If you sowed seeds indoors this winter, it is time to start hardening off plants to prepare them for outdoor life in the garden.
But what is hardening off and why should you do it?
Before planting them in the garden, there’s a process seedlings need to go through in order to successfully grow outdoors.
Hardening off plants means we help them transition from growing indoors or a greenhouse environment to the outdoor elements of fluctuating weather.
The hardening-off process involves a gradual introduction to changes in temperature, wind, and sun exposure that help seedlings transition to a firmer, harder, and sturdier plant without the shock from environmental changes.
Thus, the overall goal of hardening off plants is to slow their growth to help them adjust to outdoor living.
Cause let’s face it, it’s not the same growing indoors sheltered under lights versus outside in the garden where wind, fluctuating temperatures, and sunlight are a factor.
When plants are hardened off properly, they will ultimately be able to handle unexpected dips in spring temperatures.
So don’t skimp on this process!
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When Should I Start Hardening Off Plants?
As a general rule, start hardening off plants about 2 weeks before the last frost date.
Most seedlings are typically planted outdoors after the last frost date.
However, cold-hardy plants, such as sweet peas, snapdragons and iceland poppies, can be planted outdoors two to four weeks before the last frost date.
So be sure to check your seed packets to determine when that plant can tolerate certain conditions.
In the last few weeks, I started hardening off some cold-hardy plants that include sweet peas, larkspur, snapdragons, and iceland poppies.
Because I am growing SO many flowers in my basement greenhouse, I need to start the hardening-off process just to get the extra real estate for other seedlings I started.
The struggle is real!
Since I started hardening off some of my flowers already, they are almost ready to be planted in the garden.
However, I want to wait a little bit longer to ensure sure I can keep them protected should we get hit with a frost.
Because where I live, that can happen so you gotta be ready!
Since I live in New Jersey, zone 6a, it’s really important to keep an eye on the weather. Anything dipping below 45 degrees, I either cover seedlings or bring them inside.
How Long Should I Harden Off Seedlings for?
Hardening off plants is roughly a two week process.
Admittedly it can be a bit of a pain moving plants in and out, particularly if you have a lot of trays.
But it is worth the investment of time.
Your seedlings will reward you with healthier growth, harvest and blooms.
How Do I Harden Off Seedlings?
- When temperatures are at least 45-50ᵒ move plants outdoors to a protected, shady location for two to three hours. When they’ve reached their daily limit, move seedlings indoors and place them in a heated garage or basement.
- After working them up to two or three days in a somewhat shaded location, locate seedlings to receive morning sun. During the two-week process, gradually increase exposure to direct sunlight. Note: If placed in direct sunlight too soon, the leaves can scorch. With every day, seedlings will be able to tolerate a little more and a little more of the outside elements. To be successful, gradual exposure to outdoor elements is critical. By the end of the two-week process, plants should be able to spend 24 hours outside and withstand the elements. But keep an eye out for any frost or freeze warnings.
- Don’t bring plants outside on very windy days. Seedlings are not strong enough to handle high winds.
- If temperatures are expected to fall below 45ᵒ bring plants indoors or cover them in a cold frame.
Best of luck with your seedlings!
I am really excited to get mine outside and established in the gardens.
Have You Been Following Along My Seed Starting Journey?
If you’ve been following along, this is Part 6 of my journey starting seeds indoors without a greenhouse.
It has been so much fun starting seeds indoors and really helped with the winter blahs this year!
I’ve really enjoyed watching these seedlings grow and hope they acclimate well to the gardens this spring.
In case you missed any part of the series, you can check them out below.
- Overview of How to Start Seeds Indoors
- Supplies Needed to Start Seeds Indoors
- 7 Simple Tips to Getting Organized Before Starting Seeds Indoors
- Everything You Need to Know About Sowing Seeds Indoors
- 7 Lessons I Learned From Starting Seeds Indoors
- What You Need to Know About Hardening Off Plants (you are here)
My friend Kim over at Shiplap and Shells has been hardening her seedlings off as well.
She’s got a gorgeous garden in the pacific northwest and it’s so neat to see how different our timetables are!
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