How To Bring Garden Seedlings Outdoors In Canada

How To Bring Garden Seedlings Outdoors In Canada

It’s that time of year where seedlings need to come outside. But with the risk of transplant shock, the task can seem impossible. These issues can compound when you are trying to bring seedlings outdoors in Canada. In this article we will look at how and when you should bring your seedlings outdoors. 

How to bring seedlings outdoors 

This can be broken down into two categories. The first being warm weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, melons, & exotics. The second would be referencing cold climate crops such as herbs, leafy greens, flowers & new perennials. 

Regardless of which plant you are bringing outside in Canada you need to know your last frost free day for your area. This is simply an estimate of when your area will not receive frost. Some years you may notice the frost has stopped earlier or later then the suggested day. 

If you choose to plant before the first free day you want to ensure you have a way of covering plants at night. This can be a simple bed sheet or a legitimate frost cloth. The bed sheet is a way of being prepared for surprise night time lows under zero. 

You will also want to test your soil temperature with a meat thermometer. The temperature of the soil should be five degrees Celsius or higher before planting anything outside. This can happen before your frost free date some years. 

Once you have determined your frost free date feel free to count back 1-2 weeks. This is your hardening off start time for cold climate crops. For the warm climate crops the hardening off period will begin the same day as your frost free days begin. 

This is a video where I explain the importance of hardening off

Hardening Off Plants For A Canadian Garden

The process of hardening off cold and warm climate plants will be the exact same. The difference will be in the start time. We want to avoid exposing the warm climate crops to air that is below 10-15 Celsius. This is because colder air will cause unneeded stress and ultimately sacrifice performance. 

The hardening off schedule is simple. To start off you will want to place your seedlings outdoors in a shaded area out of the wind. You can do this for 1-2 days and on the third day you can place the seedlings in some sunshine. Make sure you bring them inside during the night. 

You will only want to give them 4-5 hours of sunshine at a time. Aim to position the plants so that they receive morning sunshine rather than intense mid day rays. Remember to shelter them from any high winds. You will also want to bring them indoors every night. 

After 2-3 days of some light you can now move them into an area with more intensity. This will include full sun and full wind conditions for another 5 days. If the nighttime temperatures stay above freezing feel free to leave the plants outdoors. Once this is completed you are ready to start planting them outdoors. 

Transplanting Tomatoes, Peppers, Melons & Exotics In Canada

When it comes to warm crops such as tomatoes, peppers and exotics you will want to start the hardening off process on the day of the last frost free day. Remember there is no rush with putting these plants outside.

While it may be above freezing during the day and night, the cooler temperatures of 10 Celsius at night can stunt the plant. This stunting will result in later and lower yields. The best time to place them outside is 1-2 weeks after your last frost free day. 

Transplanting Leafy greens, Herbs, Onions, & Cold Climate Crops In Canada

With colder climate crops you can bring these outside up to a week before the last frost free day. These plants thrive in conditions where nighttime temperatures dip below 10 degrees Celsius. In many cases cold climate crops will suffer if left inside a warm greenhouse, the result being something called bolting. 

Keep in mind many cold climate crops can be directly down into the soil. If you choose to go this route you can start planting the seeds 2-3 weeks before your last frost date. And even all the way up to the first week of June. 

How to care for the seedlings in the first two weeks in Canada 

Initially seedlings need a bit more attention. This is because our seedlings are trying to establish their roots and adjust to the new conditions. After the hardening off process we can plant our seedlings outdoors. 

Before planting you will want to thoroughly water your plant pots. This will limit any root damage that can occur from removing the plants from their original container. While letting the plants soak up the water you can begin digging your holes.

Ensure each hole for planting is 2 times bigger than the pot you are transplanting. This will allow the plant roots to get  a head start in the loose soil. Place the plant in the hole and be sure the top of the plant soil and the earth soil are level. 

Once your hole is filled in with soil you will want to protect the plant from excess damage and stress. This may involve staking the plant to ensure it’s properly supported. You can also deadhead or remove any spent blooms if you are transplanting floral plants. 

My favourite method is to take one five gallon pail with a hole on each end, placing it over the plant. This will take off the edge when it comes to rapid temperature changes, high winds and hot sun. After 1 week of the protection barrier you can enjoy the garden without the protective shields.

How To Water Seedlings

For watering, you will want to water a little bit every day for the first two weeks. This will help the roots establish while also reducing transplant shock. Be sure to fertilize once a week throughout the year. But for the first two weeks try using a fertilizer high in potassium. Potassium is the last number of the N-P-K numbers you see on fertilizer packaging.

How To Fertilize Seedlings

Potassium helps reduce transplant shock by helping in the production of enzymes. These enzymes help protect the plant against stress, disease and pests. Kelp meal an organic form of fertilizer high in potassium. 

It’s official you are now ready to tackle the art of transplanting seedlings. Remember you will first want to start the hardening off process which can take 1-2 weeks of patience. After that you are ready to start planting outside. 

After everything is set up in the garden make sure to provide some shelter. While this is not an absolute must it can help reduce the classic wilted sad look. What tips do you have when it comes too transplanting outdoors?

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