The Q&A Archives: Leggy Plants

Question: All in our neighborhood who have attempted to grow any plants from seed, ALWAYS end up with plants that are too leggy or they dampen off quickly. What can be done that will not cost a fortune?

Answer: Legginess is usually due to lack of light and damping off is usually due to overwatering. Often they happen together. Here are some suggestions:

Start out with soil that is just barely moist, like a well wrung out sponge. Plant your seeds and cover them with plastic wrap to maintain humidity, but open it as soon as they start to sprout and put them immediately into bright light. You can use fluorescent light, with one cool and one warm bulb. Keep the bulbs just a few inches above the tops of the plants. Make sure there is also some air circulation 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 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 of damping off can also be too high or low a temperature. Last of all, you might have luck watering them with chamomile tea if you see the damping off beginning.

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