If you’ve grown your seedling inside under lights they’ll need to be hardening off before planting them in the garden. They’re not used to the harsh real sunlight or the changes in temperature that happen in the spring. Since seedlings are still small plants they’re more affected by these changes, especially if they’ve been living the good life inside your climate controlled seed starting area. Now that the danger of frost is over and the night time temps are regularly above 50 you can start hardening off your tender plants.
Hardening off isn’t that difficult, but it can be time consuming. You want to expose your plants to the outdoor elements gradually. Usually you’ll start with 2-3 hours and work your way up to 10-12 hours. If you have a sheltered location that gets morning sun you can put them in this spot and move them around the garden to locations where they’ll get more and more sun each day. I like to harden off seedlings on my front porch, they get afternoon sun and nice breezes, but they’re protected from getting sun all day long. They also stay warmer at night because of the porch roof. Some people use their cold frames to harden off their plants since it keeps the temperatures warmer overnight. You’ll have to use a shade cloth in combination with your cold frame though if your seedlings haven’t been exposed to a lot of real sunlight.
Personally I’d rather have my seedlings exposed to the natural elements for their entire lives, but the weather doesn’t always permit this (especially here in NE Ohio). If it’s a mild spring I’ll carry all my seedlings out and leave them on the front porch, only bringing them inside when the temperature dips into the 40′s. If I’m lucky I’ll only have to carry them in a few evening a week, if it’s a cold spring I spend a lot of time carrying them in and out of the house or garage. It’s worth the effort though because I believe the little plants do much better when grown in their natural conditions. I’m considering investing in a nice shelf with wheels so I can just wheel them out into the sun and back into the garage at night. But for now I’m happy to carry them in and out, it’s good for the biceps.
Any great tips for hardening off seedlings?
The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
The Needs of Seeds
Diseases and Problems
Learn More Each Season
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