Hardening Off Plants

A common complaint among novice gardeners is that they buy a beautiful looking tomato (or pepper or what-have-you) plant from the garden center, they bring it home to their own garden, and it seems to suffer. The plant, not necessarily the gardener. It gets brown leaves, maybe. Or doesn’t seem to grow. Or a myriad of other problems, and the gardener concludes they just don’t have a “green thumb”.

Usually, the problem has a pretty simple explanation and solution.

Think about how you feel in the winter, when you leave your toasty warm house and head outside into the cold. Even with a coat on, that first step out the door can be harsh. Then, after awhile, you start to get used to it and it doesn’t seem so biting any more.

The same scenario can be applied to your plants. They’ve been growing in a nice protected environment. And then suddenly you’ve planted them outside without any shelter or protection. If you happen to have a cold spell soon after you’ve planted tender vegetables like tomatoes, they can suffer a lot. Or, even if it doesn’t get cold, you’ve taken them from a place where the likely are at least partially shaded throughout the day and suddenly thrown them into the full sun all day long, and they get sunburned.

Luckily, the solution is simple – it’s a process called “hardening off”. When you first buy your plants (or if you’ve started them from seed inside your house) and you decide you want to plant, over the course of a few days bring them outside to a protected area (partial-full shade so they don’t get sunburned, and progressively move them to a sunnier location) during the day, but bring them back inside at night. You can leave them out a bit longer each day, and then, if the temperatures are compliant, you can start leaving them outside overnight. Don’t forget to water them during this time – those little pots they come in from the store dry out quickly, especially in the sun and if there is wind, so you’ll probably have to water them daily unless it rains. After a week they should be good to go.

You can follow the same hardening off process with your houseplants. This year, in my effort to beautify my outdoor living space (and, really, in an effort to cheer up some of my sadder looking houseplants) I’ve decided to bring some of them outdoors. I’ve been bringing them out for a couple days and putting them in a place that stays shady most of the day. I’m choosing the shade because they’ve been accustomed to the low light conditions of my house and while they may be in a shady spot outside, I can guarantee they are receiving much more light than they have previously; again, I don’t want them to sunburned. I haven’t left them outside overnight yet, but once the temperatures here remain consistently above 45 F at night it’s probably safe.

hardening off houseplants, acclimating plants to outside

I’ve been bringing some of my houseplants outside for a few hours at a time. When the night time temperature consistently remains above 45 F I’ll start leaving them outdoors permanently.


What have you been planting in your garden this year? and How do you beautify your outdoor living space?


  1. That is a great tip – I definitely need to share that one with the “gardener” in my house 😉

  2. Ah ha. I am usually too hasty when hardening of plants. I see, now, to take things a little slower.

  3. A major A-Ha moment here for me – I have always had a green thumb, but since having to go from garden to indoor plants, everything (including succulents) has died on me. I am guilty of the murder of fig trees, assorted cacti including jade trees and other presumably un-killable specie), and I am bereft. Does anyone know of a
    male of the older variety, presumably rich, generous and blind, who would shower
    me with bouquets of flowers weekly or daily, whereby I would never, ever have to
    kill another plant again?

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