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The First Time Gardener: Hardening Off Plants

Tomato seedlings before going outside.

Tomato seedlings before going outside.

Since I’ve been waxing eloquent (or maybe not very eloquent) the past few days about taking seedlings inside and outside and inside and outside and whether or not I’m abusing them in the process, I thought now would be a good time to talk about hardening off seedlings. We’ll use what I did as a comparison against what you actually should do. (Isn’t it comforting to know that even though I supposedly know what I’m doing, I still sometimes decide to do something different? Luckily, plants are usually forgiving!)

So if you start some seeds indoors, they need to be acclimated to our Kansas weather before planting in the garden. This process is generally called “hardening off.”

The RIGHT way to harden off plants:

1. On a nice, warm day, set the plants out in a semi-shady, protected area for a few hours, then bring them in. Do this for 2-3 days.

2. Gradually move the plants into a sunnier, less-protected area over a period of a week.

3. After about a week, start leaving the plants outside all day and overnight to adapt them to both high and low temperatures.

4. In about 2 weeks, plants will be mostly adapted to the highs and lows, full, bright sunlight, and at least moderate wind.

What I actually DID this week:

1. Put the tomatoes out in the middle of the garden on a warm, sunny day, then left them overnight and into the next day.

Tomato seedlings after a little too much time in the sun.

Tomato seedlings after a little too much time in the sun.

2. Put the peppers and eggplant out in the middle of the garden the next day.

3. Took them inside when the weather threatened.

4. Put them back outside again, even though they were looking a bit scorched.

5. Brought them back inside for the weekend.

“Hardening Off” the Seedlings, the Continuing Saga

Well, if you read the posts from yesterday, you see that I decided to put all the seedlings (which are growing like weeds and are really beyond the “seedling” stage already) outside to enjoy the weather. Then with the chances of impending storms I ran back over and brought everything in for the night. (And, as I predicted, that resulted in us getting NO rain or excessively nasty weather. Ah, the joys of gardening and trying to guess the weather!)

Well, everything is back outside today, although I am monitoring it pretty closely. I fertilized and watered with a soluble fertilizer before putting everything back outside. When I wandered out to look things over this afternoon, I saw that the eggplant are looking a trifle wilty despite being well-watered. My guess is that they are just not quite ready for the hot temperatures, and can’t replace the water they are losing fast enough. I gave them a sprinkle with the hose to see if that helps cool them down a bit, but I’ll probably bring them back in later this afternoon.

Wilty Peppers and EggplantThe peppers and eggplant are looking a bit droopy.

The tomatoes are looking very good overall, but it is interesting to note the differences among the varieties.

Scorched Roma TomatoThis Roma VF tomato plant has a pretty bad case of sunburn.

Golden Rave RomasOn the other hand, these ‘Golden Rave’ Roma tomatoes look like they couldn’t be happier outside. (These were the ones that kept growing up to touch my lights, so maybe they are more adapted to the heat?)

I will probably leave most of the plants outside tomorrow, then bring them back inside for the weekend, since I won’t be around to babysit.

Uh Oh!

When the 9 p.m. news came on FOX tonight, the talk of thunderstorms moving into the area caused my ears to perk up…because I have been obsessively checking the weather forecast for the past few days, and I KNOW that there was nothing forecasted in the way of rain until Saturday.

With that knowledge, I had left all the plants (including the peppers and eggplant) outside for the night, with the intent that I would reevaluate and perhaps take them in at some point tomorrow.

So, the impending weather, with potential winds in the 40-60 mph range, maybe some hail, heavy rain, etc, didn’t exactly sound like what the plant doctor ordered. After all, the point of putting seedlings outside is to harden them off, not commit plant abuse or murder. (Well, sometimes maybe, but not in this case. )

After about 15 minutes of waffling, I decided to drag my husband out to the Demo Garden and help me haul everything back inside. The eggplant and peppers are back under the lights, but the tomatoes are residing on the floor. I noticed when we carried them in that some of the tomatoes are showing some sunburn on the leaves. Oh well. It doesn’t appear too serious, and the new leaves they put on will be better able to withstand the outdoor weather. (I’ll try to get some pictures posted tomorrow.)

On the drive home I realized why we are getting unpredicted rain – I watered the entire garden today. Yep, it never fails. Watering = rain. Now that I took all the plants inside, I have virtually guaranteed that the worst of the rain will miss us tonight. Sometimes gardening is this insane balancing act!