Setting Out Seedlings Without Hardening Them Off

Reader Contribution by Anna Hess And Mark Hamilton
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If you’ve been gardening for a while, you probably know what hardening off is. Basically, taking a pampered seedling that’s been hanging out under grow lights at room temperature and tossing it into the wind and sun and cold of the garden is a recipe for sad little vegetable plants who just sit there or perhaps die outright. So you harden the plant off gradually instead — putting it outside for a few hours one day in a sheltered spot, for a bit longer in a bit more exposed spot the next day, and so forth. The idea is that by the time the plant hits the garden, it’s used to adversity and ready to grow.

The trouble is…hardening off can be such a hassle! If you’re like me, remembering to check on those baby plants multiple times a day just isn’t going to happen. Luckily, there’s a better way.

I start a lot of plants indoors but I almost never harden them off properly. Instead, I keep a close eye on the forecast, looking for overcast, drizzly, moderate weather lasting at least three or four days. In early spring, that means several nights with lows in the forties. In the summer, it means afternoons when the mercury isn’t skyrocketing into the high eighties and nineties.

Then I set out my seedlings in the early evening just before the moderate spell, water them well, and cross my fingers. A few plants die, but most get their feet under them fast and take off. And less time hardening off means I have more time to start another round of seedlings. Score!

Anna Hess is the author of The Weekend Homesteader, which is full of tips and tricks for fitting self-sufficiency into a busy modern life.

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