The Q&A Archives: Hardening Off

Question: I have successfully started plants from seed, but would lose them during the "hardening off" period. I work full time so I am not able to put plants out for only a few hours a day. What would you suggest?

Answer: I know that problem well! Do you have an enclosed porch--somewhere that gets filtered light and won't get too hot during the day? That might be the place to start. I've successfully hardened off seedlings by placing them in a spot that will receive morning sun, but be shaded by mid-day. Watch where the shadows fall on the northeast side of the house, and see if there's a spot you could set them. Since small containers can dry out very quickly in the sun and wind, place them in a protected spot (out of strong winds) and water them well in the morning. If it is predicted to be a sunny day, I even let them sit with a little water in the tray, just to be sure they don't dry out by the time I get home 9 or 10 hours later. (You could also choose a site on the northwest side of the house that receives afternoon sun. I like morning sun because it is less strong and usually the mornings are a little cooler.) Now, my problem is that many mornings when I leave for work, it's only in the 40's, but warms up to the 70's during the day. I can't put my tomatoes out on those 40 degree mornings! I've gone so far as to set a garden cart out in the sun on those cool mornings, and put in 5 or 6 gallon jugs filled with hot water, then covering the cart with an old window. I set it in a spot where it will be shaded after noon, so it won't get too hot in there. If you come up with a better set-up, let me know!

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