If you are a gardener who wants to try growing from seed then you’ve come to the right place.
This is a great practice that allows you access to a wide variety of plants to add to growing areas each season. It also allows you to immerse yourself in the entire process as a creator and caretaker.
Growing plants from seed until maturity is a fairly uncomplicated procedure. All you need is a little know-how and understanding to incorporate seed starting into your gardening tool kit.
As with any new skill, there are precautions every gardener must know when growing from seed. Lest you ruin your beautiful garden.
One of these is hardening off seedlings. This comes before transplanting them outdoors in the spring or fall.
This always leads to one important question…
Do You Need to Harden Off Seedlings?
When the seedlings are ready to be moved, be it a container or garden bed they need to be hardened off.
The procedure of prepping seedlings for the big outdoors is called “hardening off”. It is a vital step that stops your plants from wilting or dying off when conditions change.
Your plant may have gotten used to your warm windowsill ledge and now has to brave a draughty garden. The last thing you need is to make this change without precautions.
Hardening off seedlings ensures their successful transition.
How Long Should You Harden Off Seedlings?
When growers start their seeds indoors during the winter (for spring planting) or summer months (for fall planting), the seeds are germinating and starting off their growth cycle in a controlled environment.
Your plants get used to an environment where everything stays the same day in and day out. The light source is the same every day. Whether it’s from indirect sunlight from a windowsill or an indoor grow light system.
The temperature is most likely 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Environmental disturbances such as rain, wind, or snow, are all non-existent indoors.
The process of seedlings hardening is the process of gradually exposing them to the elements before you replant them outside. This article has broken the process down into four simple steps.
Be warned, the process involves a lot of lifting, shifting, and can be time-consuming.
Even the famous Rudyard Kipling once said,
Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade”.
Your indoor plants which you have cultivated from seed, have never been exposed to the harsh conditions of the great outdoors. This means they are yet to develop any kind of defense system; protection from the elements.
If you spent all winter inside your home with the windows closed and away from the sun, your eyes will take some time to adjust. Your skin will most likely burn from the overexposure from direct sunlight. A plant is no different.
To ready your plant for the coming move, do the following to ensure your baby seedlings.
Introduce an intermediate stage – a cold frame, row cover, or greenhouse. A greenhouse and cold frame have a big advantage over the row cover. They can be opened up gradually over a few days, giving a further element of control.
Step 1: Prepare for Transportation
It’s time to move your seedlings into a box or tray. This will ease the burden of transportation during the hardening process. You will be shuffling your plants around more than usual.
You could also decide to plant the seedlings into larger containers. Allowing them to grow, while enjoying their new environment.
However, if you are planning to plan them in a garden bed, wait until the hardening process is complete.
Step 2: Find a Shady, Sheltered Location Outdoors
Come the growing season, it’s time to put your seedlings (baby plants) in a bed. Make sure the first spot you pick is:
- A shaded outdoor location.
- Somewhat sheltered.
- Next to a wall or under an awning.
Whether you are growing a shade-loving or sun-loving, heat-tolerant species, shade is an essential component. Your tiny and tender seedlings will burn to a crisp without any kind of protection when first introduced outdoors.
The spot you settle on has one grand purpose.
It introduces your tender plants to the fluctuating temperature shifts they will face in the future. This ranges from a cloudy day to a dramatic shift in heat when day becomes night.
Also, make sure the spot you choose in your garden is above ground level. If your plants are on the ground you can be sure to expect a few critters disturbing your plants as they look for a meal.
Step 3: Begin Gradual Exposure to Temperature Variation
Every day in the early morning or evening, bring the plant containers to the shaded location. Do this for a few short hours.
Then bring them back inside for the evening. You need to repeat this step daily. This will gradually increase your plant’s ability to be outside a little longer as each day passes. Remember to always bring them back inside at night.
After 7-10 days, leave the collection of new plants outdoors all day long. Leave the plant in its sheltered location, and return it indoors during the night.
Step 4: Introduce Permanent/Exposed Location
In time, most of your young plants will have to fend for themselves against the sun. Just the same way they learned to adjust to unregulated temperature shifts.
On day 10 you can start introducing your transitioning plants to a few hours of sun.
Repeat this process daily to harden off your plants. Gradually leave the plants in the sun for a few extra hours each day. In a little over a week, you can leave them outside overnight as well.
Watch this video to see how it’s done.
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After all the steps are carried out successfully, the hardening off process is over. This is after (about) two weeks have passed. Your baby plants are ready for almost anything!
At this time, your seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground. Their new permanent home.
You must be so proud. Your once tiny seedlings are all growing so fast. They are now ready to sprout up into maturity, blossom, or produce fruit.
Doing all this while enjoying the sun and the elements, thanks to your invaluable help and assistance. Good job!
Do you want to learn more about how to harden off seedlings before moving outdoors?
You might also want to know which vegetables grow well from seeds and the processes involved.
Did you know many plants grown in a home garden, such as tomato plants, are often purchased as transplants? You can read all about starting your plants from seeds here.
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