Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hardening Off

It's that time of year:  the weather is warming up, the frosts seem to be mostly behind us, and my tender baby plants can start making their migration outdoors.  It's a slow process, usually involving a twice daily ritual of marching flats into and out of the porch, but it's worth it.  Giving the plants a couple weeks to get used to outdoor light and temperatures makes for a better transition into their "permanent" garden spaces...and that means less death, wilting and general malaise. 
The nightly trot--but not one will be frosted!

Nobody likes malaise.

I think the hardest thing here is to avoid sunscalding the leaves.  If the plants get too much sun at first, their leaves bleach, crisp up and fall off.  That results in a rather dead or sickly plant that never does recover.  So I create little habitations for them to perch under, out of old bamboo roller shades.
There's the jumbo version pictured above (which lays nicely over the barnboard-and-cow-stanchion bench) and then a teeny version pictured below, this time held up by two handy wooden stakes.
Both options are perfect for parking a few flats out in the sunny space, but allows them to not get fried.  After a few days being outdoors, I roll back the shade to gradually give them the full sun they crave.  It also helps to serve as a bit of a wind-block, in case we wind up with a breezy spring afternoon.  A little wind is a good thing, but too much can snap a growing stem like nobody's bizniz.

For the tender things that have been hardening off in the cold frame, on a chilly night I park a layer of horticultural fleece over them.  They've grown so tall that they touch the glass windows, and if that happens they'll frost.  So the fleece gives them the protection they need, without squishing their growth.  A handy rake helps keep it from blowing off.
Soon enough, frosts will be a thing of the past and not a threat until Fall rolls back around.  But for now, my little protective devices will do the trick and keep my plants from suffering an untimely death.

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