Start an Outdoor Crop Indoors for Best Results

(I have written about starting plants inside for the outdoors before)

I actually started growing indoors to compliment my outdoor love of gardening. Living much of my life in northern areas of the USA I was always eager for spring so I started it early on my window sill as a child and eventually in a closet with a grow light later. I always will grow outdoors, it is the way of nature, but growing indoors has its benefits as we all know.

One real trick to starting plants indoor early is that you need to harden off your plants before putting them outside. Hardening off plants is the process, where you are preparing plants started indoors for the environmental conditions outdoors. If you don’t allow plants to harden off, they will be negatively impacted by UV light and other environmental stressors like wind, rain, and nighttime coolness. In other words, if you are not careful your plants will die days after you put them outside. The process of hardening off plants involves a transitional period in which plants are left outside in protected areas for short durations that get longer over time. You want them to get exposed to sunlight gradually over a week or so.

EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU CAN NOT HARDEN OFF YOUR PLANTS, there are a few things you should do to help your plants survive and thrive outside. The first is to have a fan on your plants. Of course this is just good growing, providing ventilation to maximize growth; but you should for several minutes each day put the fan(s) on high so the plants wave and bend. This will have the plants grow strong stems so they can handle wind, rain, and hail. It is also good to expose your plants to direct sunlight sometime when they are growing. If you don’t want the hassle of taking several plants in and out of the house each day, the least you should do is when they are very small, (seedlings) put a lot of plants on one flat and put it out for a few minutes each day until the plants are too big to take out in one trip. It would be best to gradually expose the plants to sunlight right before you put them outside, but if you can’t do that try to get them a couple hours (no more) of direct sunlight as they are growing. You should also transplant your plants outdoors on over cast days, multiple over cast days with drizzle is best.  Hot sunny days are BAD. 
Always water your plants well when you transplant as they will be stressed with the transplant. Try to disturb the roots minimally, if the roots are in the shape of the container break them up a bit so that they grow out and down and not around each other. Gently pack the soil around the roots. A trick I learned was to fill the hole ½- ¾ full then pull the plant up by the stem an inch or two (These are one month old strong stemed plants, not seedlings). This will make sure any loose roots are pointing down. Then, as with any transplant make sure the soil is firmly packed around the plants so there are no air pockets. I like to put the soil around the plants so that it drains toward the stem to increase water getting to the plant. However, for some plants you will want to mound the soil so that it drains away from the stem (fungus problems). If you are not sure, try both and other combinations to find the best one. If you have plants that are several inces or bigger you should have dug a hole at least twice as wide and deep as the container (minimal for good growing).  If you are growing an annual you can dig a hole and fill it with potting soil, compost  or other amendments. If you are a dirt grower like me you can just mix your usual indoor mix with the outdoor stuff. (Or ditch the outdoor soil and grow in 100% indoor mix the plants won't be limited by a container) If you just want to add something to some decent soil, worm casting and other organic nutrients are good to add because they provide nutrients with minimal risk of harming the plants. Chemical fertilizers are usually not good to add to the soil, they are usually dissolved in water and applied. If you put chemical fertilizer in with the soil you risk burning (and killing) your plants.

If you can take care of your plants often, you should water them and give them fertilizer often to enhance their growth. If you can’t attend to your garden often you should water and give them fertilizer minimally. If you water a plant a lot it will have a shallow root system but more above ground growth (higher yields). BUT, if you water a garden a lot for a period and then stop, the shallow rooted plants have a greater chance of dying due to lack of water. Vermiculite or organic mixes like coir will hold water and help plants through droughts as well as help drain water in wet times.

I wish you a successful summer full of outdoor good growing!

Dr.E.R. Myers

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