Now that you’ve started your seeds and they’ve germinated you may encounter a few problems or diseases. There are all kinds of problems that can plague your little seedlings, dampening off, legginess, nutrient deficiencies, too much watering, not enough light, etc.
Probably the most common problem when it comes to seed starting is legginess, or tall spindly seedlings. This is caused by lack of bright enough light. Make sure you PROVIDE YOUR SEEDLINGS WITH A STRONG LIGHT SOURCE. If you start your seedlings by a window you’ll notice that they grow longer and towards the window, they’re searching for light. When your seedling do this they’re using up energy growing tall and spindly, they won’t be as healthy as if they were given a good strong source of light. If you’re trying to grow seedlings indoors you just about have to provide an artificial light source. I try to start my seeds in flats on the front porch where they’ll get strong real sunlight or under some bright plants lights indoors. If you keep you seedlings under light make sure they’re close, within a few inches. Move the lights up as the seedlings grow taller. If your seedlings are getting enough light they’ll look strong and sturdy. One way to add more light without adding more lights is to add mirrors on the sides of your light table. I have mirrors leaned up against the wall behind my seedling shelf.
Dampening off, is probably the most common disease when starting seeds. It’s a fungus that can attack the seeds as soon as they germinate or after the seedling has emerged. You will know this is what killed your seedlings when you notice dark spots on the stem right at the soil level and the seedling topples over and withers away. There are several ways to help prevent dampening off, the main one being DON’T OVER WATER. This is the most common mistake when people try to grow houseplants and start seeds. Let the soil dry out before you water again, and don’t water too much at once. I have read that watering with chamomile tea helps, but I haven’t tried this personally. Another way to help reduce the risk of dampening off is to PROVIDE AIR MOVEMENT. I have a small fan that I use in my indoor my seed starting area. If I have the plants outside I make sure they’re in a place where they’ll get a breeze.
You may also have issues with nutrient deficiencies depending on the type of starting medium you use. I usually mix in some Dr. Earth Organic Starter Fertilizer in with my seed starting mix. If you notice the leaves on your plants turning purple (with the exception of some tomatoes whose leaves are slightly purple naturally) or if you notice the leaves turning yellow or the seedlings languishing you’ve mostly likely got a case of nutritional deficiency on your hands. If the leaves are purple then you’ll need to add some phosphorus. If you notice the leaves turning yellow and the seedlings not growing much you most likely have a nitrogen deficiency. Seedlings are tiny plants, they won’t be able to handle a full-strength dose of fertilizer otherwise you’ll burn the little plants. Make sure you USE HALF STRENGTH FERTILIZER when feeding your tiny plants. I’d recommend trying a balanced fish/seaweed emulsion that’s easy to mix up at half strength (Organic Neptune’s Harvest Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer comes highly recommended by many I know). Also if you have them outside do not foliar feed in mid afternoon when they’ll be getting sun, that can also burn plants.
There’s a host of things that can cause your seed starting efforts to fail. Starting seeds too early, temperature fluctuations, too much water, too little water, too much fertilizer, not enough fertilizer, all these things can cause poor germination or the death of seedlings. It may take you a while or a few lost trays before you to get it right, but once you do you’ll know exactly what to look for and how to deal with these problems. You’ll know how often to water and when and how to fertilize and pretty soon you’ll be starting flats and flats without any problems!
What diseases and problems have you had problems with when starting seeds?
The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
The Needs of Seeds
Diseases and Problems
Learn More Each Season
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