Plant Hardening: The essential step to seedling success

If you’re like me and you’ve started a bunch of plant babies indoors, in preparation for your gardening season, be sure to keep this very important step of your growing process in mind.

Plants need to be hardened off before they are transplanted outside. See, like humans, plants need to acclimate to their living environment in order to thrive (and in the case of plants, survive). When seedlings are started indoors, they’re spoiled with consistent light source, temperature, and watering conditions. They may even receive the occasional fertilization session. This makes them wimpy little babies. Hardening is like preparing the plants to leave the nest, if you will, and become successful contributors in the outside world.

But plant babies can’t be thrust into the cold, harsh world. Or even the warm, harsh world.  Zone 3 spring temperatures are warm throughout the day, with the possibility of a hot sun, and very cool evenings, most often reaching freezing temperatures. They need to be slowly introduced, day by day, a few weeks before you’re ready to plant them outdoors.

Very sophisticated set-up to shade my indoor plants during hardening.

Step 1:

Before you harden the plants outside, you can start preparing them indoors with a fan. I set a fan up in my greenhouse area to help strengthen brand new seedlings.

Step 2:

Find a temporary place in your house where you can settle the plants each night. I tuck them all into the breakfast nook in my house, so that I can transfer them quickly to the patio each day. This process is cumbersome, so make it easy on yourself. Eventually you’ll get our house back when all the plants are rehomed permanently outside.

Step 3:

Find a shady spot outside, or create a shade barrier with plywood, an umbrella, or shade cloth. Again, this is temporary, so it doesn’t need to be pretty. Another good option is to place them against the wall of the house. The wall will give off warmth and protect them from the wind.

Step 4:

Move the plants our for a few hours a day, and increase their exposure by an hour each day. Don’t expose them too much all at once. Remember, they are wimpy in the early stages.

Step 5:

Don’t forget your plants outside! Remember to bring them in each night to protect them from the cooler evenings.

As mentioned, the hardening process can feel cumbersome, but you’ve already committed your resources and attention to the seedlings to get them this far. Do yourself and your plants a favor and strengthen them up, in order to survive AND thrive.

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