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The Joy of Gardening

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seedling stretching

My Seedlings are Stretching

In a fit of enthusiasm I started a bunch of seeds some weeks ago. It is only the beginning of April and they are already too tall, thin and wispy, or leaning over to the side. Is there anything I can do to salvage them? Can they be pinched? Or should I just call it a day and start all over?


What you are describing is a common spring dilemma; we eagerly await spring and as a result we find ourselves sowing seeds after a few mild days, thinking spring has arrived, only to find that those mild days are followed by more cold weather. It is always a good practice to sit down and work out a schedule when to start seeds, taking into account the cold hardiness of what you are growing, your last frost date, and the environmental conditions the plants will be grown in. First decide upon the desired date for your ready plant, and then work backwards, calculating the growth and germination days. You should find this information on the back of your seed packet. Once you have calculated the days from germination- to ready-stage, this is when to start your seeds. This will ensure that plants can be moved outside readily and will not have to spend excess time indoors, which often leads to thin, spindly and unhealthy plants. Other reasons seedlings will become thin, spindly and weak are; a lack of light, warm temperatures, and inadequate thinning. For those of you using supplemental lighting in the form of fluorescent bulbs, keep the bulbs imminently above the seedlings, otherwise those seedlings will keep growing to reach for that light source. Depending on the plant grown, once the seeds have germinated try to grow your seedlings a little cooler to avoid plants putting on rapid growth that is thin and weak in character. And always be sure to thin seedlings at an early stage so individual plants have sufficient resources to develop fully, and pot up promptly for those using shallow seed flats.

For those of you that have a vegetable garden, cold hardy vegetables are some of the earliest plants that can be started from seed, including spinach, radishes, cabbage, kale, peas and lettuce varieties. Some species are however better direct sown in the ground as these do not take kindly to transplanting, examples being spinach and root vegetables. Seedlings that are started indoors will need to be hardened off prior to be being planted outside to avoid any cold damage. Some fairly cold tolerant annuals that grow readily from seed include Alyssum, Petunia, Nemesia, Diascia and snapdragons.

It will be entirely your call whether you wish to restart your seeds; you would have sufficient time to do so. I would not recommend pinching them, instead bring that light source closer to the seedlings, lower your temperatures and reduce watering to hold the seedlings back.

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