Raising plants from seeds can be an economical and rewarding way to add variety to your garden. Many varieties of flowers and vegetables are not available at your local nursery or home improvement store. Last month, we discussed how to grow plants from seed indoors in preparation for spring planting. Now let’s discuss the proper way to move those starter plants to the outdoor garden.
It’s risky to move seedlings directly from the protected environment of your home or shed to the garden. After being shielded from the elements for weeks, seedlings need a gradual transition to the great outdoors. This process is called “hardening off.”
- Plan for hardening off. Consult your seed packaging to determine when your variety can survive outdoors. Hardy plants can be hardened off when the outside temperature is consistently above 40°F. Tender plants, including tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, cannot tolerate frost and should be hardened off at 60°F.
- Watch the weather. To protect your investment, it’s best to plant later rather than earlier. Most plants should be kept indoors until the last frost date for your area has passed and the soil has warmed.
- Acclimate plants to the outdoors. About 10 days before you plan to transplant, place seedlings in a protected spot outdoors, shielded from direct sun and wind. Start with two to three hours of exposure per day, and gradually increase exposure a few hours at a time. Bring the plants inside at night. Gradually reduce watering and avoid fertilizing plants during this time.
- Pay attention to forecast lows. If temperatures below your seedlings’ minimum temperature are forecast, keep the plants indoors.
- Transplant plants. While the seedlings are hardening off, prepare the garden soil by mixing in compost and the recommended amount of fertilizer. After transplanting, be sure to water plants well and use a weak fertilizer solution to help avoid transplant shock.
- Cover plants. To be safe, temporarily shield transplants from sun and wind by covering them for at least two days after transplanting. Increase this time if weather is inclement.
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