Tomato starts are all ready for hardening before being planted in the garden. Photo: Pixels.com
Those super healthy little darlings you’ve been coddling for weeks still need some special care to adjust from your warm kitchen window to the vacillating weather in the garden. Cool air, chilly soil, wind, direct sun, all can be very unwelcoming to your delicate starts.
Now is the time for “hardening” or acclimating plants to the rigors of the outdoors with generally lower temperatures and humidity. This acclimating allows the starts’ cell walls and leaf cuticles to thicken so that they lose less water when exposed to the elements. This process will help to develop a stronger plant, better able to survive transplanting into garden or container soil.Heirloom 'Prospect' bean starts germinated indoors to get a head start on the growing season. Photo: Jill Fugaro
After two or three days in very protected areas, gradually increase the length of time and exposure to sunnier locations. If day and night temperatures remain above 50 degrees, they can safely remain outdoors overnight.
Remember to keep the plants hydrated and protect them from snails, slugs, and animals that may be very tempted by the young growth. Apply an organic plant-safe iron phosphate snail and slug killer or hand pick the slimy critters to safeguard your precious starts.
Once acclimated to the local weather conditions, choose a cool day or early evening to transplant so that the plants will have time to adjust before being exposed to afternoon sun. Be cautious not to disturb the delicate roots when removing the starts from their container. Gently water the transplants, being careful not to wet their leaves. Once again, protect your plants from snails, slugs, and animals. Continue to monitor your transplants daily until they are well established and plan to protect them with shade cloth – or an umbrella - if the days are suddenly hot or a frost is predicted.A variety of vegetable starts are ready for hardening before they are transplanted to the garden. Photo: Forest and Kim Starr, Wikimedia Commons
Chilly soil can be a very unwelcoming environment and cause your seedlings to languish and stunt their growth. While we are all anxious to fill our gardens with fresh veggies, give your soil time to warm up to provide a welcoming environment for your starts.
For more information on planting time for specific vegetables, visit the UC Marin Master Gardener website at marinmg.org, click on the “Edibles” link to find an entire section devoted to growing edibles. Take some time to poke around this newly redesigned section for some great growing tips!