The Q&A Archives: Caring for Seedlings

Question: I am looking for information concerning growing petunias from the emergence stage to transplant stage. We are having trouble with small seedlings dying. We want to find in depth information about temperatures and watering conditions. Butch Kerby, OR

Answer: Seedlings can die for a number of reasons. The most common cause is called "damping off". The seedling emerges but falls over and withers. This is caused by a soil-borne fungus that attacks the stem at soil level. The cure is to use a soil-less media or sterilize the media you are using. Spread the soil in a shallow pan and bake at 275 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. It will have a peculiar odor. Cool thoroughly. Other suggestions include spreading a thin layer of vermiculite on the surface of the soil. Seedlings like a temperature around 60-65 degrees F. and a bright location but not strong sunlight. Fluorescent lights provide sufficient light for young seedlings. 15 hours of light a day is ideal. Water thoroughly at each watering but allow the soil to dry between waterings (roots need oxygen).

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