Seedlings HELP

mcfaroff(z5/6 NM)June 5, 2014

I started seeds again this year with black gold potting soil and had the best germination ever. However, all my seedlings seem to,have arrested development! I kept them warm, moist and in the sun. Should I have fed them when they were only 2 inches tall? (Tomatoes) they all have roots and no mold no bugs. I am mystified! Any ideas?

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ZachS. z5 Littleton, CO

I feed once I see true leaves, height not dependent. What does the root structure look like? Is it a full and healthy web (not root bound though) or small and spindly? My guess is the mix, as that is one of the most common problems. Potting mix is denser than seed starting mix and CAN impede root and foliage growth, though, many people use it without any issue. Overwater can cause the same thing and cool temps restrict top growth (not always a bad thing).

When did you start them and how big are they now? A picture is helpful.

Also there is a tomato growing forum here that has lots of knowledgeable tomato growers who might have some other ideas.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 5:58PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

I have another question! How big are the pots they're in--are they the same pots they were started in or have you potted them up a size? And are they all tomatoes or are there other things too? Ok, a few more questions! Have they been inside all the time, or out during the day and in at nite, or out all the time? Where are they and where have they been?

Then the same thing Zach has asked! What do the roots look like? Have they grown out to the sides and bottom of the pot, or are they still very small and haven't gone anywhere? Have they grown to the sides of the pots and are all growing in circles because there's nowhere left for them to go?

Black Gold is made by SunGro Hort and is the same company that makes Sunshine Mix, the stuff I use, so you should have some pretty good potting soil, but they make a lot of different mixes, so there's no way to know for sure what's in your mix. I'm one of the people who uses the same mix for everything! I know how it dries, I know how it waters, and I don't need to learn how to water all over again by using different mixes. The trick (if you have a decent soil to start with) is to learn how your potting mix "waters," and then to water appropriately.

I don't feed seedlings till I pot them up into the next size pot (and you shouldn't do that till the roots have grown to the sides and bottom of the first pot), and after I pot them up I usually water them with a very weak soluble fertilizer every time I water. I would be very surprised if feeding or lack thereof has anything at all to do with your problem.

There's no way to know without more info, but my first guess would be overwatering. With tomatoes--and most other things--you should be leaving the soil dry, all the way down into the pot, at least 80% before resaturating the soil--90-95% would be even better! A little wilting won't hurt them, but keeping them wet all the time can hurt them, and can eventually kill them if it continues. By letting the soil dry the roots need to "go looking for water" in the soil deeper in the pot that's still moist, so by letting the soil dry most of the way you develop a bigger and better root system. If the soil the current roots are in always stays wet/moist, the roots never need to "go looking" for water so they "stay right where they are," and if it stays too wet they start to rot and then they can't take up water anymore.

If you think overwatering might be the problem, start letting them dry well between waterings and see if they start to get going for you. If you think it might be something else, come back and answer our questions and maybe we can help figure it out.


P.S. I agree that a picture--or pictures--can be a big help!

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 7:20PM
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I appreciate the earthworm castings in the Black Gold that I use - organic. I'm beginning to think, however, that there are "regional facilities" that are making these mixes. There may be variants.

Fertilizing begins when I think that much of the fertility has been washed out of the mix. With tiny plants, cool temperatures and not much sun - the first few weeks require almost no watering. Bottom watering probably doesn't wash much away but turning the watering wand over the top of the pots is likely to deplete that potting soil in a hurry. A little dry organic fertilizer in the pot or fish emulsion in the sprinkler can will quickly prompt new green growth.

