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Old 03-21-2012, 08:50 PM
survivor-alex survivor-alex is offline
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Default Why are some of my seedlings so lanky?



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Hello,

3 weeks ago I planted a variety of crops indoors in an open (uncovered) bed that I built, 24x48 and 6" deep. I filled it with the standard $1.25/bag topsoil from the store, and sprinkled in a few small handfuls of 10-10-10 fertilizer. I have been watering generously. The beans are now about 12" tall and I'm going to have to get them out fast. Spaghetti squash are about 4" tall and have full leaves, and the corn (started indoors to experiment) is about 5-6" tall.

All of the rest of the crops in this bed (tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, lettuce, etc, etc., are about 1-2" tall and have just two leaves and don't look like they've changed much at all in a week or so.

Question 1: Shouldn't I be seeing something more out of these plants? It's almost like they've stagnated. Or is this normal.

Then, about 10 days I started seeds from the same packets into the Burpee brand 72-cell flats using their peat pellets. I sowed the seeds about 1/8" or so below the surface, give or take, and have not since watered or otherwise messed with these plants at all.

These plants are all super skinny (the stalks) and have rapidly shot up, many of them pressing up on the clear plastic tops. I am going to remove the tops now, but some of the vegetables haven't sprouted yet. It seems like a lot of them can't even support their own weight, as the bottom of the stalks are upward, but then they make an upside-down "U" and have started growing back down.

Question 2: What makes these seedlings so much taller and skinnier? To me the former plants actually look a lot healthier because although they are half as tall, their stalks are twice as wide.

Do I need to be concerned here?

Thanks for all the help you guys give us newbies
Old 03-21-2012, 09:03 PM
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That store bought topsoil has nothing in it. 10-10-10 fert is ok but there's still not enough for healthy growth. i'd try and find some local composter and top dress your soil scratch it in carefully. Also in Wal-mart, H.D. and or Lowe's as soil test kits just to help before and after adding. Maybe some of that seaweed/seafood compost I've seen in the bag might help as well. kind of pricey but I use the real thing and it helps amazing. Also it's always good to start your compost anytime. Fall leaves, rotten wood, coffee grounds, crushed egg shells etc ... easy stuff. good luck hope this helps.
Old 03-21-2012, 09:27 PM
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Give them more sunshine
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Old 03-21-2012, 09:30 PM
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Plants have three basic needs: sunlight, food, and space. If any one of these is not being met, the seedling will react.

Inadequate light causes many plants to get "leggy" or tall and skinny with very thin and unhealthy stem. The quick fix is get it into the garden or move it to a greenhouse where it will get much more light.

Inadequate food causes plants to stop growing, often turning pale or yellowish. Use a diluted fertilizer in your spray bottle every time you water your seedlings.

Inadequate space can also cause a plant to stop growing. A plant in this case will retain its green leaves but will not form or begin any new leaves. This plant needs to be moved out into a bigger pot or into the garden.

Hope that helps.
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Old 03-21-2012, 11:01 PM
survivor-alex survivor-alex is offline
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Thanks guys. I will take immediate corrective action. I figure photos are best. The following are illustrative of what I am worried about.

Do you think these are salvageable, or should I pull up the seedlings and re-seed? Last average frost isn't for 2 more weeks so we were originally planning to transplant in about 3 weeks.







The next two photos show the ones in the cheap topsoil that seem to be healthier, but have stopped growing. Yet, note the bean stalk at the far right of the photo. While these plants are maybe a little over 1" tall, the beans are 12-16" tall.



And some more. Note the spaghetti squash to the right side, which are probably 6-8" tall vs. these plants that are 1-2" tall.



I have had the plants in the cheap soil (last 2 photos) under a flourescent light for 18 hours per day. The 72-cell trays have been next to the big tray, so they should have been getting a fair amount of light, although not quite as much.

If the best course at this point is to re-seed, I'm fine with that. Better to lose a week now than half the crop later due to weak plants.
Old 03-21-2012, 11:20 PM
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Switch the containers' positions, but do go ahead and put the beans out. Almost every variety of bean and pea can tolerate a frost just fine.

The seedlings will probably stay about the same size for the next 2 weeks until they go out to the garden. What you have here are seedlings. What you think you are supposed to have is juvenile plants. However, you don't have the conditions for making juvenile plants so just let them stay seedlings until time to plant outside.

