Acclimating plants started indoors to the outdoors can mean the difference in success and failure. Think of plants as babies, nurtured and introduced to the wide world in small doses. The transition from greenhouse or indoors to Mother Nature and all her whims is called “hardening off.” Familiarize yourself with the steps for hardening off your plants and you won’t find tender seedlings withered from wind, burned from too much sun, or drowned in spring rains.
When is a plant ready to be introduced to the garden? Read the information on seed packets. Seed packets provide a transplant date and depending on the maturity of the plant, you may want to begin hardening off about a week before that date. If your plants have not reached a sturdy stage with a strong stem and full leaves, wait a few more days.
Become a weather watcher. Do not attempt to harden off plants on cold spring days when the frost lies heavy on the grass. Wait until all threat of frost ends.
Gradually acquaint plants to the outdoors. Seedlings often die from transplant shock when not properly hardened off. Over a week’s time, set your plants out each day, lengthening the time spent outdoors until the need to bring them in no longer exists.
On the first day, wait until the sun warms the air. Set your plants outside in a shaded area or on a porch. Leave them out for 2-3 hours and then take them back into the greenhouse or garage.
Days Two, Three, and Four
Each of the next three days, place your plants outdoors in the morning sun. Around noon, place the plants under a shade tree for protection from the warming sun.
Days Five and Six
By now you’re plants should be able to withstand the afternoon sun and will no longer need to be placed in the shade.
On the seventh or eighth day, weather permitting, leave your plants out all night. The temperature should not fall below 50 degrees for optimal conditions.
During this time of transition, check plants daily for water needs and weather damage. Be prepared to run outside to gather the plants indoors if winter conditions should suddenly occur.
Once the plants you started indoors or purchased from a greenhouse are hardened off, transplant them. Choose a cloudy day for planting, watering each plant generously.
There are other methods for transitioning plants to the outdoors, but gradual hardening off is the technique I’ve always used with great success. Putting your plants in a wheelbarrow or wagon makes moving them in and out convenient.
“Your first job is to prepare the soil. The best tool for this is your neighbor’s tiller. If your neighbor does not own a garden tiller, suggest he buy one.” —Dave Barry
*Thank you CP for the title