The Q&A Archives: Lazy Broccoli Seedlings

Question: I started many seedlings this year, for the first time. My tomato and pepper plants have all done beautifully, but the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage seedlings started under identical conditions have been stunted, growing only a few inches, lying down along the soil, and remaining very thin and weak-looking despite getting as much sun, water, and fertilizer as the other seedlings. Are the requirements for these plants so different that I have not met their needs? Is there anything I can do to save them? I'm sure it is now much too late to start over from seed. How shall I go about planting these in the garden, or shall I even try? Thanks for an invaluable resource and lots of support!

Answer: Since this is your first seed-starting experience, I can't ask if your broccoli seedlings look different than last year's. Seedlings of plants in the cabbage family (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) often grow so that they tip over in their pots--the lower stem, for some reason, is quite weak. If the leaves look healthy, I would go ahead and plant them in the garden. You can plant them slightly deeper than they were in the pot, to offer more support to that weak section of stem. Cabbage-family seedlings do grow more slowly than tomatoes, so they may not be stunted but simply growing at their own pace. Also, cabbage-family plants prefer cooler temperatures than tomatoes and peppers, so excessive heat could have affected them. Do you have a neighbor gardener you could ask to look at them? If the leaves really look bad, then you may need to purchase transplants at a garden center. There's always next year--or even better, try for a fall crop by starting some seeds in late summer!

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