Hardening off plants–or transitioning young plants from the safety of an indoor environment to the outdoors–isn’t an exact science. Knowing when to harden off your plants is a bit of a guessing game. Sure, you can flip to the back of your seed packs and they will tell you approximately how many weeks you should wait before transplanting your precious plants from the safety of the indoors to the unpredictable outdoors. But that’s not enough information. What’s going on outside your window is even more important than what the little packs recommend.
Atlanta had a long and unpredictable winter that has carried its cold fronts over into the spring. The temperature drops make hardening time harder to determine. Then there are the April Showers that Bring May Flowers but thanks to global warming/natural warming/el nino or whatever you’d like to blame, April showers may become deluges that beat down tiny plants before drowning them to death. Your plants required too much hard work and money to watch them wash away!
The trick is to move plants outdoors but stay vigilant! Here are 3 Tips for Hardening Off Plants that will keep the weather from driving you crazy.
1. Weather Apps Get at least two weather apps to help you stay informed. One is insufficient because no one app is right all of the time. Two apps improves your accuracy. Three is probably better than two, but three starts to seem obsessive.
I recommend AccuWeather Platinum for iOS, which has MinuteCast. It is far more precise that hourly forecasts and it lets you know greater detail about weather patterns in your area.
If you’re on Android, check out Premium RadarNow, which imports all of its data directly from the National Weather Service. It’s not easy on the eyes but it has great info.
Of course, you should keep an eye on weather advisories but also pay attention to how many inches of rain you’ll receive and the speed of the wind. Your plants are still fragile and in containers at this point. If you’re getting several inches of rain, they may drown in the containers because the rain can’t drain quickly enough. 15+mph winds may rip off delicate leaves, delaying growth if not killing the plants completely. When conditions get too extreme, bring your plants into the garage; it’s still more hardcore than indoors but they’re better protected. If that’s not an option, consider covering your babies with these emergency supplies:
2. Emergency Supplies Sometimes the weather is just too harsh. When deep freezes or deluges pop up on the calendar, it’s a good idea to be ready.
- Tarp, Braces, and Anchors When there will be too much rain or abnormal heat and sunshine, a tarp will come in handy. It will protect your leafy babies from an onslaught from the heavens. Braces keep the tarp from squishing your plants and permit air circulation. Lastly, the anchors will keep your tarp from blowing away.
- Thermal Row Covers Drastic temperature drops and light freezes can be made bearable with light thermal blankets. They protect your plants from frost while permitting air flow and growth.
- Hand-held Colander If water settles on the top of your containers, you can take your chances and wait for it to drain or you can drain the water manually. With one hand, secure the base of your seedling near the soil line and tilt the container. Hold the colander with the other hand. The colander will help catch some of your soil conditioner and fertilizer while letting the water escape. Then just dump the good stuff back into the container.
3. Let go! It’s hard to harden off plants because there are so many risks involved but the whole idea is to strengthen your plants by letting them suffer. They will be swayed by wind, beat down by the sun, and they may get a bit chilly at night. Those trials and tribulations are make them stronger and prepare them for life outdoors where they belong!