By Michelle Fabio
When it comes time to transfer your seedlings outside (whether to the ground or a container), you don’t want to just drop them out there all of a sudden into the elements without preparing them first.
This preparation is called hardening off–toughening up your baby plants so they can grow into big plants with fabulous tomatoes.
You want to get them used to the light, wind, and temperatures outside gradually before they make the big move.
Here are some common methods for hardening off your tomato plants:
1. Take your seedlings outside for an hour (or a few hours) the first day and increase their outside time each day gradually until you’ve reached an entire day and night. At this point, they’ll be ready for transplanting. This could take a week or two, and be sure to avoid days with extreme rain, cold, or wind.
2. If this method doesn’t suit your schedule (or the weather), you can also take advantage of an enclosed porch, preferably where the plants will get morning sun but shade at midday or afternoon sun exclusively, using it as a kind of halfway house on the way outside. If you aren’t going to be around all day, do take care to make sure the plants don’t dry out.
3. Another option is to transplant the seedlings on an overcast day so they won’t be subject to direct sunlight and then protect them while they are in the ground or new containers.
For small plants in colder temperatures, you can cover them with bottomless plastic milk jugs; if it’s windy where you are, put something, a small stick for example, inside the jug so they don’t blow away.
For larger plants or in warmer temps, you can construct small cages with chicken wire and plastic to protect the plants from strong sun and wind.
Overall, the most important thing to remember with hardening off is that you want to ease your seedlings into their new environments so they aren’t shocked when they are exposed to sun, wind, and rain.
What is your preferred method of hardening off your tomato seedlings? What tips can you share?