Georgia Garden Girl

Garden Great in Zone 8!

Tough Love

on March 20, 2014

Happy Spring, y’all!

I started my tomato and pepper seeds indoors back in January, and I started some other vegetables in February.  These veggies have been living in the lap of luxury in my laundry room—a constant, warm temperature, regular watering with a light stream of tepid water, and gentle yet effective lights.

Now, it is time to prepare my plants for the harsh realities of the world.  They will have to be tough to make it out there, where the temperature fluctuates, cold rain pours, wind blows, and the sunlight is a lot more intense than a little fluorescent shop light.

Obviously, I should not just go ahead and move the plants into the direct sunlight of the vegetable garden.  They need to be moved gradually so they have a chance to adjust.  This process is called “hardening off.”  And it is very, very important.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  During the first year of my vegetable garden, I grew some beautiful tomato plants from seed, and I was itching to get them into the ground.  So I took them from the laundry room where they had been coddled for two months and planted them directly in my raised beds.  Big mistake.  On their first day outside, the sun badly burned the leaves.  Though the plants eventually recovered, my mistake cost me about a month of tomato production time.  I will never make that mistake again.

Now, I have a five-step process for hardening off my plants.  First, I have to figure out when to start hardening off.  A lot of considerations are factored into the calculus of exactly when to start hardening off.  There’s the date (are we within a week or two of our 50% frost date?).  There’s the weather (is there a threat of a frost? will the temperatures generally be in the mid-40s or above at night? are we expecting a monsoon?).  There’s the soil temperature (is it getting close to 60°F?).  In general, I try to start hardening off the plants a week or two before our 50% frost date, which is March 23 in my part of Middle Georgia.  But if it looks like there will be a frost or a bad storm, I will wait.

After I calculate my hardening off start date, I’m ready to move to steps two through five.  Step Two: I start the hardening off process in the carport.

Carport

Step Three: after a couple days in the carport, I move the plants to a shady part of my deck.  Step Four: after a couple days there, I move the plants to a partly sunny part of the deck.  Step Five: after a few more days, I move the plants to a slightly sunnier part of the vegetable garden.  And then, after a few more days, the plants are sufficiently hardened off and ready to be moved to their beds.  Right now, my plants are somewhere between Step Two and Step Three (sorry – I forgot to take a picture).

While you’re hardening off your plants, be careful to watch the weather reports.  If you know there will be a bad storm, you probably want to bring the plants under cover—or at least out of the path of potential falling branches.  And watch the nighttime temperature.  In the 40s, tomatoes and peppers will probably be okay. But not okra.  Last weekend, the nighttime temperatures dipped into the low 40s, and my smallest okra showed serious signs of distress, so it and its brethren are now back inside for a few more days.

The fine folks at the Weather Channel are predicting overnight lows in the low 30s in Middle Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week; I will keep an eye on the predictions.  If the temperatures do get that close to freezing, I will need to schlep everything back inside at night.

Good luck with your own tough love!

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One response to “Tough Love

  1. The Editors of Garden Variety says:

    Your plants are looking very healthy!

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