This is why I always time things to be ready to go into the garden at the right time. Without expensive greenhouse equipment, you are not going to have the same type of robust and healthy large plants like you buy at a big box store. Your seedlings are at their limit for the space they have.
Old 03-21-2012, 11:25 PM
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yeah, leggy seedlings usually means you need more light. also, some growers will use a fan on seedlings for 30 mins to an hour a day or so, which makes the seedlings develop a sturdier main stem.

if possible try to avoid using topsoil to grow seedlings because they will often get diseases like "damping off". most seedling mixes contain stuff like peat moss and some wood fiber mix and maybe some compost, etc. There is a mix that Eliot Coleman makes thats supposed to be good and theres a recipe for it on the internet somewhere.

EDIT: one question, how far above the plants do you have the flourescent lights? they should be very close from what i've read. is it possible you have the lights too high?
Old 03-22-2012, 12:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zbx View Post
yeah, leggy seedlings usually means you need more light. also, some growers will use a fan on seedlings for 30 mins to an hour a day or so, which makes the seedlings develop a sturdier main stem.

if possible try to avoid using topsoil to grow seedlings because they will often get diseases like "damping off". most seedling mixes contain stuff like peat moss and some wood fiber mix and maybe some compost, etc. There is a mix that Eliot Coleman makes thats supposed to be good and theres a recipe for it on the internet somewhere.

EDIT: one question, how far above the plants do you have the flourescent lights? they should be very close from what i've read. is it possible you have the lights too high?
I will start using the box fan again... I did this on the bed that is not 72-cell at first.

The 72-cell trays are the peat packets that came with the little mini "greenhouse" flats. However since I did sow them very shallow (maybe 1/8"?) I picked up a bag of seed starting soil just now to sprinkle a little more on each cell.

I have the flourecent light about 18" above the bed, and that is because the beans are too tall otherwise. I know, I need to get them out.

I guess I'll get a 2nd light and hang over the 72-cell trays.



So, do you guys advise that I pull the weak, lanky, thin seedlings in the brown 72-cell trays? I can re-seed what I pull, in the same peat I would think. I guess if I alter conditions, I can leave the seeds that have not sprouted yet.

Since plant date is 2-3 weeks away now, I guess re-seeding won't be the end of the world.

Thanks!
Old 03-22-2012, 12:26 AM
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once they are tall and spindly and leaning like that i've never had success getting them back on track, maybe others have tho?

box fan wouldn't help imo until you get the light correct, light is much more important factor imo and i think 18" is much too far. i've seen pictures where the lights are only a few inches above the seedlings. there is a way to calculate how many lumens the lights are putting out and how much the seedlings need and the minimum hours per day but i'm not too knowledgeable on this. maybe someone knows a website

i saw this section of a forum that deals with growing under lights fwiw:

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/lights/
Old 03-22-2012, 12:38 AM
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Good quality light will help immensely. Also, tomatoes and peppers need fairly warm temperatures to sprout. I try to make the area I am sprouting seeds in to be around 75 degrees. They sell mats for that, but I just use a space heater under the card table I have my seed boxes on.

I have put spindly looking seedlings out in the garden with success, but they struggle and generally fall behind stronger seedlings. Also, it is critical to harden off your seedlings before planting them in the garden. I killed a whole bunch of peppers last year by being impatient. Put them outside in dappled sun for an hour on the first day, maybe two hours the next day and a few hours the next. Then graduate them to full sun. You won't regret taking the time to harden them off. There's nothing more frustrating than to see perfectly good seedlings die before your eyes.
Old 03-22-2012, 01:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Doc Simonson View Post
I have put spindly looking seedlings out in the garden with success, but they struggle and generally fall behind stronger seedlings. Also, it is critical to harden off your seedlings before planting them in the garden. I killed a whole bunch of peppers last year by being impatient. Put them outside in dappled sun for an hour on the first day, maybe two hours the next day and a few hours the next. Then graduate them to full sun. You won't regret taking the time to harden them off. There's nothing more frustrating than to see perfectly good seedlings die before your eyes.

Ok, I will definately pluck and re-plant in the next day or two. I assume anything that hasn't broken the surface yet is good to stay.

Temperature is usually around 70 or so inside, but everything seems to have sprouted ok (except spinach which I am currently 0 for 8).

Tomorrow I will go get two of the flourecent light fixtures to hang over the 72-cell trays so they have bright, even light. Without beans, squash, or corn in the flats, I ought to be able to keep the light pretty close to the plants.

