How to Grow: Solving Seed Starting Problems

Listen to this podcast on common seed starting problems and how to solve them.

Young Plants, Tomatoes, Growing Trays, PreferThe days are getting longer, the sun is stronger and with warm weather this week, gardeners are thinking about sowing seeds. Of course, it’s still too early to sow outdoors, but if you’re an indoor seed starter you may already have seedlings popping up. But sometimes your little seedlings don’t look very happy. This could be due to a number of factors. So, let’s do some seed starting problem solving.

If your seedlings all of sudden fall over and die, you may have damping off fungal disease. This disease thrives in wet conditions. The key to preventing it is cleaning all your pots and trays with a bleach solution before planting, using a sterile seed starting soil mix and not watering too much. Once it starts, remove and destroy infected seedlings. If some nearby seedlings aren’t infected, reduce watering, dry the soil with a small fan and maybe they will survive. A too wet soil medium is also the reason for mold or algae growing on the top of your soil. Although it won’t kill the seedlings, the wet soil could lead to damping off disease.

If your seedlings are tall and leggy, they aren’t getting enough light. Even a South-facing window won’t offer enough light intensity this time of year for seedlings. It’s best to grow seedlings a few inches under your grow lights set on a timer 14 hours a day. Change your grow light bulbs every few years as they will reduce in intensity over time. Once leggy, seedlings don’t really recover, except tomatoes which can be planted deeper in the soil and will root along their stems.

Pale green or purple true leaves could be a sign of lack of nutrition. Feed seedlings once their true leaves form with a liquid, organic fertilizer. Avoid fish emulsion indoors, unless you like your house smelling like the beach!

Excerpted from the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.

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