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Hardening Off Seedlings: How To

Category: Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Transplanting young seedlings that were grown inside your home to a garden outside can be a traumatic experience that places their health and well-being in jeopardy. You have to realize that outdoor environments bring fluctuating temperatures, rain, wind and intense humidity. If the seedling isn’t prepared for conditions such as these, there’s a good chance they won’t take to their new outdoor environment. The good news is that you can harden off seedlings beforehand to make the transition smoother and less stressful; here’s how you do it:

Start Early

Ideally, you should begin hardening off your seedling about 10-14 days before you intend on transplanting them. As long as you are consistent, this should be more than enough time for the seedlings to adapt to their new outdoor environment. Of course, certain plants may transplant more efficiently with a longer hardening phase. Check your seed packet or look for more information regarding the hardening process.

Place Seedlings Outside

When you are ready to begin the hardening phase, start by placing your potted seedlings in a shaded outdoor area for about 45 minutes to an hour each day for the first week. During the second week, increase this amount to 2-3 hours of outdoor exposure. This will give your plants the opportunity to gradually grow accustomed to their new environment without simply being thrown in.

It’s important to remember that seedlings need to be placed in a semi-shaded area that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, especially during the first week. Giving young seedlings too much sun exposure may cause them to go into shock. Instead, place them in a shaded area like a covered patio or porch where they aren’t bombarded by full sunlight. During the second week, you can move them out into a full sun area for part of the time while they are outside.

If the weather begins to go south while your seedlings are outside, bring them in immediately. Heavy rainfall or strong gusts of wind can easily kill off an otherwise healthy seedling.


After two weeks of hardening, your seedlings should be ready for transplanting into the garden. Use extra caution during this last step to reduce the impact it has. Do your best to avoid touching the roots and handle the seedling with care. Once it’s in the soil, you may want to build a tarp over it to help block out some of the sunlight. Just remember to closely monitor your seedlings for any signs of illness.

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