Gardening terms can be funny and leggy seedlings are one of them. When your new seedlings keep getting taller but not bushier, this is a problem but thankfully, one that is easily fixed. Read on to find out what causes leggy seedlings and how to fix them.
Why do my seedlings get leggy: Leggy seedlings are a result of not enough light, inconsistent temperatures, and infrequent watering. Be sure to have plenty of light around your seedlings, keep the temperature steady, decrease the humidity in the area, and stick to a regular watering schedule. If you see your seedlings start to become leggy, early intervention will get them back on the right path for growing success.
What is a leggy seedling?
In essence, a leggy seedling has a very long leg between the top two leaves and the soil. This spindly look can seem funny but is a sign that something isn’t right.
Leggy seedlings usually happen when you start your seeds indoors. While any type of plant can develop a leggy appearance, it is more common in some seedlings than others. Lettuce, zucchini, and tomato seedling are often the most affected.
Why are leggy seedlings a problem?
While they might look quirky or cute, leggy seedlings need to be fixed or else your plants won’t survive. If left alone, the stems won’t grow to be thick enough to support the plant. The thin stems can eventually topple over, causing your seedlings to die.
What causes seedlings to get leggy
Not enough light
Most of the time, you will see leggy seedlings growing at an angle. This is because they are desperately trying to reach a light source.
Seedlings need plenty of light to grow and if it isn’t where they want it to be, the seedlings will grow to reach it.
Remember that seedlings are initially tiny so even if they are near a window, the light might not be hitting directly onto the plants. Reaching just a bit further will get the seedlings to the light source but at a cost.
Sometimes, seedlings might overestimate their need for light. Growing next to a window means seedings can sometimes angle themselves horizontally to focus on that one light source.
Yes, seedlings need warmth to grow but they don’t need scorching hot temperatures. You might think you’re helping your seedlings out with a heating mat under them, but that can be a bit too much.
When seedlings are exposed to high temperatures, they can experience a rapid growth spurt. Unfortunately, if this growth is all vertical, then your seedlings become leggy.
Aim for a temperature that is just above room temperature. You can use a heating mat or grow light to help your seedlings along but if they show signs of becoming leggy then you will need to turn the temperature down and allow the leaves to catch up with the stem.
Too little or too much moisture
Seedlings need soil that is consistently moist but not soggy. It shouldn’t dry out. This is a fine balance and most people mix up their watering schedule because of their busy lives.
When soil becomes dry for seedlings, it can stop the growing process. Then, when water is added, the seedlings will overcompensate and start to grow rapidly.
Unfortunately, during this process, the stems will grow before the leaves, which creates that leggy appearance.
If there is not enough moisture for your seedlings, they will slowly start to bend over and even if you add more water, it might not be enough to revive your tiny plants.
It’s natural to plant as many seeds as possible to get the highest yield. You may also be short on indoor space, so plant your seeds close together, assuming you can simply separate them once you transfer them outdoors.
While seedlings don’t need as much space as full-grown plants, they do need some space.
When there is overcrowding, the only place for your seedlings to grow is up. This results in long, spindly stems and not a lot of foliage.
The problem is that once seedlings start to grow, their roots are very delicate and it can be very hard to separate them at such a young age.
Try growing your seeds in small, individual trays. This way you can remove the soil and root ball, or even cut the tray up if you need to give the seedlings more space.
How to prevent seedlings from getting leggy
Now that you know the causes for leggy seedlings, the solutions are fairly simple.
Add more light
Ambient light will help give your seedlings more light from various sources. In addition to placing them near a window for natural light, invest in a grow light that you can put on the opposite side.
Seedlings need 12 to 16 hours of light and if you start them in late winter or early spring, the outside light will be a lot less. Add in gloomy, cloudy days, and they will have even less light.
Use your indoor thermostat to help create the ideal temperature for your seedlings. Ideally, your seedlings should be in an area with temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night.
You might be tempted to crank the heat during the day to get the seedlings started faster, but they need consistent, mild temperatures for ideal growth.
You also want to check the humidity levels. Unless you are growing tropical plants, high humidity can cause the stems to weaken and droop.
Water from the base
In order to get your seedlings to create strong, deep roots, the water needs to be at the bottom. Simply misting your seedlings will moisten the leaves but do nothing for the roots.
Place your seedlings in a shallow tray of water so the water seeps up from the bottom.
Seedlings that are leggy are trying to tell you something is wrong. Check their light, temperature, and water conditions to ensure the plants are growing both vertically and horizontally.