Davis, R., and O'Callaghan, A. 2003, Hardening Off Plants, Extension, University of Nevada Reno, FS-03-71

Change can be difficult for anyone…plants are no different. This is especially true of tender young plants moved from comfortable surroundings in the greenhouse or shade house and immediately set out to face the extreme conditions of life in a Nevada landscape. Low humidity, high and low temperatures, wind and alkaline inorganic soils that may be from a clay to a sand may shock young plants. Life can be tough for a plant in the Silver State. Survival can be as difficult for purchased and newly planted trees and shrubs as it is for tender vegetable and bedding plants. As with people, a little time and care can help plants adjust and survive their new surroundings.

Why is this so?

Seedlings that have been started in a cold frame or greenhouse have been protected from harsh conditions. Starting successful crops requires sufficient, but not excess, water, sun, warmth and soil nutrients, and these are usually the conditions under which we plant seeds. Under ideal conditions such as these, plants tend to be more tender and succulent. Their stems do not have the capacity to withstand strong winds and need time to adjust and acclimatize. Biological reactions that permit the plant to respond to different environmental cues and difficult conditions help plants adjust, but several days to weeks may be needed for this to happen.

How long will it take?

Avoid the disappointment of seeing your new transplants wilt, scorch, or even die by taking a little time to gradually acclimate them to their new environment. How long this takes depends upon:

  • The conditions under which a plant was grown.
  • The conditions under which the plant was marketed.
  • The conditions or site into which it will be planted.
  • The environmental conditions under which the plant evolved. A tropical plant may never acclimate to outdoors Nevada.

The more protected their original growing conditions, whether it is in the nursery or the retailer, and the harsher the soil and climate conditions of their new surroundings, the longer the acclimation process will take. For most plants this process will take between a week and ten days.

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