The Q&A Archives: Coleus Seedlings

Question: My little coleus seedlings come up bright and perky and then die about 7 to ten days later, without getting any bigger. The first lot were in a window facing sun, so I moved to a shadier window thinking the sun cooked them. But now my new batch is also slowly wilting then dying. I tried a little food, and tried moving them completely out of the light, but it seemed to make them worse. What could I be doing wrong? I'm not too clear about the type of light they need either.

Answer: Coleus seedlings aren't too fussy, but they do need bright light in order to grow fat and sassy. You might try using a source of artificial light once the seeds sprout. Put them under fluorescent lights (or Gro-Lites) for 14-16 hours each day, keeping the light about 6-inches above the tops of the foliage. Move the lights as the plants grow, so they'll get bright light without being cooked. Sunlight is okay for seedlings, but the winter days are usually too short to give the plants all the light they need. Keep the lights on 14-16 hours a day and turn them out at night, or supplement your natural daylight with artificial light to provide the required number of hours of light. If your plants are wilting, they may be showing signs of overwatering or damping off disease. Try to give each plant as much good air circulation as possible, and water when the top of the soil just begins to dry out. If you keep things soggy wet, the roots will drown. If the plants are overcrowded, they'll be more prone to fungal diseases and will have to compete with others for adequate light, water and nutrients. Start again, using fresh seed and new seed-starting mix. Be sure to disinfect your seedling pots or trays before using them, and put the newly sprouted seeds under a source of bright light as soon as them emerge. Better luck with your next batch of coleus!

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