Leggy plants... How to prevent, how to deal with, advice?

jasong31May 5, 2008

This year i decided that I wanted to start my maters from seed. I bought one of those purple grow lights and off we went...

I soon realized that it wasnt enough light and my seedlings became leggy.

Fast forward to today andd they are still leggy. I upgraded to a nice big shop light and hwat not, but they stayed leggy.

Right now I am working on my earthboxes to plant them in.. I planted the first 2 plants last night and I made sure I planted them real deep so that I make up for the leggy tendency of them.

Will this help cure the leggy problem? Or are these maters doomed? I'd buy some seedlings locally, but I havent found the varietys that I want.

I'm growing, Big mamas, super beef, 4th of julys, and beefmaster.


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jbann23(6 RI)

Starting seedlings can be a bit frustrating indeed. First off they should be transplanted after the first true leaves appear. Set them deep enough to just touch the false leaves. This upsets the roots and they'll stall for a bit then take off again. You want the soil cool to prevent too rapid a growth. Hopefully your shop lights are fluorescent as that's the best light for the money. DON'T fertilize them, just give them enough water to keep them moist, not soggy. When you transplant them again, outside, after hardening off, plant very deeply. Even break off the bottom leaves to give more stem to put into the ground. The stem will grow roots. Legginess is caused by too little light, overfertilizing and very warm conditions. Hoping this makes sense and helps too.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 1:40PM
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earl(SW Ohio 5-6)

You can also cut the plant off just past the first set of true leaves and transplant or pot-up. The plant will form another main stem where the leaf joins the stem and be just as strong as if you'd never cut it. You can also root the top part of the plant that you cut off.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:16PM
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"Legginess is caused by too little light, overfertilizing and very warm conditions."

My bet would be on #1. Unless you've got a 250W or higher HPS or MH, your toms aren't going to be getting enough light to grow and will stretch as a result.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:30PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Keep your seedlings as close to the flourescents as possible without having them touching the lights. An inch is great, two inches is okay. Set the trays on boxes, boards or whatever to get them close to the lights or drop the lights down if they are on chains. As long as I keep my plants close to the lights they do great. I grow mine inside for several weeks and give them a weak fertilizer solution. Without it, my plants turn light green and weak. Temps of 60-70F are good, but I don't see much trouble with temps up to 80F as long as the soil is watered before the plants wilt.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:41PM
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Harden them off well in area that has good wind protection.

As others have said, plant deep. This will help stablize them.

Construct something to shield the plant from too much wind. This could be something as simple as a cheap wire tomato cage wrapped with plastic.

Wind, as much as anything, is going to be your enemy for the first couple of weeks. If they survive that, then they should do fine.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:50PM
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I planted tomatos two different times this year and the only difference in the method was the difference in temperture. The "cool" grown ones grew slowly but never got leggy. Those that were warmer were faster to germinate but were immediately leggy. I potted them up at a very young age because of their leggy and weak stem look.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 8:51PM
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I have a slightly off sense of humor, so enjoyed your subject line question. Given the nature of this forum, it could as easily be read "How to prevent, how to deal with, advice?" Slow night here in St. Paul GSP

    Bookmark   May 5, 2008 at 9:11PM
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Jasong...no worries. I have the same problem with leggy seedlings. Here they are...and 1 month later after transplanting.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 9:02AM
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they look real good bingster!!! Your setup has been an inspiration to me.. I am actually going to use your pvc support system setup to model for my own...

Ill be sure to get some pics tonight of what I have going on..

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 9:52AM
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Kansas City, here.

I bought tomato plants at a home and garden show at the beginning of March. (I couldn't resist the 4 bucks per flat!) I repotted them and put them in a sunny window. Now they're super tall and not very bushy. We're talking at least 6-7 ft! Should I scrap 'em and start over or can I cut them down and plant deep? I don't want to start the season with weak or shocked plants. There are some grape, cherry, brandywine, beefeater and big boy, I think.

Bought peppers at the same show and they're fine. Should be ready to pick my first pepper in a week or two.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Would love to hear a success story regarding this situation.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 12:01PM
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At 6-7' you are pushing the envelope HARD! The biggest I've ever done was 4' planted about 1.5' deep but that was a healthy, robust plant.

If your soil, time and abilities allow you to dig a 2' deep hole you could try but most will tell you to root cuttings or trench or start over. You'll need good support, probably for the remainder of the season.

Have Fun!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 12:40PM
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mitanoff(Z4b Ontario)

Glad to know I'm not the only one in this situation!
I have 4 tomatoes out of 36 that decided to grow ASAP. All were started at the same time; I have a flat of 3" seedlings, a flat of 6"+ seedlings and 4 plants that are about 2' tall. I hope to complete my Johsho-box today and thought that I would trench plant 2 per box. Hope it works!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 12:47PM
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Did I mention some are flowering? Maybe that's a good sign. Maybe not.

I'm willing to root cuttings but where should I cut? Should I root them indoors or can I plant directly outside? I have excellent soil...can push my hand in down to my elbow easily without tilling...many years of compost.

I'm not sure what trenching is.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 1:01PM
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mitanoff(Z4b Ontario)

Hey Minnow:
Unfortunately, my post was sort of a question as well. I'm not the best person to advise you.
I will be removing the lower "True" leaves of my leggy 2 ft plants and planting most of the bare stem on it's side on an angle in my joshobox. Roots should form along the stem. So the top of my tomato plant will be poking out at an angle, but once I put it in the sunlight, I hope it will straigten out. I'll also have some sort of trellis system to train it on as well. From other posts I've read, I get the idea that it will set back my plant's growth for a while, while new roots develop. I think I can take the hit, even if it shortens my already short growing season. I started too early anyway.
I can't even picture a leggy tomato plant that's taller than me! My 2 ft tall plants are starting to flop over and look wilted which is why I don't think I can wait to plant outside. I can't imagine what yours are doing. Please let us know what you decide to do. As for the flowers, maybe it would be better to pinch them off and route that growing energy into making the plant stronger?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 2:12PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Trenching is putting the "extra" leggy part of the stem underground in a trench. Only the top of the plant is left above ground while the rest is buried 6 inches or so underground. Probably a better idea for you that trying to dig down 5 feet and plant them upright :) The slanted above ground part will turn up to the sun in a day or two and be fine. Five feet is ALOT to bury though. Maybe you could cut back to a strong lower sucker and let that take over.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2008 at 10:43PM
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Thanks for the info, folks. I'm still not sure what to do. I guess now I'm facing a time issue. If I root cuttings and then harden off, I'm talking at least 2-3 weeks from what I've read. That puts me planting outside Memorial Day. Seems a little late. Any thoughts on the time frame regarding planting in Kansas City and rooting cuttings/trenching?

    Bookmark   May 7, 2008 at 10:50AM
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