If you’ve started growing seedlings indoors in the last week or two, chances are you’re starting to see shoots, sprouts, little green growth right about now. It will still be a few weeks before it’s time to get your plants outdoors, but when the time comes you want them to be ready. You want those little guys to grow up and be big and strong and do well in your garden this summer.
Hardening off if how it’s done. And there’s not all that much to it really, but you need to put it in your planting schedule. About a week or week and a half before you plan on putting these little guys into the ground you need to prepare them for reality. While they’re growing inside, under plant lights with optimal conditions, they’re being pampered, if you take them outside and pop them in the ground without preparing them, chances are they are going to get beaten up pretty quickly. Instead, you’ll want to get them used to their new world, one with real sunlight, cool nights, wind and less frequent watering.
So here’s how you do it.
Day 1 – Choose a mild sunny day. Set your seedlings outside in a sunny, protected location for only about 2 or 3 hours. Then bring them back inside.
Each day afterward add another hour or two to their time spent outside. By the end of the week they will spend the entire day, cool evening hours and even spend the night outdoors.
While hardening them off, watch the weather forecast like a hawk. If rain is in the forecast, make sure they are only exposed to light rains initially, protect them from heavy or severe rain storms. In addition, when you get to the point of them being outside during the cool evening and night hours, make sure to watch the nighttime temps so it doesn’t get too cold and nip your new seedlings. (Cool crops/flowers can typically handle lows around 40 degrees, warms season crops/flowers typically don’t like to go below 60 – 65 degrees.)
That’s it. Once you’ve hardened them off, they should be good and strong and ready for the garden.
p.s. – H is also for Hard Frost, which we’re in for tonight and tomorrow in Minnesota. If you have any tender plants outside or are just worried about damaging that tender new growth on others, either bring them in or get out the old sheets!