving the plants outside for increasing lengths of time, allowing them to gradually get used to the sunshine, wind, rain, and other outdoor conditions.

Other Tips to Harden Plants for Life in the Garden

Without the precaution of hardening off, those tender young vegetable plants would likely become scorched, shocked, and bowed to the ground by the unfamiliar elements that weren’t part of their pampered indoor lifestyle.

In addition to gradually exposing your vegetable transplants to the outdoors you should also slightly reduce the amount of water and fertilizer that you are providing in order to further simulate outdoor growing conditions.

Yes, it can be a hassle moving flats and containers of plants in and out every day, but the effort will be rewarded by plants that won’t suffer through a set back in their growth once they are planted out in the garden.

By the end of two weeks of being hardened off you’ll have healthy vegetable plants that can comfortably spend an entire day and night outside, and are ready to be planted directly into the garden. If necessary you can speed up the process but I’d recommend spending at least a week of hardening off before transplanting those home grown vegetable seedlings.

Even with properly hardened vegetable plants you should take care to follow good transplanting techniques when setting your transplants out into the garden beds.

Other Related Vegetable Gardening Posts:

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