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Vermont Garden Journal: Seed-Starting Problem-Solving

Your indoor seedlings may be pushing through the soil but even they need some extra TLC from time to time.
Your indoor seedlings may be pushing through the soil but even they need some extra TLC from time to time.

The days are getting longer, the sun is stronger and with warm weather this week, gardeners are thinking about sowing seeds. Though it's still too early to sow outdoors, you can start seeds indoors and you may already have seedlings popping up. But sometimes your little seedlings don't look very happy. This could be due to a number of factors. So, let's do some seed-starting problem-solving.

If your seedlings all of sudden fall over and die, they may have a fungal disease. This disease thrives in wet conditions. The key to preventing it is cleaning all your pots and trays with a bleach solution before planting, using a sterile seed-starting soil mix and not watering too much. Once it starts, remove and destroy infected seedlings. If some nearby seedlings aren't infected, reduce watering, dry the soil with a small fan and maybe they will survive.

If your seedlings are tall and leggy, they aren't getting enough light. Even a south-facing window won't offer enough light intensity this time of year for seedlings. It's best to grow seedlings a few inches under your grow lights set on a timer 14 hours a day. Change your grow light bulbs every few years as they will reduce in intensity over time. Once leggy, seedlings don't really recover, except tomatoes which can be planted deeper in the soil and will root along their stems.

Pale green or purple true leaves could be a sign of lack of nutrition. Feed seedlings once their true leaves form with a liquid, organic fertilizer. Avoid fish emulsion indoors, unless you like your house smelling like the beach!

And now for this week's tip: apply dormant oil sprays to deciduous trees and bushes now when temperatures are above 40F. These sprays coat and kill overwintering insect eggs.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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