The Q&A Archives: Seed Starting

Question: I started a bunch of tomatoes, saliva, snapdragon, eggplant and pepper last month. They were doing really well, but were not growing past the sprouting stage. I moved them outside last week in a spot that receives about 6 hours of sunlight a day to harden them off. Now all my sprouts are drying. I've lost most of my tomatoes, saliva and all my snapdragons. What can I do to save the rest of them?

Answer: Your poor plants weren't quite ready for the great outdoors, I'm afraid. When you start seeds indoors and they sprout and develop their first leaves, they need to be kept under a source of artificial light for 14-16 hours each day. The light on the leaves helps the plant manufacture the necessary food to develop additional leaves. When your seedlings have two sets of leaves they should be fed with a diluted liquid fertilizer to help them develop roots and additional leaves. Most seedlings take 6 or more weeks of care before they're mature enough to venture out in the great outdoors. When you harden plants off, they need to be put in a protected spot outdoors for only a few hours each day. At the end of 4-5 days of gradually increasing time outdoors, they need to spend the night outside. Only after this adjustment period should they be placed in direct sunlight. I'm not sure your remaining seedlings can be saved. You can try to put them in a shady, sheltered place and keep them well watered. They may perk up. If not, chalk it up to experience and purchase transplants for this year's garden. Then try starting seeds indoors next winter, using the above guidelines.

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