OK, so your seedlings have had a lovely Princess-like start to life. They have grown quietly and nicely on a wonderfully warm mat under a steady supply of grow lights, where there is no wind, no bugs, and no plants bigger then they are. As they grow, they need to head to the garden. So far, their world has not changed, except for the book stack that got taller as the light adjusts above their heads.
But, as with any infant, you cannot simply toss them outside into the real world and hope for the best. Some preparation is in order and your plants are no different. In the world of plants, this phase is called Hardening Off. In its simplest meaning, it means, taking your princess like plants and turning them into hard-asses, ready to handle the real world. Notice how tall my tomatoes are in this photo, They are well tall enough to head out for Hardening off.
The way you begin Hardening Off is in small steps. Starting about a week or two before you expect to plant them into the garden, you start the process. Choose a lovely sunny, no wind day and set them outside for a couple of hours. Let them try it out there. Make sure none of them wilt or crumble up into a ball. Bring them back in before they flip out, panic and wilt. Each day increase the time as they adjust. After a few days, you can set them out in the morning, and take them in at dusk. I like to wait til it’s over 50 degrees at night before I let them stay out all night alone. Once you can do that, do it for a few nights and if everyone looks happy, they are then ready for transplanting out into the garden.
Here is part of my group, set out safely at the house end of the driveway. But still, you can almost hear them screaming, “What is she doing? She left us outside in the driveway!”… ok, enough of my silliness.