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Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

Hello gardening experts! I love to try and grow things from seed, so this year I attempted to grow a bunch of different vegetables. I purchased seed starting soil and a nice seed planter, and after educating myself online I planted seeds.

Unfortunately, these seeds did not germinate right (too cold I think), so I tried to start them again in a warmer area (a closet). Some previous seedlings came up earlier, but I kept the dome on until I noticed new seedlings. After new seedlings emerged I quickly took the dome off and moved them to an area with light and supplied them with enough water to keep the soil moisture.

Sadly, for some reason these seedlings have become very leggy and the ones that were healthy are now shrivelling up and dying. I don't know what is going on and would appreciate some advice. Thanks!

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Re: Help! Please!

Here are some pictures.

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Location: Woodbury NJ Zone 6B

Re: Help! Please!

Welcome to the forum!

Those plants definitely need more light. Plants that get that leggy are severely deprived of light, and are reaching for light. As for shrivelling and dying, that could be a number of things - over or under watering, poor drainage, damping off - but your first priority should be getting some good lighting. They will continue to get even more leggy, and the stems keep getting longer, instead of producing leaves, which the plants need for food. A southern facing window could possibly supply enough light for growing seedlings, if there is nothing to block the light part of the day, such as trees or another house, and if the weather cooperates, with sunny days, but artificial lighting is most dependable.

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Re: Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

Not enough light. It should have worked under lights better than in a closet. I don't like cell trays and dense media. I have the same problem getting seeds to germinate that way. It is most likely damping off.

Your pottng mix looks heavy and very wet.
1 part peat moss
1 part perlite
1 tablespoon osmocote per 1 gallon of soil mix
Mix the soil mix up in a container until well blended. Add enough water to thoroughly moisten without the mix getting soggy on the bottom. Only wet the mix you can use. Keep the rest dry in a bag or container until needed.

This mix dries quickly as long as it is not sitting in water.

For plants that transplant easily I use community pots. I like 4 inch pots because they fit a tray better than round pots. You can use anything. solo cups, yogurt cups, milk cartons, coffee cups, etc. I prefer something that is wide on the top with 3 inches of moist soil mix. Pre moistening the soil, helps to keep from getting dry spots when you first water and your seeds won't float up that way. It also helps for the soil to be evenly moist for future wicking.
Start seed when temperatures are ideal or use a heat mat. warm season crops will like it around 70 degrees.
If you are starting indoors, start it under a light. a flourescent light directly over head is best.
Plant your seeds as directed on the package about 2 x the seed diameter for most seeds. Fine seed on top. Soak hard seeds in warm water overnight. (cilantro, parsley,spinach). Nick morning glory seeds. Some peppers do better if you soak them in potassium nitrate first. You can pre germinate seeds on a moist paper towel then transplant.

I put anywhere from 10-50 or more seeds on the top of the moistened mix. I sprinkle a little bit of potting mix over the top to cover the bigger seeds and press the seeds into the soil. If your pots are the same size, you can use the bottom of another pot as a press or just use your hand. First watering, I like to do from the top. You have to use a fine spray.

If you are going to keep the pots in a tray, use one tray with holes on the bottom that fits into your reservoir tray. When you water water from the bottom only and empty any water that remains after 10 minutes. Depending on how fast your soil dries, check with your finger to determine if it needs water. If the soil feels damp, it can wait.

I transplant the seedlings into individual 3.5 inch pots ( It fits a 1020 tray the best) when they have true leaves.

If your outdoor temperature has warmed up and all danger of frost is past, then you should be direct seeding outdoors especially if plants are hard to transplant. Seeds planted outdoors in place, usually do better.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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Re: Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

You didn't tell us where you are located. There are hardly any gardening questions that can be discussed without regard to location and climate.

Unfortunately, I don't think it is worth trying to save these seedlings. In the time it would take to get them growing again and appropriately, if they ever would, you could have started over and have nice healthy tomato seedlings. You don't have very much time invested in these so far

Here's a seed starting basics thread that might be helpful to you: viewtopic.php?f=48&t=44183

You said you moved them to an area "with light," but I'm guessing that means a window sill? And maybe not even a south facing one? Not nearly good enough for getting a healthy start for plants that need full outdoor sun. You need to provide them with lighting, that is within a few inches of them and on 16 hrs a day.


Your seedlings look like they went through many problems -- definitely not enough light, too much moisture/humidity while they were under the dome, and heavy wet soil.

The reason I asked about location is in terms of how advanced your season is. Where I am in Georgia, it is already getting late in the season to start over. If you are in New York, you probably are not much behind schedule. If it is getting late for you and if you only need a few plants, you might be best off to buy some ready started transplants from a good local nursery (NOT big box store). Try the seed starting again next year with more knowledge and better equipment (heat mat and lighting are pretty essential for indoor veggie starting).
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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Re: Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

Thanks for the responses everyone! With the time I have left before last frost it is too late to start anything new again, so I will probably just try to succeed next year. As for the soil that looks very damp, it is miracle gro seed starting mix and I believe I have over-watered it too. I appreciate your advice, and apologize for being so oblivious about growing vegetables from seed.

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Location: Gardening in western U.P. of MI. 46+ N. lat. elev 1540. zone 3

Re: Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

This is just me talkin so take it as you like Wannabe ...but I would give it another go instead of just waiting out the whole season til next year. Maybe not try to do so much but try a few things, and give them good lighting.

Sounds like you are still not at your last frost, there is time. There's no law against planting something out a few weeks after last frost. Hard to tell what your seedlings are, but looks like maybe cabbage or something similar? Those could be planted directly outside from seed too.

I went for years just using a south facing window for seedling light and it worked at this latitude, but I do get better results with the proper lighting indoors. In those days, I'd use the top of my tv as a heat mat (ha ha) then move them to the window. :)

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Location: hawaii, zone 12a 587 ft elev.

Re: Why Are Seedlings Becoming Leggy & Shriveling Up

You can still plant seeds outside after your frost date and you can still plant seeds now, and you should be able to harden them off outside younger under natural light.

I find the seed starting mix to be too dense for my watering habits. I use my potting mix for seeds 50/50 peatmoss and perlite.
Happy gardening in Hawaii. Gardens are where people grow.

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