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How to Solve Common Seed-Starting Problems

Seed-starting indoors can be rewarding and fun. It doesn’t take much time and it’s fairly simple once you
collect the seed-starting supplies. But what happens when you encounter problems along the way while
seed-starting?

HOW TO SOLVE COMMON PROBLEMS WHEN SEED-STARTING

PROBLEM: My seed(s) did not germinate.


SOLUTION: There could be a lot of reasons for why flower, vegetable and herb seeds don’t germinate.
These are the common solutions.
 Plant at the right depth. Many seeds don’t need to be planted too deep in the soil. You’ll want to read
the seed packet to get the correct depth.
 Use fresh seeds or test old ones first. It’s true that some seeds can be long-lived, but it’s anyone’s
guess if old seeds will germinate. All seeds from Burpee packets come germination-tested and are
considered fresh for that year only. However, some people don’t plant the full packet of seeds and
save the packets for the following year and beyond. How the seed is stored can affect the germination.
For example, maybe you stored the seed packets outside in the shed, where it got hot and damp. Seed
should be stored in a cool and dry place for the best viability. Because it can delay your garden if your
seeds don’t germinate, try a simple germination test first. Put a sample of seeds in a folded wet paper
towel in a plastic bag. Keep in a warm place and monitor it over the course of a week or two. If a high
proportion of the seed cracks open, plant the rest of the packet. You can sow more than one seed per
pot to ensure you’ll have something growing. However, as a guide, use fresh seeds for better rates of
success.
 Pot seeds with proper soil. When seed-starting, you can’t just go into your yard and dig up dirt. When
you start seeds, you need fresh seed-starting mix or a soilless media that drains well and doesn’t carry
any fungus and disease.
 Balance watering. If your seeds get too much or too little water, it can affect how they grow. When
you start your seeds you want the soil to be moist, but not too wet and not too dry. Essentially, you
can fill the tray with water and it keeps the potting soil moist but not saturated. The soil wicks up as
much water as it needs. Even if you don’t have the self-watering kit, it’s a good idea to keep your pots
in a tray and using a watering can or other vessel, add water to it from the bottom. That’s so you don’t
disturb the delicate seedlings. Just be mindful not to overwater this way.
 Consider temperature. Why your seeds may not germinate could be related to soil temperature.
Seeds need a warm, even temperature, usually about 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. To help your seeds
germinate, you can use heat mats that will keep them warm. Some like to start seeds on top of the
refrigerator or in another warm spot like Oven. Just be sure to check them frequently.

PROBLEM: My seedlings are too spindly or leggy.


SOLUTION: Once your seeds sprout and you remove the greenhouse cover from the seed kit, if you’ve
used one, several other common problems can happen, including when your seedlings aren’t growing
thick stems and they’re too spindly or leggy. Here’s how to solve those problems.
 Add light. Inadequate light is the most likely cause of leggy seedlings. Try using a grow light. You can
set the grow light on a timer so that the seedlings get 16 hours of light a day and take a rest for the
night. Place the light close to the plants, just 3 to 4 inches above them, and adjust as the seedlings
grow taller. If you don’t have a grow light, place the seedlings in a south facing window and turn them
every few days, but realize that the sunlight is weaker in the winter and it can be cold by the glass.
Grow lights ensure your plants get the light they need, regardless of the conditions outside.
 Thin your seedlings. This is a hard step for many gardeners to do but if you thin your seedlings, they
won’t need to fight for water or nutrients. To thin seedlings, simply use micro snip pruners to cut the
stems at ground level of all but one plant per cell. Or, if you want more plants wait until they have
one to two sets of leaves and gently uproot them, tease them apart and transplant them into their
own containers. Tip: For certain plants like chives, its okay for several plants to grow together in a cell
or tray.
 Turn on a fan. A lack of air flow can contribute slightly too floppy seedlings. Wind helps make stems
strong, so by turning on a fan (set to low setting) or using your hands to occasionally brush the
seedlings, you can mimic naturally occurring breezes. For fun, you can talk and play music to them, as
studies have shown that the vibrations can help plants grow.

PROBLEM: The seedling leaves don’t look very green.


SOLUTION: As your seedlings are growing, you may notice some leaves aren’t a healthy green, especially
on certain types of plants like tomatoes. Your solution for this is plant fertilizer. Choose a well-balanced
fertilizer and read the label for instructions. Usually, when seedlings are small you use a light dose of
fertilizer once a week. As seedlings get bigger, use a larger dosage.

PROBLEM: My seedling grew but the stem tipped over near where it touches the soil and the plant died.
SOLUTION: There is a disease called damping off that can attack a growing seedling, causing the stem to
rot and tip over. This can be caused by using the wrong soil or trays that already had the fungus or mold
on them. Overwatering and cool temperatures contribute to the disease. If this happens, remove the
affected seedlings and throw them away. For those not affected, let the potting soil dry slightly in between
watering’s and put a fan on to create good air circulation. This can help prevent the fungus from spreading.
Use sterile potting soil and trays and follow the above tips on temperature and light to keep future
seedlings healthy.
PROBLEM: There’s mold on the soil beneath my seedlings.
SOLUTION: If you see mold or algae growing on top of the soil, it usually is not fatal. You can start by
physically removing the mold and letting the soil dry out slightly between watering’s. Another solution is
to put a fan on near your seedlings for air circulation. The mold will not kill the seedlings, but the excess
water and poor air circulation that cause it can.

PROBLEM: You set your seedlings outdoors but the plants flop over or burn up.
SOLUTION: Check your weather forecast. Your seedlings could be set back by cold temperatures or
perhaps they flop over because the stems are not ready for that 10-mile-an-hour wind. Try acclimating
seedlings to outdoor temperatures over the course of a week a few hours at a time, gradually building up
to overnights. Set them in shade with not much wind. You can also place them in a cold frame or portable
greenhouse to protect them from wind and the temperature. After acclimation, seedlings are ready for
their final planting place.

Gardening tip of the day

SEEDS TO START INDOORS


 Basil
 Broccoli
 Brussels sprouts
 Cabbage
 Cauliflower
 Chard
 Cucumbers
 Eggplants
 Kale
 Lettuce and other salad greens
 Melons
 Peppers/Chilies
 Squash/Bitter Gourd/Ridge Gourd
 Tomatoes

Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden when the soil temperature is warm enough, usually about
70 degrees Fahrenheit, although that varies by vegetable. Check your seed packet for more info.

DIRECTLY SOW THESE SEEDS


 Gongura
 Thotakura (Amaranthus)
 Beans
 Beets
 Carrots
 Cilantro
 Corn
 Dill
 Okra (Benda kaya)
 Peas
 Radishes
 Spring onions
 Turnips