Problem Solving for Growing Seedlings- Avoid the Pitfalls

We all want seedlings like this-Health, straight and short
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In this article, we will discuss what to do when your seedlings are not doing well. They are growing too long and floppy, they may look sickly, or not generally doing very well.

We all want seedlings like this-Health, straight and short
We all want seedlings like this-Health, straight and short

In this article, you will find out what can be done to stop and prevent seed germination and seedling growth problems. With this little handy guide, you will know what to do if your seed germination does not go as expected. So do not panic if your seeds fail to germinate or suffers from some other ailment.


If seedlings are growing too long and lanky, it means that it has too much heat and not enough light. Seedlings grow to the light and unless you have a south-facing windowsill, it will struggle. You will either have to provide artificial light provided by grow lights, or you will never have short and stocky plants.

Lanky seeds stretching to the light
Lanky seeds stretching to the light

Light is vital at the seedling stage and the use of grow lights is becoming popular. The most common cause of seedlings growing lanky is that you start your seed too early under insufficient light. This means if you delay your planting of seeds by a week or two, it should have little impact, as it will soon catch up and it will be growing in a better light.

I will not judge you, as you can either grow using natural light or artificial light, as long as you get good results.

If the seedling grows too leggy, you can try to bury them almost up to the cotyledon (seedling leaves). The secret is not to overwater and give them a bit of extra care, as soon you will have sturdier plants.


Sometimes you are lucky and all your seedlings are doing well, other times you notice something wrong. The central ones seem to be dying and soon the rest are doing the same. You have the dreaded dampening-off disease. A broad term that is given to a group of fungi that attacks and kills seedlings. If you observe the seedlings closely, you will see at the base of the stem has rotted, causing it to fall over. Sometimes the leaves change colours as well.

The bad news is that there is no cure, you will have to bin them and start again.  You must prevent it from happening in the first place, as the fungi spread via water and soil. One solution is to not overwater the compost. Another solution is to use and cover your seedling with vermiculite, as this holds water available to the seedling as it needs it.

Damping off disease is fatal to seedlings
Damping-off disease is fatal to seedlings

If the damping-off disease has been a problem in the past, you can microwave the seed starting mix to kill all pathogens. Microwave the seed starting mix for several minutes until it is thoroughly sterilised. Do not forget to wash clean your microwave after you have finished, as you do not want your food to taste earthy.

Another way to prevent this is to keep your pots and implements very hygienically clean.  Wash all your pots in water to which Jeyes fluid has been added.  Follow instructions on the back of the container, ensuring that you have washed off all the residue that remains.

You need to make sure there is good ventilation around the seedlings, so take off the propagation lid as soon as the seedling emerges.


Sometimes seeds do not germinate for 4 main reasons and these are:

Reason one is that you buried the seeds too deep, which usually along with overwatering causing the seeds to rot. This is often can be found if you dig the seeds up. Often people add too much water and the seed will rot before they have the chance to germinate, as it is probably too cold as well. Germination is often dependent on the temperature, presence or non-presence of light and moisture-retaining abilities of the compost itself. Often you will not need to water the seed starting compost until the seedlings appear.

Seeds need exact conditions to germinate
Seeds need exact conditions to germinate

 Reason two is the temperature is either too cold or too warm. The seed will stay dormant until the ideal temperature is reached. This is often stated on the seed packages. This is why a soil thermometer can be helpful, so you can plant the seeds so that the optimal growing conditions can be reached and this is why heated propagators or seed heating mats can be useful.

Reason three the seeds you bought were duds and will never germinate no matter what you have done. This is because sometimes the flowers are not pollinated and the resulting seeds do not have the right genetic

Reason four is that you are being impatient, not all seeds will material to start germinating within a week. For example, some trees can take over a year to germinate and so plants will take longer than this. Always check the expected germination time and be patient.


To increase success, you do need a heat mat or propagator that will fit on your windowsill. You will have much more success this way.

Sometimes the leaves will turn yellow and this can be a sign that the seedlings are being overwatered. You will need to reduce the amount of water the seeds are exposed to so that fungal diseases are prevented from overtaking the plant.

No feeding is necessary as often the seedlings will need to be transplanted into other containers and growing media. So do not waste your time and resources in using fertilizers until the seedling has reached its final container.


In this article, we have discussed the various pitfalls when you are growing seeds and seedlings. The seedlings may become leggy and lanky, suffer from damping-off disease and poor seed germination, all have been highlighted. This has been dealt with in this article, as long as with solutions that you can try.

If you have any questions or comments that you wish to make on this subject, please do so in the comment box below.

Watch out for these pitfalls today.

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