Seedling and Young Plant Care

Seedling and Young Plant Care

Watching plants start to emerge from their earthy beds is very exciting indeed. The prospect of enjoying fresh herbs is one step closer but there are many days and weeks of care and nurturing ahead. 

The novice gardener should have thoughts of how to care for these tender seedlings once they have germinated and the first sprouts pop out of the soil. What to do? With the following guide, any gardener can keep their seedlings thriving and strong.

Light for seedlings

One of the most important factors of seedling care is light. Some herbs will do fine on a sunny window, but others will need more light than that. 

If you are fortunate to have a south or west facing window sill or balcony, you may have enough direct sunlight. Just make sure the seedlings are in the light. You will notice that the young sprouts will lean toward the light as they grow. Rotate the young plant so it leans away from the light- it will lean again towards the sun soon enough.

If your windows face east or north, your plant’s light requirements will need augmenting. Unless your seedlings get at least 6-7 hours of direct light, you will need to get grow lights. Tip: The variety of grow light systems available online is vast. If you have space, you can use a growing shelving rack with hanging light fixtures. 

Or …. my new favourite! You can now get compact grow lights that sit on a table or windowsill. These new design growing light systems are compact enough for any space… and are quite reasonable! They are available with one, two, three, or four growing lamps with various features and functions. The bendable gooseneck designs allow grow lights to be positioned over the seedlings to provide the full spectrum light they need for healthier growth. 

Watering Seedlings

Proper watering is another extremely important element of seedling care. The seedlings should never be allowed to dry out!

With that said, be careful to not allow the soil to be wet constantly. Damping off is a common problem that will kill young herb seedlings if the soil gets too soggy. 

Check the young seedlings a couple of times a day to see how moist the surface of the soil is. Once the top starts to dry out, it's time to water….carefully. Take care to sprinkle enough water around the young seedlings, ensuring that some water seeps down through the seed starting soil to the bottom of the pot. Discard any water that collects in the tray or flower pot saucer.

Seedling Ventilation and Airflow

During the first stages of germination, most gardeners will cover the planted herb seeds and the seed starting soil with a humidity dome or a cover. Once the herb plants begin to emerge, it’s best to ventilate the lid, rather than remove it. Take a few days to gradually prop it open and then remove completely. This helps the young seedlings to become acclimated to its new environment.

Once the lid is off, some type of ventilation is highly recommended. Having a window propped open to allow a breeze to waft over the seedlings is perfect. A fan on low would also provide the airflow to blow over the herb plants. 

Good airflow helps the seedlings in a number of important ways. The dreaded condition known as damping off can be warded off with a good flow of air. As well, the overall plant structure becomes stronger when a gentle breeze causes it to sway and bend ever so lightly. 

Tip: During the daily inspection of my seedlings, I take time to brush my hands gently through the tops of the herbs.( I think I do this more for myself!)

Fertilizer and your Seedlings

Once true leaves start to develop, start feeding the seedlings with a very weak dose of fertilizer or plant food. Use a natural organic plant food rather than a chemical one which can burn the young seedlings.

Some seed starting mixtures, such as the one used in the Terrace 2Table seed pods, already contain plant food. Do not add more plant food. More is not better! This practice will stress the young seedlings.

Tip: True leaves are the first signs that the young herb seedling is maturing and growing well. The term ‘true leaves’ refers to the leaves that grow after the very first two leaves. They look like tiny versions of the leaves of the mature herb plant.

Transitioning Herb Plants to Outdoors

Seedlings grown indoors need time to get used to being outside before being left out on the balcony 24/7 or planted into the garden. This is important for the health of the herb plant.

Once the weather warms up (over 10* C.), the seedlings should be put in a shady, protected location for a few hours a day. Check on them regularly as the soil will dry out much faster outside.

When the weather is warm enough, they can be left outside overnight, provided the risk of frost has passed.

Troubleshooting Common Seedling Problems

Leggy seedlings - This is the biggest problem for growing seedlings indoors. It happens when they don’t get enough light! Ensure the seedlings are in light for at 10-12 hours a day. Add a grow light and hang it over top of the young plants.

Seedlings are leaning over or growing sideways - This can happen if the light is not positioned properly over the plants. If the seedlings are in front of a window, rotate the tray or pot everyday to prevent the plants from growing sideways towards the sun.

Seedlings are dying after sprouting - Most likely the seedlings died shortly after sprouting due to a condition called ‘damping off’. This disease happens when wet conditions and poor ventilation create the conditions for this blight to develop. It is hard to correct but as soon as you see early signs of this, dry out the soil somewhat and ensure that good air circulation is present. Pick out any wilted seedlings.

Yellow seedlings - The main cause here is overwatering. Be sure that the soil is not soggy...ever! Allow the top of the soil to dry out a very little bit between waterings.

Seedlings are small or not growing - Seedling growth can be stunted when the ambient temperature is too cold or if the plants are over- or under-watered.   

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