Acclimating Your Vegetable Seed Starts to The Outdoors: 'Hardening-off ' Vegetable Plants

Posted by Gary Pilarchik on

by Gary Pilarchik (The Rusted Gardener)

A lot of gardeners don't know their indoor seed starts are soft and not ready for the great outdoors. They need to go through a slow acclimation process to get use to the sun's ultraviolet rays, the wind and temperature fluctuations. The process is generally called 'hardening-off' and it is how it sounds. Your seed starts need a week's time to toughen up to the world in which they will be growing. They will actually be burned by the UV rays of the sun. They will be stressed by the wind and temperature changes.

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When your seeds germinate indoors and break the surface they are ready for the outdoor elements but they lose that ability as they spend weeks growing 'oh so comfortably' indoors. They have to be reintroduced to Nature. I can't give you an exact way to do this but to say... slowly over a one week period. Too many factors come into play such as; plant variety, temperature, time of day, amount of sun that day, the wind and day night temperature fluctuations.

This video discusses two ways to acclimate your plants. The way I recommend is to give your seed starts time outside 2,3,4 times a week, during nonfreezing temperatures, for 15 to 30 minutes as soon as they germinate. This exposure will make for an easy transition outdoors. The benefit is they will already be 'hardened-off' and the exposure to the sun will benefit their growth. The disadvantage to this is the possibility of insects hitching a ride back into your indoor grow area. The second method is to transition them incrementally to the outdoors, slowly over time, once the reach transplant size.


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  • If I left my plants out for WAY to long the first time and the plants are burned/wilted so bad they are stuck to the sides of the seed starter trays, is there any way I can revive them or are they out for the count?

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  • Hi just wanted to say thanks for all the information found your channel on YouTube and have successfully grown many seedlings. I have planted kale, lettuce and spinach out in the garden already. Have you ever tried planting in gutters ? Just curious, thanks again for all the info.

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