Caring for Seedlings

Its that time of year when gardeners start to get excited about the upcoming growing season. Winter is almost over and today we had a beautiful clear blue sky and I read 16° on my car dashboard. Having spent many a winters night planning, researching and ordering the seeds that I am planting this year, now’s the time when I can start to get some of these into soil and get the germination process underway.

Different seeds require different methods of germination, and its important to read and understand the instructions provided on the pack, or if your part of an allotment group or seed sharing group, then follow the instructions given to you when you receive the seeds from the previous grower. Im not going to show you how I sow seeds in this blog, as I plan on doing mini-blogs for each vegetable that I grow this year, and I will explain the sowing process for each individual vegetable. What I will do is show you how I will treat every seed, collectively, and how to care for them.

As it is still touching on freezing during the nights, I am going to begin with sowing some of the more hardier vegetables, and start them indoors in front of the window that receives the most sunlight and importantly heat. To increase the temperature around my seedlings, this year I decided to keep them in an indoor mini greenhouse. It seems to be doing well so far and I am pleased with the germination rate and non legginess of these pepper seedlings. 2016-03-08 20.54.29

When you see the first glimpse of a green sprout peeping through the soil, you cant help but get excited at the potential outcome. Over the next couple of days you see the seedling grow taller and taller with no sign of the first true leaf. Then you wake up one morning and the seedlings have bolted upright, became leggy and are starting to lean towards the light.

“True Leaf – When a seed sprouts it will form two leafs that allow it to photosynthesize and to continue growing. After a couple of days a third leaf will form, this is the true leaf and will look different to the original leafs, and will take the form of the leafs of the adult mature plant.”

True Leaf at the top.
True Leaf at the top.

Plants will always grow towards the light as they use it as fuel. When seedlings get leggy it is because the plant is reaching upwards to gain as much sunlight as possible, because it is obviously lacking. As the plants are using up all the energy they get from the scarce sunlight to grow tall, the stems are not growing wide and strong enough to support the plant. Leggy seedlings will eventually grow too tall and top heavy and will fall over and wither. One method of helping to strengthen leggy seedlings and all seedlings for that matter is to gently run your finger over the plants or gently blow on, or use a fan to create movement. The movement will trick the seedlings into believing that they are growing in windy conditions, and in return will react and release chemicals to help the plant to grow a sturdier stem.

Leggy seedlings :(
Leggy seedlings 🙁

This year I will be sowing all my seeds in Verve Sowing and Cutting Compost (Available in B&Q, as I tried a few variety’s last year and I believe that this came out on top. Its important to keep the soil moist for germination and the temperature constant for some heat loving seeds e.g. Tomatoes will only germinate above 10°C and thrive best between 17° and 20°. Seed germination rates also vary greatly from seed to seed so if you see some variety’s sprouting within a couple of days, while others lye dormant, don’t worry as they might just take a bit longer. Some lettuce seeds could sprout in as little as 3 days while Parsnip seeds may take up to 14 days plus.

The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.
The pepper seedlings on the left took 2 weeks to show, while the pak choi on the right took only 4 days.

Whatever seeds you are growing its important to remember, the importance of getting your seedlings enough light, heat and water to allow them to grow good strong stems and ultimately fruitful mature plants.

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