how not to kill seedlings? : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I was wondering if anyone is an expert at killing their seedlings started indoors? I know I am and this year I have invested some money in open pollenated seeds and don't want to kill them. I have a sun porch facing the south east and I fiqure that this would be a good place to start seeds. I have leeks, onions, scallions, celery, parsley and some herbs started. When they come up how do I keep them from getting spindly? How do I not kill them? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!! Thanks!! cara lewis

-- cara lewis (, March 08, 2001


Sounds like you have an ideal place to get them started.Immediately after they sprout,I move mine outside in the sunshine during warmer parts of the day.If your climate permits,that will keep them from getting spindly.Don't water until the soil begins to dry out.Also,I don't fertilize until they go into the garden.I have good luck with seedlings.I manage to kill mine by planting out too early.We seem to get a late freeze every year now.

-- JT in Florida (, March 08, 2001.

Hi cara,

I'm not sure if you'll get enough consistent sunlight in your sun porch for your seedlings - this is what casuses them to get spindly. You may want to invest in a couple of shop lights and start your seedlings under them. Keep the lights close enough to the the seedlings so that they're almost touching the seedlings. Raise the lights as your seedlings grow. To make things easier, you probably should get a timer for your lights too and set it so your seedlings get 14-16 hours of light. Be sure to check the Countryside archives for more info on using shop lights.

Also, use soiless sterilized seedling mix for your pots as this will prevent damping off disease.

One book that I would recommend you get a hold of is The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel.

I purchased this book when I first started gardening many moons ago and it was (and still is) a big help.

Good luck. :-)

-- Jim Morris (, March 08, 2001.

Hi Cara. I use store bought ‘sterile’ soil-less mixes for starting seeds. The only real garden soil I might use would be a half an inch or so in the bottom of the pots (to save a little money). Regular soil isn’t as good for starting plants. It cramps the tender roots of newly sprouting plants. Tomatoes start out looking skinny and anemic where they pop out of the soil. The store bought stuff is a few dollars more, but those roots have room to stretch and grow. That’s what you want. You can MAKE a soil-less mix. A simple formula: Mix 4 quarts of vermiculite, 4 quarts of peat moss, and a couple tablespoons of lime. Don’t add ANY fertilizer at this time!!! Once the plants are up, you can give them a little plant food in their water. Be sure to MOISTEN any mix before putting it into your pots. Otherwise, when you water, you’ll make a big mess of your seeds. Most seeds don’t need light to germinate, so you can cover your pots with newspaper and keep them good and warm for the first week, or until they emerge. THEN your indoor seedlings will need LOTS of light. We’ve found personally, that the window areas are helpful, but florescent lights a couple inches above the plants do a whole lot better. If there are short days, or cloudy weather, the plants will begin a sort of quest for light. They’ll stretch up to find light. This creates spindly plants, ‘leggy-ness’ on tomatoes, and others. Wrapping your freshly planted seeds with plastic bags will keep in moisture during that first few warming, germinating days. That’s important as well. You can use clear plastic sheet or Plexiglas over the seeds when you first pot them, if they won’t all fit bagged in plastic wrap. Also, move the lights a little higher from the plants when they get 4-6 inches tall. Windows are a good intermediate step in the transition to the garden. Also, be sure to harden off your plants to the effects of the great outdoors after a few weeks of windows. When the days are getting warm and milder, start to leave your plants outside in a wind sheltered, partly shaded area for a few hours before bringing them back in to the window. The next day, leave them outside an hour or two longer. Then a little more the next day. For 3 or 4 days. Remember that they get SOME moisture from the outside spring air, so you should be able to cut back on the watering/fertilizing as you start to put them out. With leggy plants, like tomatoes, you can pick off the lower couple leaves, and turn more of the plant into a ROOT system. (Planted deeper, or in horizontal trenches). When they hit the dirt, make sure their roots are not touching any fertilizer for a while. If you wish to put fertilizer in with the plant, dig a deeper hole and put fert. in the bottom of the hole, with an inch or so of soil above that. THEN put in the plant on top of that. I pick at and disturb the roots just a little bit when planting. Water sufficiently on that first day in the garden. I’m starting to ramble… That’s probably enough for now. Oh, one more thing: talk to your plants. Tell them to grow. Bye for now.

-- The Action Dude (, March 08, 2001.

I found that putting a small fan on them will help them survive for two reasons.

1. It keeps a constant ventilationstream across the plants, thereby inhibiting mold, and

2. It strengthens the stems by subjecting them to very low level strain, encouraging stronger growth.

Also, when starting seedlings, make sure that the dirt comes all the way up to the top of the pot, thereby eliminating "dead" ventilation areas just below the rim where molds and such can thrive.

-- Soni (, March 08, 2001.

Two things make spindly seedlings: Too little light and too much nitrogen. Seedlings need very little nitrogen to begin with. Minerals are very important though.

If you don't want to pop for the soilless seed starting mix from the stores, collect leaves, shred them, and let them sit for a couple of years until they are decomposed. (Make sure the leaves are not from allopathic (?) plants. These plants put out chemicals that keep others from growing nearby. I believe black walnut and laurel fall into this category.) The best common leaves around here are oak and maple. Be sure not to add anything "hot" to speed up the compost. Hot is nitrogen and we are trying to avoid that. Just be patient.

Also, to keep them from keeling over once they're up, put a layer of vermiculite or chicken grit over the top of the soil. This discourages the "damping off" fungus.

Good luck!

-- Laura Jensen (, March 09, 2001.

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