The Q&A Archives: Leggy Bells Of Ireland Seedlings

Question: I planted Bells of Ireland seeds inside under a grow light about five weeks ago. They now have their third set of leaves but the stems seem to be too weak to hold them up. I have staked them but since I have never seen the plants growing I don't know how the plants look. Should I continue to stake them or do they grow as a vine or is there something wrong?

Answer: At this age, seedlings shouldn't need to be staked. Bells of Ireland should grow a strong stem, like many flowering plants. It sounds as if they aren't getting enough light, which causes them to "reach" and become spindly. Most seedlings are grown no more than 6-8 weeks indoors before transplanting out because of this reason. The important things when choosing a light source are that the bulb doesn't give off excessive heat, and that the light is as close as possible to sunlight--that is, it covers the full spectrum, containing both "cool" and "warm." (Cool and warm refers to the color spectrum, not the temperature of the lights.)

Fluorescent lights satisfy the "cool" requirement, and they are reasonably close to full sprectrum. Or you can purchase full spectrum grow lights. Because indoor lights aren't nearly as bright as sunlight, you need to be able to keep the lights 4-6 inches from the top of the plants, adjusting that as they grow. Lights should be on 16 hours a day and turned off at night. Putting them on a timer is helpful.

If your seedlings started out okay and then fell over, it could mean overwatering or a fungal disease called damping off. It quickly spreads through the flats killing the young seedling by causing the stems to rot. It occurs when a non-sterile medium is used for seed starting, containers used for seed starting are not sterile, seeds are sown too deeply, or seeds become too moist. Damping off will cause germination to not occur or may kill tiny seedlings. Always start new seeds in sterilized flats with commercially prepared seed-starting mix and keep the soil moist but not soggy wet. Unfortunately, you may need to start over if this is the problem. I hope this info helps.

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