How To Harden Your Seedlings For A Successful Garden.
Growing starter plants for your home veggie garden is a great way to make sure your plants have a strong organic start. Whether you live in the north where the length of your summertime is limited or in the south where summers reign most of the year, starting plants can be both easy and a frugal way to garden.
But starting your plants indoors is only part of growing a successful batch of seedlings, you also need to prepare those plants for the weather in your area.
This post will show you how to harden your seedlings for a more successful garden. Exactly what to do and why you need to do it.
When I first began growing my own plants from seed, I truly thought once the plants were big enough and the weather was warm enough then those plants were ready to go into the ground.
Unfortunately, I soon found out there was more to it.
That first year I lost quite a few plants because of an unexpected cold snap. Not so cold there was a frost, but much much cooler than my poor little seedlings could handle.
SLCG PRO TIP: This is important to take note of. It’s not just a frost you need to be wary of, but any large dip in temperatures. If you are not a weather watcher now, once you start gardening…you will be. By making it a habit of watching the temperatures you will be able to save your garden and your plant from any significant changes.
Little did I know I could have prevented all of this by doing one simple thing.
Taking the Time to Harden Your seedlings.
Luckily, hardening your garden plants is quite simple to do, so don’t worry if you are a gardening newbies!
When you are starting plants indoors your success all depends on your weather timeline.
Your timeline is based on where you live. This includes the weather, the seasons, and the amount of daylight in your area. This is called your zone.
Once you know your zone you will know the best time to plant any plant in your area. Learn your zone and remember it, I promise you will need it often. You can use this handy tool here to help you out. Just input your zip code and your zone will pop up. Your zone will help you to know when to start your seeds indoors and also when you can safe add your plants to your garden.
Onions are different, they can go in just as soon as the ground is worked. Find out more HERE.
In Northwestern Pennsylvania I like to begin my plants indoors in my DIY (not so) sophisticated growing system. This allows me to get a jump on my seedlings so they are sturdy enough to handle our heavy winds. For our zone, I start my peppers in February and my tomatoes in March. I will also start any vine plants like watermelon or cantaloupe in April.
This basically ensures that my plants will be a perfect size come May when I plant.
More or less I came at this time frame from trial and error. I used the suggested plant times found for my zone and kept pretty thorough notes in my gardening journal. I wrote when I started my seeds and how big my seedling plants were come planting time in May. If the date needed to be adjusted I would make a note of my new planting schedule for the following year and put a note in my calendar file.
SLCG PRO TIP: This file is a game-changer for me. Once I know my reminder is in there I can let it go. There is nothing worse for me than mind clutter! You see, I check that file every new month making notes on my family calendar as I go. Come February and March I will see my note of what to plant and know the new date for my seeds. Super simple!
I also like to have a gardening prep and planting schedule written up that I can refer to each spring. From that schedule, I know my plants need to be in the ground sometimes between the last week of May until the 2nd week of June to make sure they have plenty of time to grow and produce.
Now, this seems like all te bases are covered. Once you have a schedule and your plan of attack written down and ready to refer to you are all ready to go…right?
Nope, there is still one more thing you need to do.
You will need to harden your seedlings so they can better handle any late weather cold snaps that may hit unexpectedly.
To harden your seedlings, you simply need to set them outside in a safe place that is out of the way of nosey critters. (great tip if you happen to have a crazy Jack Russel that insists on getting into EVERYTHING.)
A sunny place is best for you to harden up your seedlings, but be careful. Too much sun can very quickly dry out your plants especially if they are still in those little seed trays.
Watch them close and water as needed. I like to set a reminder on my phone for every hour or so. This little nudge just keeps me on top of things and helps me to remember my young plants.
You will also want to watch for high winds as well. If you have a windy day you can still put your plants outside, just keep them close to your house for protection or you can put them under a woven deck chair so they still get some sun but the winds cannot hurt them.
If you have quite a few plants to harden up, taking them in and out each day can be quite a task. To help, I like to put my flats on a cart that I can easily wheel in and out of our barn or garage.
A garden or utility wagon works well too!
Just put them out for a few hours the first day working your way up to full days and some early evenings as well.
Each night, bring the plants back into the house so they are protected from the cold damp air. At this point, your plants should large enough to not need the grow lights.
Continue to harden your seedlings like this for up to a week increasing the time spent outside with each day. Eventually, your plants will become stronger allowing them to better handle those chilly nights.
Now you are ready to put your sturdy plants into your garden soil without the risk of damaging your plants.
There is nothing better than fresh organic vegetables straight from the garden. Start your plants indoors with organic seeds, take the time to harden your seedlings, prepare your soil, and mulch your garden and you will have a bountiful harvest. One you can use to fill your winter pantry with.
Have a question on how to harden up your seedlings? Ask in the comment below!