Now that your seeds have stuck their little heads up out of the soil, stretched and now are showing signs of true leaves. What do you do now?
Before you rip off you Hema-dome and throw you green children to the harsh weather, give them a chance to get used to it first.
This is called : Hardening off.
Hardening off means the seedling is gradually being exposed to its natural elements.
- Harden off gradually, so that seedlings become accustomed to strong sunlight, cool nights and less-frequent watering over a 7-10 day period.
- On a mild day, start with 2-3 hours of sun in a sheltered location.
- Protect seedlings from strong sun, wind, hard rain and cool temperatures.
- Use an automatically opening cold frame, if you have one.
- Increase exposure to sunlight a few additional hours at a time and gradually reduce frequency of watering, but do not allow seedlings to wilt. Avoid fertilizing.
- Keep an eye on the weather and listen to the low temperature prediction. If temperatures below the crop’s minimum are forecast, bring the plants indoors or close the cold frame and cover it with a blanket or other insulation.
- Know the relative hardiness of various crops. Onions and brassicas (Mustard, cabbage family) are hardy and can take temperatures in the 40’s. After they are well hardened off, light frosts won’t hurt them. Warm-season crops such as eggplants, melons and cucumbers prefer warm nights, at least 60° F. They can’t stand below-freezing temperatures, even after hardening off. (See chart below for more detail.)
- Gradually increase exposure to cold.
- Root-prune plants in flats a week before setting out. Use a sharp knife and cut down to the bottom of the flat between the plants. Water thoroughly.
- After transplanting to the garden, use a weak fertilizer solution to get transplants growing again and to help avoid transplant shock.