How to Harden Off Transplants

How to harden off transplants to prepare them to plant outside!

What does it mean to Harden Off Transplants?

Hardening off transplants is the process of slowly getting them used to the outside conditions. This is important if you grew your transplants inside.

The plants need to get used to being exposed to full sun, full wind, colder temps at night and hotter temps during the day before they can grow.

What happens if you do not harden off transplants?

If you do not harden off transplants, and just plant them in the garden straight from being inside, it can “shock” them and cause them to stop growing.

Imagine if someone picked you up out of your warm bed and dropped you into super hot or cold conditions immediately, it would shock you! You’d take a little while to recover from that right!?

How to Harden Off Transplants

So to avoid this shock, we will take the baby plants outside for a few hours each day, until they are used to being in the outside weather.

Each day for about a week, take the seedlings outside and set them in a safe place. Keep an eye on them and take them back inside or move them into the shade if they start to droop or look like they are struggling.

I like to give mine a good watering before I set them outside, and again in the evening when I bring them inside if they are really dry.

Sample Transplant Hardening Off Scheduling

  • Day 1: 2 hours in the early morning or evening in shade or indirect sun
  • Day 2: 2 to 4 hours in the early morning or evening indirect sun
  • Day 3: 4-6 hours in the full afternoon sun (move them back or cover with shade cloth if they start to droop)
  • Day 4: 6-8 hours in full sun
  • Day 5: 8-10 hours in full sun
  • Day 6/7: 12 hours in full sun, usually ready to plant outside by day 6 or 7!

It’s not an exact science, create your schedule based on how much time you have, and the weather conditions each day. The most important thing is to not shock the transplants by forcing them from cold to hot or vice versa.

If you only have a few days to harden them off instead of a full week that’s fine! The more days you take and the slower you baby them, it just makes it easier on them.

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What if I don’t harden off transplants?

Have I ever just transplanted them straight from inside out into the garden? Yes lol. Did they survive? Yes. But I think they would have grown faster and thrived better if I had hardened them off, so I try to do that now each year.

Hardening off lessons the time they need to get comfortable in the garden and start growing.

So if you don’t harden off, after you plant them in the garden, the plants are going to be using all their energy to try to recover from the transplant shock instead of growing for the first few days.

Tips to Harden Off Transplants

  • If it’s really windy or raining don’t take them outside yet.
  • Overcast days are the best for the first few days.
  • The morning sun and evening sun when it’s not the brightest is also good the first few days.
  • Move them under a shady tree if the sun is too strong.
  • Check them frequently, water if needed.
  • Set up your table near your door so you don’t need to carry your transplants very far to take them back inside.
  • Use a cafeteria tray to help carry your transplants inside and outside.
  • Be sure to set them someplace safe from dogs and other animals, I use a folding table I set outside right by my backdoor.
This the the cafeteria tray I use to carry my transplants inside and outside each day. I can fit 12 of these cups on a tray.

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