So you’ve started your plants from seed and now they’re almost ready to transplant your garden. That means it’s time for hardening off.
When your plants were seedlings, little babies with just two seedling leaves, all they needed was lots of light. Then they became little toddler plants with their first true leaves. You could start fertilizing with foliar spray.
That’s when you transplanted them into bigger pots. They needed more room for a bigger root system. Like young children, they were growing fast!
Now they are big!
And like teenagers, your plants want to be out in the garden. But just like your teenage children, you
have to get them ready for the big wide world. They haven’t yet had to dig deep for scarce water, so their roots are still pretty small and tender. And the cell walls of their stems are not very sturdy That means they will break or bruise easily if it’s windy.
This is how we get our plants accustomed to the hardships of outdoor living. Start by taking them outdoors and setting them in a sheltered corner of the yard. Somewhere where there’s not a lot of wind or sun. Bring them back inside after a couple hours. The next day, set them out for four hours. The day after that move them where they’ll get a bit more wind and sun.
Every day, increase the amount of time that your plants are outside and move them more and more into the wide open spaces where they will get full sun and gentle winds. Bring them back into the house or shelter the plants if the winds are strong.
On day seven of Hardening Off, start cutting back on watering. After 10 days or so, you can leave them outdoors all day. Limit water to every 2-3 days.
Check the weather to decide when you will plant your hardened off plants into the garden. It should be a day with very little wind and not a lot of sun. Two to three days before planting, stop watering altogether so that the soil is dry or mostly dry when you go to plant.
When you go to plant, you’ll want to have a plan. Plant the taller plants on the north side of the garden so that they don’t block other plants from the sun. Know how far apart to space your plants. Peppers and brassicas should be planted 15”-18” apart. Tomatoes should be 20”-30” apart. Squash should be 2′-3′ apart if your are going to grow them vertically up a trellis. If you are going to have them spreading across the ground, plant them 6′-8′ apart.
Dig a nice deep hole for the plant, at least half again bigger than what you think they need. You can always backfill it a bit if it’s too big. Put a couple handfuls of compost into the hole and mix it around with loose dirt. Put the plants into the hole and fill it back up with dirt.
Tomatoes have a unique trait: roots will develop wherever the stem is in contact with the ground. So you’ll want to bury the whole stem of the tomato plant so that the the first branches are at ground level. Then roots will develop all along the buried stem and your plant will be a lot more vigorous.
Most vining plants—like cucumber, squash and melons—don’t like to have their roots disturbed. If you’ve planted them in peat pots or newspaper pots, that’s good. It means you won’t have to remove them from the pot when you plant. But if you didn’t plant them in a peat pot or newspaper pot when you remove them from their plastic pot, be very careful disturb the roots as little as possible. Add a spoon full of Epsom salt to the hole and maybe a couple handfuls of compost. Stir that around before transplanting. The Epsom salt will help the vining plant recover quicker from the trauma of having its roots disturbed.
You have nurtured your little plants from seed to full grown plant and now you have a beautiful garden. Enjoy the harvest!
Here’s a short video on how to make newspaper pots: