Plant pests Sowing Seeds

Problems with Your Seedlings? Here’s What to Do!

Most of the time, if you sow seeds and give them reasonable growing conditions, you’ll end up with quite decent results. On the other hand, when things go wrong, they usually do so very quickly, so always keep a close eye on your seedlings, ready to give them a helping hand at a moment’s notice.

Here are some situations you may encounter with young seedlings along with an explanation of what to do to help them recover.

ProblemExplanationSolution
Poor or no germination.Seeds unviable or of poor quality; poor growing conditions; soil allowed to fully dry outBuy fresh seeds; improve conditions; keep soil evenly moist during whole germination process
Seedlings wilt, soil dryLack of waterWater gently, but deeply; if seedlings recover, keep soil moist in the future; if not, resow
Seedlings wilt, pinched at the baseDamping off (fungal disease)Use fresh seedling mix; avoid soil from garden for indoor sowing; improve ventilation
Indoor seedlings leggy and pale greenLack of lightGive seedlings better light: sunny window or artificial lighting
Indoor seedlings leggy and dark greenToo hotReduce night temperature
Small black flies presentFungus gnatsRarely cause much damage, but can carry diseases. Allowing soil to dry a little longer between waterings will kill larvae
Outdoor seedlings cut off at the baseCutwormsInsert tin can with bottom removed around unaffected seedlings to serve as a barrier; harvest cutworm by hand (will be hiding in the ground at the base of its victims)
Leaves eaten on seedlings outdoorsVarious insects, slugs, etc.Hand pick slugs or apply slug bait; treat insects with insecticidal soap. Sometimes you have to resow
Seedlings blackened after a cold nightFrost damageResow

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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