The Q&A Archives: Problems With Starting Seeds For Indoor Plants

Question: I have been trying to grow herbs and flowers from seeds, with mixed
results. I am using packaged potting mix and peat moss pots, covered
with plastic wrap on top to keep moist.

First, I noticed a lot of plants falling over dead soon after they
sprouted, It devastated most of my chamomile seedlings, and all but
one of my oreganos. It seems to do more damage to smaller seedlings
than larger ones. I have been using a spray mister to water, and I
am now trying to not get the soil too drenched, removing the plastic
soon after the seeds first sprout, thinning-out the dead plants, and
keeping the sick plants away from the rest of them.

I heard that contaminated soil can cause this, and remember something
about using "sterilized" soil, but I have not been able to find any
potting mix that says that, even the ones that are made specifically
for starting seeds.

Second, while many of my seeds sprouted even before they should have,
some of them are refusing to sprout at all. It has been about 2 weeks
since I planted them, and NOTHING has happened with my Peppers (Grand
Bell mixed), my Spearmint, or my Peppermint. I am especially concerned
about the planting depth on the mints (1/4 & 1/2 inch), this seems very
deep for such small seeds. Am I doing something wrong, or are these
varieties just very slow to germinate?

Third, I am wondering about the behavior of some of my seedlings.
After sprouting very quickly, some of them just seem to be sitting
there, and growing little or not at all (chamomile, oregano, and
sweet basil), while others seem to be growing very lanky and tall,
but without any leaves except what came out of the ground (the
Zinnas, Cherry Tomatoes, and especially the Cumin). We have been
having rainy weather lately, and I have been hesitant to give them
too much direct sun until the are larger, for fear that they will

Answer: It sounds like the seedlings may have been too moist. Start out with soil that is just barely moist, like a well wrung out sponge. Plant your seeds and cover them with the plastic wrap to maintain humidity, but open it as soon as they start to sprout and put them immediately into bright light. Make sure there is also some air circulation where you keep them as stagnant air can encourage fungal growth. Next, make sure the plants are thinned enough to allow for ample light and air to filter through them. Also, do not over fertilize them. They do not need fertilizer until they have several sets of true leaves. You might try watering by dribbling water gently and slowly out of a small pitcher onto the soil rather than spraying them -- wet foliage will also encourage fungal growth. Finally, make sure all of your tools and equipment are clean and that you are using a relatively sterile potting mix such as a soilless seed starter of peat, vermiculite and possibly perlite. Other causes can also be too high or low a temperature or too little light -- many gardeners find it necessary to use supplemental lights for seedlings. Last of all, you might have luck watering them with chamomile tea when you see the fungus appear.

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