Need advice! My seedlings are dying! watering issues.

josie13March 31, 2012

Hi, I'm looking for some advice, I am desperate to know where I am failing my seedlings. NO MATTER WHAT I DO MY SEEDLINGS ALWAYS START DYING ON ME, ITS infuriating because NOTHING I DO WORKS. I've read endless articles on how to raise tomato seedlings/other seedlings, the advice seems easy enough and I follow the instructions to the best of my ability. But nothing I do is ever good enough. I bottom water my seedlings, and try to not 'over water' them, which I'm tired of hearing because I've found it literally impossible not to over-water them without them drying out if I leave them in my small green house (just a rack structure with plastic covering around it), it doesn't get that hot in it as it is still cool out. I come home and they are shriveling up and dying. I WAS SURE I WATERED THEM ENOUGH, without 'over-watering' them. I don't want to hear that I should 'let them dry out before re-watering them', THEY DIE IF I DO THIS. This is my second year, last year I had numerous problems as well, in spite of my best efforts (as in I check my tomatoes constantly and monitor them to be sure their needs are not being neglected. I tried to water with a certain level of precision so they wouldn't be too moist. Once again, when I came home, 1/3 to a 1/2 had dried out, shriveled up and died. So I watered them a bit more the next time, and then they started keeling over from the stem rot issue from too much moisture (the stem would look odd at the soil level and then the would fall over pathetically. I spent HOURS re-potting the stupid things trying to save them. This situation would repeat itself multiple times before I finally got them into the ground in late May). Again, evidence that nothing I do seems to work. I don't why i'm having such issues, it seems like most people can get this right. I'm not a newbie, I've been doing this for a couple of years now but I still can't get it right.

I am so frustrated right now, I recently started my tomato seeds on a heating mat, I used a mix of half soilless/seeds starting mix. They germinated inconsistently because once I took them off the mat (as the first couple started germinating), I can never seem to get the balance right with the soil moisture, and things start dying, and the rest don't germinate. I refuse to use the only soil-less mix, as many articles tell you is so perfect for seedlings. Its horrible stuff, I started some flowers in it, the mix doesn't seem to hold water at all, like I couldn't even get it moist enough to keep my flowers alive. I kept trying to get the soil at least slightly moist so my seedlings wouldn't dry out to no avail. Once again I would come home to a bunch of shriveled up seedlings after I had attempted to water them that morning. I spent a good hour or so re-potting them and swore I'd never use that stuff by itself again. I mixed it with some normal potting soil, and started my tomatoes. The same thing is happening, I either under water or over water, and they start dying one by one.

Last year I grew under a bunch of lights I had set up in my room, I refuse to do this again. It was way too much effort and my tomatoes were no bigger or healthier then my friend's who grows in the natural light/outside on warmer days. Somehow it works out fine for her. I've tried to mine her for information but she doesn't really seem to be helpful. I hope I can get some help on this forum. If my post is a bit of a rant, I apologize I am just so upset right now, I have to spend the rest of my Saturday morning starting seedlings all over again. I'm sure they will probably die just like my current seedlings.

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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

josie13, first of all, condolences. This is great fun when things go well, and not at all fun when they don't.

Where are you located? (We don't need the name of your town; just the zone and a nearby city or area of a state will be enough.) What have the daily high and low temps been lately?

When you water, how long do you leave the pots/cells soaking before pouring off the excess water?

Have you taken a temperature reading in early/mid-afternoon inside the little greenhouse -- with the plastic cover closed?

Did you use a plastic dome over your seedlings? If so, when did you stop using it?

How many days old are the seedlings when they die? Do they have their first true leaves yet?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 11:54AM
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Hi, thank you for your response.
My zone is 5A, in the Hudson valley, near Poughkeepsie. Its been pretty cool; 40-50s, I keep the seedlings inside if its too cold. I stick them in the green house during the day when the sun hits it, I don't take the temperature... Its probably 60 in there, maybe a little higher.

I only use plastic wrap over my seedling trays when they're germinating on my heating mat, never after.

I would say I bottom water each try until it feels heavy, I don't leave it in the water more then a couple minutes, unless it still feels light. Never more then 4-5 minutes.

