We have been waiting so eagerly to put our hands in the soil and grow…whether you started your plants from seed 😉 , purchased them from an Alaskan farm, garden center, Master Gardener plant sale or the Palmer FFA – plants need to be hardened off to your landscape prior to being transplanting.
What does this mean and why? For those plants grown indoors under lights or glazing (greenhouse coverings) they have enjoyed a lot of cotteling. Including but not limited too: constant consistent temperatures, timely watering, frequent feedings, reduced UV light exposure, minimal wind, limited pest pressure and lack of exposure to the soil ecosystem.
All of these protective measure have grown strong healthy plants but can they withstand the forces of nature on your landscape? If we take our juvenile plants and place them directly into the outdoor environment without a hardening off period, there may be some rather shocking impacts.
Suddenly plants that have adapted to a protective environment are now subjected to fierce drying winds, massive fluctuations in temperature, intense UV exposure, “pest” pressure and cooler soil temperatures. A period of gradual transition to their new home will allow for adaptation to occur so that they may thrive in nature.
Excluding the warm loving plants that may suffer tissue damage below 45F (tomatoes, peppers, squash, pumpkins, corn, dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias and others) many cultivated varieties can handle cooler temperatures. What they cannot handle is direct and immediate exposure to UV rays. Sunburn and sunscald are the most common concerns that will come up during this time of year.
Taking a broad focus to include as many plants as possible:
In a protective location out of the wind and direct light- away from pets, littles and wild animals
Start hardening off with time: setting plants out plants each day for a period of time (start with one hour and increase every day over a 10 day period)
Use directional hardening off: start in the North, move to the East, then to the West and finally the South
Increase watering and fertility: we want to give our plants the best chance at survival and the capacity to fend off “pests” and disease. Restricting food and water (although are adaptations in the wild) decreases a plants health and vitality. We are growing in managed ecologies with a goal of food production…our actions should reflect that.
Once your plants are in their new homes you may find that they are not looking so well. This is a period of adjustment as plants are taken from the current vessel that lacks all the biodiversity that living soil has to offer. Once transplanted, new relationships within the soil will begin to form with millions of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, nematodes and protozoa. Your plant is now the new kid at school and it will take time for the root system to become part of an even bigger system. Help your plants through this phase with light feedings, warm water, staking and of course wind protection.
Once our trees fully leaf, the temperatures are consistently in the 60Fs and soil temperatures are above 50F…we will begin to see a massive influx of insects who are hungry! Will your plants be strong and healthy enough to fend off this initial pressure? They will because you have hardened them off 🙂