Hardening off seedlings

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For years I failed at hardening off seedlings. I would read in gardening books about putting seedlings out in full sun for a couple of hours everyday for two weeks. Well, this probably works well in the northeast where a lot of early garden books were written, but not in the South. Our sun is too intense for such young plants.

My other problem was that I would faithfully put seedlings outside only to promptly forget them. Guess what happened? I would go outside a few hours later to find all of my young plants dead or dying. This was very disheartening until I changed my tactics.

In the South, hardening off seedlings should take place in partial shade instead of full sun.

In the South, it’s a good idea to harden off seedlings in partial shade instead of full sun.

I solved this problem three ways.

  1. I put my seedlings in partial shade when I set them outside for the first few days. It’s too hot here to set them in the sun. After all, they’re baby plants with immature root systems, and they aren’t really in soil anyway.
  2. Potting soil is a mixture of things usually with peat moss or coir (coconut hull fiber) as the main ingredient. These two items dry out quickly so I make sure  plants are watered well before I leaving them outside. You’re exposing plants to different levels of light and wind. Wind, especially Oklahoma wind, will dry out your plants faster than you say “Let’s buy more seeds.”
  3. I set a timer. It may sound simple, but this is the best way to remember to bring my plants back indoors. I set one on my computer or even my kitchen stove. Since the plants are in the shade, I usually leave them out longer–about four hours a day. I then bring them back inside and set them in a window.
Don't forget to gently water seedlings before putting them out into the wind. You don't want to dry them out.

Don’t forget to gently water seedlings before putting them outside. You don’t want them to dry out in the wind.

I hope these three tips help you with hardening off your seedlings. I know they helped me.  For more tips on growing vegetables and gardening in general buy The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A No-Fuss, Down and Dirty, Gardening 101 for Anyone Who Wants to Grow Stuff


I'm a writer, born and raised in Oklahoma, and an obsessive gardener who grows shrubs, perennials and vegetables on my acreage each year. My favorite veggies have to be homegrown hybrid or heirloom tomatoes, Genovese basil and hot and mild peppers. It's an Italian salsa garden at my house.

One thought on “Hardening off seedlings

  1. Hey Dee,
    Great info on a little discussed but essential for success step. Wish I would have read 35 years ago. Like the new look and hope sales are doing well. We’re celebrating here because my first story as a contributing writer to the Kansas City Star ran in the garden section yesterday on creating the Goodnight Moon garden of your dreams.. Will become regular contributor in both spring and fall.
    Hope you’re having fun,

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