My flowers are doing ok, have their first true leaves popping up, a bunch died yesterday from the watering issue ( I started this a couple weeks ago). My tomatoes and other crops (kale, broccoli, etc.) just germinated a few days ago and are doing badly, The first couple germinated in each cell (4 cells per tray), so I took the ones with germinated seedlings off the mat, but the others didn't germinate within the cell/tray, and now the soil is dry on the surface. They started out ok, but I can't get the watering issue right and they are suffering. I just bottom watered them yesterday evening after the drying out issue, but some of the soil didn't get moist enough because it didn't absorb enough water (I'm NEVER using that soil-less crap again). Its frustrating. I know if I water again, they will die because of the stupid stem rot issue. I can't win.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 2:25PM
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Is your water by chance treated with something, like a water softner?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 2:50PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Here is one potential problem that jumps at at me: "it doesn't get that hot in it as it is still cool out. I come home and they are shriveling up and dying."

You need a couple of thermometers in there and closer monitoring plus some sort of vents and fans. On average with the sun out it will be 25-35 degrees hotter inside the greenhouse than the air temps is outside. That is why all greenhouse type set ups have to have auto ventilation systems with good, moving air circulation inside. So if it is 60 degrees outside it can easily be 85-90 or more inside and that is lethal for seedlings. Plus it is dry stagnant air. That alone quickly dries mix and shrivels up seedlings.

Second thing: "I used a mix of half soilless/seeds starting mix. They germinated inconsistently because once I took them off the mat (as the first couple started germinating), I can never seem to get the balance right with the soil moisture, and things start dying, and the rest don't germinate. I refuse to use the only soil-less mix, as many articles tell you is so perfect for seedlings."

The flip side of over-watering is soil mix that doesn't drain well. That is why using a soil-less mix is recommended. Because it DOES drain well. Mix it up with other stuff and it can create a 'cook the roots' situation.

But honestly I thin - based on the info so far - the real problem is the environment in your GH. It needs to be modified for better air circulation and cooling if you can't be there to monitor the plants. Post some pictures of your greenhouse and I can help you with specific suggestions.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 3:10PM
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In regards to the soiless mix, I've always found it has to be pre moistened by hand(mixed, like when you're making meatloaf).
My mom uses miracle gro straight out of the bag and it stays dry and dusty looking for the entire season.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2012 at 11:54PM
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this is so strange! I just did a google search for "am i watering my seedlings too much" and clicked on this result. then I saw your response with your location, po-town...I live just over the river in Ulster County! Maybe it's the air around here. :-) My seedlings are struggling really bad too. And I brought in organic soil and am using a raised bed. I tried to companion plant as much as possible too. I don't know what's up. The side bed I threw in as a way to use up some soil is doing excellent. There is only about 2 or 3 inches of organic soil just placed on top of a turned area of the yard. And the beans peas, cukes, zucchini, \are all doing better in there! Did you ever solve your problem?

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 5:35PM
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sue_ct(z6 CT)

The trickiest things for me starting seeds are regulating temperature and watering. I have my seedlings under lights on a countertop in my craft room but there is a south facing window there too. I left the shades open a couple of days when temps were only 60's-70's and bunch got sun burned! So leaving them in a closed greenhouse type atmosphere I am sure could also do that. Plus, with the temperature in the greenhouse going up so much during the day, it may not be possible to keep them watered enough without over watering unless you are able to water them at least twice a day. Depending on how small the containers are that you are using and how large the plants are, they might get dried out before the day is over, even if they are adequately watered in the morning. Trying to water them more in that situation can cause root rot, which then makes it even harder for them to take up water. I have only been doing it a few years but there are a lot people here with tons of experience. I would suggest taking a picture of your setup with the plants in it and posting it here so they can evaluate all of that. A simple inexpensive thermometer placed inside on a sunny "cool" day when you will be home will tell you a lot. I got a couple at Home Depot or Lowes for about $2-3.00 that I use when I want to track how hot/cold it is getting in any room and even the garage when I am storing plants or perishables there.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 8:19PM
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sjetski(6b NJ)

cyanapanasati: If you planted outside it was probably too early in mid-state NY zone 5. The temperature fluctuations, combined with cold rainy nights, will cause odd and hard to diagnose problems.

Here in northern NJ, zone 6, it's long been said that you plant tomatoes after May 15th to avoid the temperature and weather fluctuations. If this "conventional wisdom" is even partly true for northern NJ, then those in NY state need to be a bit more careful imho.

Oftentimes your plants will grow faster, healthier, and produce fruit sooner, if they are planted out just a little all depends on the weather.

Just my 2c

This post was edited by sjetski on Sun, May 19, 13 at 22:09

    Bookmark   May 19, 2013 at 9:54PM
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