Common Seed Starting Problems

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One of the best ways to grow your own fresh vegetables is by starting the seeds yourself. There is something special about sowing a tiny little seed and nurturing it from a tiny seedling into a big, healthy, productive plant.

As my grandmother always said, ” Nurture the plant so that it nurtures you.”

That’s a great line, isn’t it?

Although starting most vegetables from seed isn’t a complicated task, there are times when you can run into a myriad of issues.

Here are some common seed starting problems and possible solutions to those problems.

My Seed Did Not Germinate

This seed starting problem is most likely due to seeds that were old, or not viable. It could also be caused by seeds that were just bad.

It happens sometimes.

Pre-germinating Seeds Is a Great Way To Make Sure They Are ViableYou can do a cursory check to see if your seeds will germinate before you even sow them by pre-germinating or pre-sprouting the seeds.

Simply wrap the seeds in damp paper towels and place them in an open zip-loc style baggie. Place them in a warm location and check them every other day or so.

Within a few days you should see tiny little sprouts begin appearing from the seeds. Once these sprouts get about 1/8″ long, or so, you can sow them.

If the sprout appears, you know the seed is good and has germinated. If after a week or so you don’t see any sprouts from the seeds then they are probably bad seeds.

You should purchase fresh seeds and start the process over again.

Many different seed varieties can still be useable after a couple of years (with proper storage), but it is always a good idea to go with fresh seeds for the best results.

My Seedlings Are Tall and Spindly

Seedlings Tend To Grow Better Under Grow LightsTall, spindly seedlings is almost always directly related to light, or the lack thereof.

Having overcrowded seedlings can have the same results. You can avoid this by only sowing two, maybe three, seeds per container and by thinning the seedling out once they are big enough.

When seedlings do not receive enough direct light they will begin to stretch out reaching for the nearest light source.

It’s this stretching for the light that causes the seedling to become taller and spindly.

When raising seedlings indoors place them directly under a fluorescent light. Keep the light just a few inches above the seedlings for the best results. There are many grow light systems you can buy to help accomodate growing seedlings indoors.

While regular fluorescent bulbs will work, light bulbs specifically made for indoor plants are the most recommended for indoor seedlings. They offer a wider spectrum of light that plants need.

You can also place the seedlings in a south-facing window that receives ample lighting.

My Seedlings Looked Fine Then Suddenly Just Fell Over

This problem is most commonly caused by dampening off. Many times you may have healthy seedlings and all of a sudden then wilt and die. They could also have what looks like a pinch stem right at the soil line.

This is all symptoms of dampening off.

Dampening off relates to a fungal disease that kills the seedlings or rots the seed. It can be caused by a multitude of circumstances such as overcrowded seedlings, overwatering, or unsterile containers and seed starting medium.

To prevent dampening off make sure you clean all your seed starting materials thoroughly before and after each use.

Use a good quality sterile seed starting mix. Check the packaging to make sure it says “sterile” on it. This is not something you want to skimp on, or you could end up with a bunch of dead seedlings.

Water seedlings from the bottom instead of overhead watering. The Burpee Ultimate Growing System does this well. It features a water reservoir underneath the seedlings that waters from the bottom.

Please read my review of the Burpee Ultimate Growing System for more information on it.

My Seedlings All Lean to One Side

If you find your seedlings all leaning over to one side it is another light source issue. Again, the seedlings are leaning towards the nearest light source. This is very common when seedlings are placed near a window – they will begin to lean towards the light.

This is not a huge seed starting problem and is easy to remedy. Simply spin the container around 90 degrees throughout the day, about every one to two hours.

This will help keep the seedlings from leaning as bad, but using an overhead light will prevent this even better.

Practice Helps Prevent Seed Starting Problems

As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect”, and this is true with starting seeds indoors. Starting seeds indoors is not all that difficult, but can take a few tries to get just right.

I admit that I was not that great at it until I bought a grow light system and practiced keeping seedlings indoors a few times. I would start seeds and grow some easy vegetables all year long until I got it down pat.

I would start easier vegetables indoors (like lettuces and spinach) all year long perfecting the technique I use for starting seeds and caring for seedlings indoors.

This helped me tremendously when it came to starting my seedlings for the upcoming growing season.

Get Your Seed Started Off Right!

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Comments

  1. I have seed starter for tomato and pepper and placed near window inside of my house. My seedings are tall and spindly due to lack of direct light. When can I put it out sude or to be out side from the beginning?

    • Hi Jack – Sorry to hear about your tomatoes. You can begin setting them outside any time the temperatures are about 65 or above and the threat of frost has past. I would set them outside a little at a time to give them a chance to get used to being outside. Set them outdoors for about an hour the first day, then gradually increase the time they are outside each day. Do this for at least a week before setting them out permanently.

      The good thing about tomato seedlings is you can try to re-pot them deeply if they become a bit leggy. Transplant them into a larger pot and plant the seedling deep, with just the top two sets of leaves above the soil. This will help them grow a larger, stronger root system.

      Unfortunately, you can’t do the same thing to the peppers.

  2. christy doll says:

    very informative. learned a lot and very helpful. thanks

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