Question: I bought an all-in-one seed starting kit that is supposed to make the procedure a breeze. I’m new to this so I tried growing stuff like marigolds, pansies, and herbs but everything died! The seedlings grew tall and floppy with a couple of sad looking leaves. I propped them up but after a few days they gave up and “met their maker” so-to-speak. Can you give me some advice so I can see where I went wrong?
If your seedlings are growing tall and floppy it probably means they aren’t getting enough light. Light deficient seedlings grow tall, thin, and eventually weak as they reach towards the closest light source. This leads to sickly plants that are susceptible to the kind of disease that eventually carried your seedlings to plant heaven. In their early days, most seeds require heat rather than light to get the ball rolling. However, your seedlings will need plenty of strong light — at least 12 to 16 hours per day — once they have popped out of their shell and up through the soil.
Finding a good spot in your home can be tricky. A south-facing window will do during bright summer months, but even springtime sunshine lacks the consistently intense light that seedlings depend on.
An inexpensive fluorescent light is the best way to ensure the right start for your young flowers and herbs. Don’t break the bank on a swanky greenhouse system. Instead pick up a cheap and practical fluorescent shop light box with two fixtures (fits two tube bulbs) from your local hardware store. Get 40-watt bulbs; one cool white and one warm white and suspend the box about 4″ above your plants. Hang the light on a linked chain so you can raise it as your seedlings grow.
This setup isn’t exactly stylin’ (unless science-geek chic is your thing), but your next round of seedlings are bound to be robust, stocky and ready to make the journey outdoors.
Get It: A 4 ft shop light with built-in chain will cost around $25. at your local home improvement store. I recommend Phillips Alto T12 or T8 bulbs (about $2.50 each). Make sure your bulbs are a match for the fixture as the two aren’t interchangeable. A setup with T8 bulbs will be a slightly larger investment but are about 20% more energy efficient.