Hardening off

I have been hardening off plants for the past 3-4 weeks. It has gone really well this year. I don’t think I killed anything while I was hardening off this year (a first for me).

In case you aren’t familiar with hardening off, its a way of easing your indoor raised plants into the climate outside where you are going to plant them. You usually want to harden them off for at least a week before planting them outside, so the shock is less and they are more likely to survive the process.

I use a simple contraption built by my husband to pull the plants in and out of the garage each day. Its a recycled piece of wood with 2 wheels underneath, and an old piece of wire as the handle. Using the handle to lift up on one side, you can drag 5 flats of plants at once on the two wheels.

This year I had about twice as many plants as space on my wheeled contraption, so I did the manual labor of lugging flats of plants in and out of the garage each day. Kind of a pain, but I hope to earn back the money I have spent on seeds and planting soil by selling off my surplus peppers and tomatoes, so its worth it in the end.

Like I mentioned before, I didn’t kill any of my plants while hardening off this year, but I definitely have in years past.  There are three main things to watch out for when you are hardening off:

  1. Wind: Plants grown indoors usually have weaker stems, unless you make an effort to expose them to moving air, such as setting up a fan to blow on them each day. In the past I have moved plants outside only to have their stems snap with the first little breeze. To keep them protected from the wind, sometimes I put the plants right next to my car in the driveway, or I roll the garbage bin next to them to shelter them if there’s a really strong wind out. The best way to do it is to start exposing them to moving air indoors as they are growing if you can. Staking also helps for really tall plants like tomatoes.
  2. Watering: All of sudden when you move those transplants outside during the day they are going to need more water.  Check them each morning and night when you move them in and out to make sure they don’t dry out and wilt. I have a tendency to miss a few plants each time I water, and if I miss the same plant multiple days in a row, I don’t usually notice until its a shriveled up goner.
  3. Temperature: Don’t forget to bring your plants in at night. We had a freezing night over Memorial Day weekend that might have killed a few plants if I hadn’t brought them in. We have also had hail twice in the last week, and luckily I was here to drag the basil inside both times.  Although many of the leaves are bruised, all of the plants are still healthy. Heat can also be an issue, if you put the plants out in full sun all day on their first day outside. Ease them into full sun by starting in a semi-shaded spot the first day or two, or a spot that only gets full morning sun, which is less intense than the afternoon sun.

At this point I only have basil, cucumbers, and squash still hardening off. They are the most delicate and I am waiting until I feel confident that the weather will stay warm enough. So they are still being dragged in and out every day, probably until this weekend.

Did you have any problems with hardening off your plants this year?

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