Most common seedlings problems and how to fix them

Most common seedlings problems and how to fix themSeed starting is the most anticipated task of every gardener. However, it is also the most critical one. If you fail to grow your seedlings and nurture them, you can lose your entire crop. There are a few common seedlings problems and we all need to know how to handle them.

If you are self-sufficient, sustenance is directly correlated with the growing season and the success of your crop. Failing to grow your seedlings means you will have to buy expensive plants to provide vegetables for your family. Not to mention that you lose all the time and effort you put into sowing and taking care of your seedlings. I’ve dealt with many problems over the years when it comes to seedlings and their evolution. Many gardeners encounter the same problems and I believe it’s worth looking at the solutions we have.

Seedling problems and how to deal with them:

Seedlings are growing slowly

I often hear about this problem and my first impression is that most gardeners are being impatient. This is especially true for the beginners. In general, seedlings from seeds that are slow to germinate are slow to grow too. This condition is ever present in low temperature and light levels. If your seedlings develop their first true leaves, and the temperature is warming up, they should grow faster.

The type of seeds you are using can also affect the seedlings’ growth rate. Are you using old seeds? You should know that seedlings from old seeds often lack vigor. They should recover eventually, but you should throw away any leftover seeds from that batch. A good practice is to never use the same seeds for your entire crop. Try to use seeds from different batches.

Seed compost contains only a few nutrients and it may affect the growth rate. What compost have you used? If you indeed used seed compost, switch to potting or multi-purpose compost once the seeds germinate.

Seedlings are looking ill

3 Pionner Lessons to rememberThe temperature plays an important role in having healthy seedlings. Is it too cold? In cold conditions seedlings sown outside will struggle to get nutrients from the soil. They will look sickly. You are better off if you sow them later or use cloches. Is it too hot? If you plant your seeds in a green house, the bright sunlight can scorch the small leaves of the seedlings. If you don’t shade them during sunny days, they will eventually wither.

The compost you are using for your seedlings can also affect the health of your plants. Never use last year’s compost for sowing seeds. Use it for larger plants that can handle it. If you are using a new type of compost, test it against a small batch first.

Don’t overwater your seedlings. If you notice that they aren’t growing, you should avoid watering the seedlings. Waterlogged compost makes things even worst. Make sure it is just damp.

Is the soil too dry? Outside, the soil is unlikely to be too dry in spring, but inside it may require watering evenly. Even if you are using trays and module, you should pay attention to watering. Corner cells are very easy to miss.


Related reading: Pioneer gardening – How to start a backyard garden


Have you checked for pests? Aphids are nasty little creatures and they attack even the tiny seedlings you are growing inside. Check your plants regularly and watch out for distortion of the leaves.  Cover vulnerable seedlings with fleece or sown later.

Is it disease? The seedlings you grow inside are prone to damping off, a fungal disease. This will cause them to collapse and decay. A good practice is to avoid sowing too thickly and give the seedlings good ventilation.

Seedlings are disappearing

Once again, you should look for signs of disease. The small seedlings affected by damping will vanish quickly. Look for signs of mold and decay.  Pests may also be responsible for you the disappearance of your plants.  Outside, slugs are the number one culprits. Look for slime trails and implement slug prevention methods. Flies that live in compost and feed on plant roots can also become a problem. Keep watering to the minimum and cover the trays of seeds with plastic until the seedlings emerge.

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 Seedlings are leggy

Do they have enough light? Seedlings become pale and elongated because they are stretching toward the light source. This occurs more often for the inside plants, making them vulnerable to damage and disease. Turn pots of seedlings on windowsills regularly and place reflective sheets behind them.  Move them outside on sunny days and place them in a warm spot. If possible, set up grow lights.

How were they sown? Seeds sown too closely will push upwards as they compete for light. Spacing depends on the type of seed and situation, but as a general rule, never place them close than a finger width apart. You can use a seed-sowing ruler or you can try pre-sown seed tapes.

Do they need thinning? You will have to thin out seedlings in drills outside. This will help prevent the plants competing for nutrients and light. Ideally, your seedlings should never touch. Thin out the ones in pots and modules to give them more growing space.

A final word

It may seem obvious for some, but check the variety description on the seed packet. Sowing the wrong plants at the wrong time will result in wasting valuable time and space. The packet should tell you every specific need the seeds have. Using seeds from a previous year or three usually results in fewer seeds germinating. This depends on the type of crop and how the seeds have been stored. Homemade compost affects the growth rate of your plants and it requires a lot of experience to make good seed compost at home. If you are new to all of this, use multi-purpose compost. Follow the advice listed here and avoid the common pitfalls.

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2 thoughts on “Most common seedlings problems and how to fix them

  1. Seedlings grown indoors behind modern windows will be leggy because the glass blocks UV light needed by plants. You need to either move the seedlings outdoors to natural light or use a grow light.

    As for seedlings disappearing, my biggest problem has been cut worms, which I now apply a pesticide for each year at planting.

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