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Old 03-22-2012, 01:16 AM
Savinkov Savinkov is offline
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Ordinary fluorescent or incandescent light won't cut it... not enough UV. Get some
grow-light bulbs for your UV fixture and put a timer on it so they get at least 12-14
hours of light a day overall.

Also, if they're not warm enough, it will retard their growth (get a grow mat). I don't
think that will cause them to grow spindly like that though.

We've had some success propping them up with toothpicks or whatever when
they get like that - assuming you can fix the light problem - but they have a tendency
to dampen off when they get that way.
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Old 03-22-2012, 07:29 AM
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Um, having pretty extensive indoor growing experience many years ago (before I joined the Army and got straightened out--'nuff said), I would definitely say it is an issue with your artificial light. But, I would say that it has more to do with the duration that you have your growing light on.

I made the mistake of impatience and found that while growing indoor "crops" when you leave the grow lights on too long at a time, the plants tend to do exactly what you have pictured above--grow long, spindly stalks with few leaves.

I am pretty certain that the same applies with vegetable plants, as well.
Old 03-22-2012, 08:21 AM
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The only thing I have found that fixes leggy veggies is planting them in a new pot up to the first two leaves. If you plant them back at the same height, they will stay weak and sad looking. By the way... that is a LOT of plants... just how much land/garden space do you have?
Old 03-22-2012, 08:54 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by oktx View Post
By the way... that is a LOT of plants... just how much land/garden space do you have?

Not too much.... 24x36 or so... but we wanted to cull the weakest plants, and I figured some wouldn't make it anyway. And we're going to try to plant fairly close together (within reason).

Quote:
I would definitely say it is an issue with your artificial light. But, I would say that it has more to do with the duration that you have your growing light on.

I made the mistake of impatience and found that while growing indoor "crops" when you leave the grow lights on too long at a time, the plants tend to do exactly what you have pictured above--grow long, spindly stalks with few leaves.
Thanks. Seems like the light itself (type) is ok because the beans, corn, etc. are flourishing. but I will get a couple more lights to hang very close to the 72-cell trays and try a shorter duration as well.

Thanks!
Old 03-22-2012, 11:35 AM
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You need either sunshine or a grow light, i have added a link. Hope this helps http://www.maxtool.com/Agricultural/...FSdgTAodNVKwzw
Old 03-23-2012, 09:51 PM
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Today I pulled and reseeded the ones that had sprouted. Then put 4 x 6500K 48" flourescent bulbs over the flour trays.

Also sprayed with Miracle Grow tomato fertilizer.
Old 03-23-2012, 10:14 PM
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ZBX is right about the tall thin seedlings..not enough strong light...chuck em out.....lol Once they get like that they never grow as well as if they had a good start. Grow lights are best but if you have no other means then using floresent you literally need to get the light right on top of them and will usually have to lift it every day to every other day.
You might also want to put a small fan on a timer to blow on them maybe 30 to 60 min. twice a day due to the lack on no wind inside the stems will not grow as strong as if they were outside exposed to the wind.
It's a real hassle to grow seedlings indoors if you try to cut corners and save money if you don't get good natural light. A good cheap way to grow indoors is use a closet with lots of racks and several floresent lights both vertical and horizontal with foil as reflectors. It'll keep them warm with the door closed if your house is cool and adding the fan helps harden the stems.
Unless you have really long winters I'd skip 75% the starting indoors and if anything start them outside in a small cheap plastic greenhouse you can place over your growing area till it warms or leave it year round if you have the space.
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Old 03-25-2012, 12:17 AM
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From my reading it looks like 6500K is overcast, 2000-3000k is sunrise/sunset, and 5600K is "typical" daylight during the longest part of the day. I think I saw some bulbs around 4500-5000K at the store, so maybe I'll swap two of the 6500's for a pair of the 4500's to get a balance of light. The 6500k bulbs are noticeably "cooler" than the bulb on the homebuilt bed.
Old 03-25-2012, 03:23 AM
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I think the advice given here has all been great but I just wanted to add a couple of things I didn't see said. First why are you starting beans, and further why at the same time as tomatoes? Beans are so easy to grow and start from seed and do grow much faster than tomatoes by nature. Tomatoes need to be started early.. well here in my northern climate for sure or I'd never see one ripen, but 6 week old tomatoes are only maybe 6-12 " tall where beans can get that big practically overnight it seems, esp pole beans. My point is ... yes your pictures show spindly probably light starved tomatoes but the comparison to your beans would never work out even if you had perfect tomato seedlings
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