Hardening Off Herb Seedlings

Photo Potted SeedlingsIf you are planning on putting your delicate seedlings out soon, don't forget to prepare them for the outdoors first. "Hardening off" your immature plants by introducing them to nature in small increments will help avoid setbacks. It's sad to see your seed starts fail, so do everything you can to prepare them for the greater world by following a few simple instructions:

Start the Hardening Off Process

You should start this process after the overnight temperatures rise to a reliable 50 Degrees Fahrenheit or more. Make sure that your plants are in sturdy containers and their soil is moist (but the plants themselves are dry). Set your plants in a sunny to dappled location in the morning by 9:00 a.m. Leave them outdoors for a couple of hours.

Try to avoid windy days. Even a light gust can knock small pots off decks or patios, breaking slender stems. Remove all lids or cellophane coverings beforehand. On the first day, watch carefully to be sure that the soil isn't drying out and the plants aren't drooping.

Gradually Increase Exposure

Repeat the process over the next five days, increasing the outdoor time each day, but cut back to a couple of hours on days in which the temperatures soar more than fifteen degrees from the day before. The goal here is to acclimatize your plants. If a day is very rainy, hot, or windy, take a pass and try tomorrow.

After five days to a week of increasing exposure, your plants should be ready for their permanent home.

Special Note: There are a couple of other methods you can use to prepare your plants.

Withholding Water Method
There's what I call the bread and water method. Actually it's a low-water method. You essentially teach your plants about the cruel world by leaving them indoors and letting them dry out a little between waterings for two to three weeks. Only water them once they start to droop. After a little of this neglect-with-love, they're ready for the out-of-doors. The withholding-water method is my least favorite way of preparing seedlings for the garden. It really doesn't seem right somehow.

Using Cold Frames to Harden Off Seedlings
A cold frame, a protective enclosure for plants, is great if you have one. Just leave the lid or top open for longer periods once the weather gets warmer.

You've spent time and effort bringing your seeds this far, harden them off with a flourish and give your immature plants a great start in the garden.

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