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Reasons why your seedlings grow leggy, and how to help them become more sturdy

Those who want to grow their own vegetables often prefer not to buy seedlings, but to sprout them from seeds at home. But often, even if you follow all the instructions, your young plants won’t look good. We’ll show you what causes seedlings to grow tall and lean, and how to prevent this.

You sowed the seeds, they sprouted, then the first leaves appeared – and from this point on the plants have stopped thriving, are just vegetating and have grown long stems. Seedlings can become leggy for a number of reasons, and fortunately at this stage they can still be saved.

Almost all plants can be affected, whether it’s peppers, tomatoes or even herbs, and it’s important to do something about elongation as soon as possible. Stretched seedlings are not able to keep themselves alive, they bend and rot on the ground.

But even if they survive, stretched seedlings will later become less vigorous plants, you can expect a much less abundant harvest, and they will be more susceptible to fungal diseases. Here are the most common causes and solutions.

Too little light

This is the most common cause of the elongation seedlings and most often happens when you sow seeds too early in the year. Seedlings, regardless of variety, usually need 14 to 16 hours of light a day, but it’s difficult to provide them enough light at the beginning of March.

If you haven’t kept the seedlings in the window, move the tray as close to a natural light as possible to see if they come round – and if they still die, wait until mid-March to sow more seeds.

A full-spectrum growing light can also be a solution, but if you don’t want to invest in one, it’s worth waiting. Rotate the tray of seedlings in the window frequently to ensure that the receive an even amount of sunlight.

They are too hot

Most vegetables need temperatures between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius to germinate, but once they’ve sprouted, that’s too much for them. It varies from one variety to another how many degrees Celsius they need to grow when the first two leaves appear, but 10-15 degrees is usually plenty.

If you have an unheated, bright room in hour house, keep the seedling tray in there; a porch or an unheated greenhouse is best choice.

You have sown the seeds very densely

If you overcrowd the plants in the tray, as soon as they sprout, competition for light and nutrients begins, which forces the seedlings to grow as tall as possible. If they’re dense and very stunted, thin them out so they’re at least a finger’s width apart.

Too much water

It’s important not to over-water seedlings as this can also lead to elongation; grow them in trays with drainage holes at the bottom, and keep the soil just moist, never soggy. It’s best to just sprinkle water on young seedlings with a spray bottle.