Toughen Up Your Seedlings By Hardening Them Off: Preparing Your Seedlings For Outdoor Planting
When you grow vegetables and flowers from seed inside your home, there is one very important step called “hardening off” that you need to take before planting outside.
Insert yourself into the “mind” of your happy indoor seedling. Up until now, it has spent its life in perfectly controlled conditions. You’ve given them constant controlled light with grow lights, when their soil dries up or they look thirsty, you give them water… not to mention there are no chilly evening winds that wipe through their leaves.
Then… comes the big transplant from these “perfect” conditions to the great outdoors. Hardening off translates into “toughening them up” for the great outdoors. It is the process of exposing them, little-by-little, to the elements.
If you buy your seedlings from a garden centre, this process (hopefully) has already been done. (Don’t know what to look for when buying seedlings? Here’s our Buying Seedlings – A Guide for Success.) Otherwise follow this method:
Over about the course of a week, gradually bring your seedlings outside for longer periods of time. We aren’t going to give a concrete timeline because life doesn’t unfold like that! You can do this slowly over two weeks, or maybe you only have five days – with gardening you always must do what works best for you but use the following points as a guideline.
- Start small, as this can be shocking to your plants. We find a spot that is mostly protected from the elements like sun and wind. If they are blasted by too much sun, they can burn.
- On the first day, just put them outside for a couple of hours. Or even just one hour if you are nervous.
- Slowly over time increase the time they’re outside introducing a little bit more light and wind to them. Eventually, they’ll be able to spend the night outside and they’ll be tough and ready to be planted into the ground for summer!
- That’s it! It’s all about gradual exposure.
We’ll leave you with one more tip:
- On those longer days and when you introduce more and more sun, keep an eye on their thirst levels. Until they’re in the ground, they will dry up quicker while still in their small container so be sure to give them a big drink of water when needed.