Posted on 29 July 2010 by tomatocasual.com

The Tomato Chronicles – Hardening Off

hardening-offBy Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

Hardening off is a step that many inexperienced gardeners skip as the “gardening bug” erupts as temperatures rise.

But this step is very crucial to a gardener’s success.

Hardening off is the process by which seedlings are gradually exposed to the outside environment.

Wind, temperature, and light intensity are all different outside then what the seedling is used to inside. If this step is skipped leaves get burned and the plant goes through unneeded stress that can cause death of your seedling. Hardening off is not a difficult process to fit into one’s busy schedule and in my personal opinion should take about 3 weeks total before you can safely leave them outside.

The schedule below should start 3 weeks before you plan to plant your seedlings in the ground or container so plan accordingly by your area’s frost-free date. I have found that starting this schedule on a Friday helps with the scheduling around my job. As you will notice this program is ran in 1-hour increments, which again helps with a busy lifestyle. This schedule may seem excessive but this will guarantee healthy plants and a successful gardening year.

SCHEDULE

DAY 1 1 HOUR IN EARLY MORNING OR LATE EVENING
DAY 2 2 HOUR IN EARLY MORNING OR LATE EVENING
DAY 3 3 HOUR IN EARLY MORNING OR LATE EVENING
DAY 4 4 HOUR IN EARLY MORNING OR LATE EVENING
DAY 5 5 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 6 6 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 7 7 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 8 8 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 9 9 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 10 10 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 11 11 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 12 12 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 13 13 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 14 14 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 15 15 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 16 16 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 17 17 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 18 18 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 19 19 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 20 20 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 21 21 HOURS ANY TIME
DAY 22 THROUGH PLANTING TIME LEAVE OUT ALL THE TIME UNLESS AN USUAL FREEZE OCCURS

If the schedule above is a problem the seedlings can be placed in a shady location for the longer periods of time when one is at work. As the time exposure increases move them to as close to the garden or container location as possible so they can become accustomed to the environment they are going to be planted in for the season. When your seedlings are brought in remember to check the soil to see if it is dry and water accordingly.

Plants and humans are very much alike so remember gradual exposure is the key to “hardening off.” Wind, temperature, and sun exposure can raise havoc on a plant while it can also cause redness and sunburn on humans. We as humans will live another day to bathe in the sun while plants may never recover and may die or produce very little in their lifetime from not being hardened off. So the moral of the story is gradually harden off and let the chlorophyll flow for healthy plants and a successful garden.

In The Tomato Chronicles we have covered starting tomatoes from seeds, transplanting, and hardening off next we will explore how to prepare your garden bed.

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