Part Three: A Working Person’s Guide to Hardening Off (See Part One)
By Kira Haman
So you’ve successfully gotten those tiny little seeds to grow into strong, healthy plants.
This always seems like a miracle (and, in fact, it is), but now they’re getting cramped in their little pots, and it’s time to get them into the garden.
You can’t just plunk them out there — they’ll wilt dramatically and die before you can say “sun-worshipping prima donna.”
No, you have to perform the gardening ritual known as hardening off, in which you teach the adolescent seedlings to leave behind their sheltered existence and survive in the great outdoors. The problem with hardening off is that it is usually described by people who (lucky them) are able to structure their time around the moving in and out of seedlings. You, however, have to go to work, and can’t increase their exposure by an hour a day for two weeks. What to do?
First, figure out the last frost date for your area. If you don’t know it already, you can find it here.
Start hardening off on the first Saturday after that date and follow this schedule:
Saturday: Set the seedlings in a sheltered, lightly shaded spot for a couple of hours. A porch works well for this, if you have one. Then bring them back in.
Sunday: Leave them out for about four hours in the same spot. Then bring them back in.
Monday — Wednesday: Put them out right before you leave for work, and only if there’s nothing awful in the weather forecast. On Monday, sprint home at the end of the day and bring them back in. After that, sprint less every day.
Thursday: Stop for a drink on the way home.
Friday: Give them direct sun for about four hours (under a tree is good, or on the North side of your house) and leave them out overnight.
Saturday: Give them direct sun for about six hours and, again, leave them out overnight.
Sunday: Plant them! Hooray! Do this when they won’t be in direct sun, that is, anytime if it’s an overcast day or in the late afternoon if it’s not.
Monday: Visit them before and after work to make sure they’re not burning (cover them if they are) or thirsty (water them if they are). If they make it to Tuesday, you’re out of the woods.
Congratulations! You’ve taken tiny, inert seeds and nurtured them into something beautiful, useful, and, most importantly, alive.
Now you can relax for a few weeks until it’s time to start battling the bugs!