Seed-starting Dilemma

Some great questions have  been coming in over the last couple of weeks.  Here’s one now:

“Hi, I am trying to start my first garden.  We have good compost and
fertilizer. We started our seeds inside in a jiffy greenhouse. Once our
seeds started to sprout we moved some of them to pots and some out to
our garden. Now some of our sprouted seeds are dying and all of the
ones we put in pots didn’t make it. What do you suggest?”

My first suggestion is to make sure that your sprouts have at least their first set of “true leaves” before you try to transplant them to a new location.  “True leaves” are not the first set of leaves that sprout, but the second set – they usually look very different than the first set of leaves you’ll see.  If your pots are big enough to support roots until the second set of true leaves form, then wait until those arrive before moving your seed sprouts. 

Jiffy pots (made from peat) can be great, but also can be troublesome.  Peat can dry out and at times even repel water if it gets too dry.  That might have been part of the problem in this situation.  If you can water your jiffy pots from below, the roots with reach down for moisture and develop stronger roots.  That will help prevent drying out.

Other possible factors could be that there was too drastic a change in weather conditions between indoors and outdoors.  Most plants require a time of “hardening off” before they go out into the garden.  Hardening off is when you place your transplants outside in filtered sunlight for a few hours a day and then increase their exposure over time.  Your transplants are used to that warm, cozy nursery environment and need time to adjust to the cooler outdoors.  Now – that said, this isn’t usually necessary in California and other climates where the weather is relatively consistent (but we did just have a big wind storm last week).

Not having enough sunlight can also effect your sprouts.  If you found that they were getting leggy (long and spindly), this indicates that they didn’t get enough sunlight from the get-go.  Veggie sprouts need direct sunlight immediately after sprouting, be it from the sun or from grow-lights.  Sprouts generally need 14 hours of sunlight each day, which is why grow-lights provide a great environment for newborn seedlings. If you don’t have grow-lights, you can shift your seedlings around to windows with direct sunlight indoors throughout the day.

Don’t be discouraged when some seedlings don’t make it. There’s a old farmer’s poem that goes something like this:

One for blackbird, one for the crow,
One for the cutworm, and one to grow.


With a little practice, you’ll have more for yourself, but in the meanwhile, enjoy the experience of learning from mistakes.  It’s truly the best way to become a better gardener!

Thanks for writing in.

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