Ask Dr. Phipps: Spindly Seedlings
Q: I started some seedlings earlier this month, they have sprouted and are starting to grow very long, lanky stems. They don’t look good. Should I be worried? Did I do something wrong?
A: It sounds like a classic case of spindly seedlings!! This generally happens when seedlings are not receiving enough light. A south facing windowsill although sufficient for house plants, may not cut it for providing sunlight to vegetable seedlings which require 12 – 16 hours of light for maximum growth. For strong, healthy seedlings that will survive the windy, rainy conditions of Western Pennsylvanian yards, you will want to grow short, stout seedlings with thick stems and sturdy leaves. Along with providing enough water and a warm environment for your seedlings, having the right amount of light is important for healthy growth.
Depending on how long your seedlings have been on the spindly side you may or may not be able to save them. If they have been growing for quite some time and have very long, thin stems with short leaves – it may be too late! It is probably better to just toss the plants into the compost bin and start over. If your seedlings have just recently started showing signs of spindly-ness – you may be able to save them, read on.
Providing enough light for growing veggies:
- Artificial lights are the best option for veggies started inside; make sure the spectrum includes blue light.
- Fluorescents are time-tested and reliable; two cool white tubes work fine for seedlings
- LEDs will use less energy and are becoming more popular
- Use a programmable timer and set it so that the lights are on for 12 – 16 hrs.
- Position the lights a few inches above the seedlings (2 inches for fluorescent, more for LED) and move the lights up incrementally as the vegetable seedlings grow.
Not sure when to start certain seeds or when to plant your seedlings outside? See planting calendars from our Homegrown program.