I do, however, wonder about your watering regime in this specific situation, McFaroff. Plants need oxygen in their roots, not just nutrients and water.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 12:52AM
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mcfaroff(z5/6 NM)

Thanks,folks . Not sure I can answer all questions. I must have started them around April 1, inside on thermo mat at night, in black gold( threw the bag away, did not know there were different kinds) i let them dry a bit and watered to keep moist. The roots of the plants I still have in the original pots have roots coming out of the bottom but not round and round with no place to go. I potted some in bigger pots thinking that they might need more room and their roots are not coming out the bottom. I planted tomatoes, herbs ashwagandha, and amaranth. I stopped the heat about a month ago and put them out for a couple of days and in at nights, then left them outside.all of them stopped growing long ago, a month?
I might need help getting a photo in here. Don't know how.
Consensus is too much water. Maybe so. Thanks, Zach, Skybird and Steve,

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 2:34PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi McFaroff,

If the roots are starting to come out of the bottom of the original pots with the tomatoes it sounds to me like you're doing pretty well! If they've been in small pots for a couple months it's time to get them out into the ground--or into BIG pots if that's how you're planning to grow them. With the ones you potted up already, knock a couple of them out of the pot to check if the roots are to the edges yet, and if they are plant them in their permanent location too. Watering "in the ground" makes it less likely that they'd stay too wet because excess water can move out into soil further away from the plants. If you're planning to grow them in big pots, be sure you wait till the soil is obviously drying down at the level where the deepest roots are, to promote new root development into the new soil. Watering in pots when they're still small is harder than when they're in the ground, so don't Hover, and be sure you're letting them dry sufficiently. When they get bigger they won't be as sensitive to overwatering, and when they start flowering and fruiting you'll want to keep tomatoes "pretty" wet, and as "evenly" wet as you can--don't go from wet to DRY to wet to DRY at that point.

I've never grown Ashwagandha, so don't know the watering requirements of that, but erring on the dry side is way better than keeping them/almost anything too wet. (Just checked Wikipedia and it says "is cultivated in many of the drier regions of India.")

Amaranth is definitely a "dry land" crop, so letting them dry should benefit them. If you're growing the "grain type" of Amaranth, they get BIG, and it seems to me they really should be planted in the ground--soon. I've never grown it, don't have anywhere near enough space, but I got my "education" about Amaranth when I was at Pipe Spring Natl. Monument last fall! I was surprised to see it in a "three sisters" garden, so I was harassing the Rangers with questions about it! Pipe Spring is in Arizona, just south of Kanab, Utah. It is most definitely high and dry! Here are some pics where you can see it being successfully grown with very little "supplemental" water--the water they use is from the "historic" spring. These aren't "seedling" pics, but anything that can be grown this dry doesn't want to stay wet when they're seedlings!

It sounds to me like you're doing pretty well, but just need to get your plants out into their permanent locations.


P.S. And when you're planting tomatoes in their permanent location, remove most of the lower leaves and plant them all the way up to the top couple sets of leaves. They'll root all along the main stem to develop a really good root system. (don't do that with the other things!)

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 4:23PM
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I say that if it is okay for the plant starts to stay out overnight, it is okay for them to go into the garden. I fudge, tho'.

There are usually a few nights that are plenty warm but the forecast is for a return to the cold. Then, I drag my feet getting things out after starting them too early and I am trying to slow them down!

Anyway, my backyard is a little more protected than the open gardens but I am not a good container gardener/pot farmer.


    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 9:01PM
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Steve, Pot farming has a whole other meaning, here in Colorado.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 10:09PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

ROFL! I must be slow! I didn't even think of that when I read it!!!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 10:29PM
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Consider my location, Bonnie. (And, the corrupting influence of Colorado!)

Got any seeds? I may be able to scrounge some up around here. Know how to get them across the border . . . Then there'd just be Wyoming or Utah to deal with. Which way do I go, which way do I go . . ?

Round up more seed in colorful Colorado. Gloria will have to meet me at the NM border.


    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 1:17PM
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mayberrygardener(z5a, Broomfield, CO)

My question, given my own personal experience this year with seedlings, is what kind of starter containers you're using. I got what looked like a great deal, these starter trays were made with 90% post consumer paper. I had great germination, and then nothing! It took a month to get the second leaves, and even then, not much action. Replant them as soon as you can, if this is what you have, there may still be hope; we planted ours up (most of the soil fell away, but I did it anyway) and then I planted them out a few weeks later. They're starting to catch up with the others that were started 6 weeks later in plastic trays. ..

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:55PM
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