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Leggy seedlings no more!


Despite the colder weather, warmer and sunnier days are on their way and we all know what that means… seed sowing!


I am trying to sort through my seeds for this month whilst I write this and it’s just a little overwhelming.


I’m not normally so eager to get things going – most of my seeds are normally sown in April when it gets a little warmer, but there are some I like to start in my flat, especially if I am trying to grow something new.


A lot of seeds can be sown direct and I prefer it that way – I have limited space to propagate and prefer the joys of sowing some seeds direct.


There are some key rules to stick to when starting your seeds. You might want to get a head start but you need to realistically think about where you are going to store these plants until the last frosts and they won’t be seedlings forever!

So here’s some key tips for propagation at home:

  • Don’t let your seeds get ‘leggy’. Leggy seeds are those which are striving for the sun. You don’t need expensive lighting and grow tents for this – just a windowsill that receives good light and is relatively warm. If they’re shooting up too much, scrap them and start again a little later on in the year or sow direct. If you’re seedlings are leggy, they are not receiving enough light and probably starting them too early. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself. You’re going to have to pot these up at some point.
  • Potting on your seedlings means putting your baby seedlings into a pot of their own to grow and establish roots, in a more suitable growing media for their stage of growth.
  • Pot on your seedlings when they produce their first true leaves. The first leaves that sprout out are the cotyledons. They’re the little leaves that have lived inside your seed, ready for germination and that first hit of photosynthesis to feed your little planty. You’ll notice that these seed leaves are probably a different shape to the true leaves that are produced there on after.
  • You do not need nutritious growing media to start your seeds. Your seeds hold everything they need to feed themselves (with a little help from photosynthesis too), so they are concentrating more so on developing themselves, their root structure and vascular structure. Your seedlings will not be in that media long enough to benefit from anything rich. It might also cause distortion of your seedlings if you’re overloading them. Stick to potting compost or even coir, of which I am a massive fan of due to living in a flat.
  • When potting on your seedlings, hold them by their leaves and never the stalk. Your plants have a vascular system and if you damage the stem, you will kill the seedling. Tease the roots out with a stick whilst holding the leaves and the whole seedling should come out easily. Fill a pot, stick the seedling in and press in gently.
  • Add other media to your growing media for good aeration, water holding capacity and drainage. Potting composts such as John Innes 2, normally have a mix of organic ingredients and feeds that are suitable for the growing stage of intended use, however, you can use general purpose compost and make your own magic mix. I used a 3:1 mix of 1 part perlite 1 part coir/leaf mould/compost (depending on what I need it for), and 1 part sand/horticultural grit (also depending what I need it for). I can then add feed per plant as needed and I find some slow release fertilisers to be great, especially if you start your season indoors like me and have limited space.
  • Water your seedlings from underneath. This means putting them in a tray and watering underneath the pots. The pots then take up the water they need and you’ll help prevent grey mould (botrytis) killing your seedlings. Don’t over water – I do give my seedlings a little bit of a hard time sometimes and water only when they’re showing signs of needing it. You will then get into a routine of caring for those seedlings but also not spoiling them.
  • If your seedlings are leggy and you’re desperate to save them, try planting the leggy stems deep into the pot when potting on. Plants like tomatoes love this and their meristematic tissue will transform the stem into more roots, anchoring the plant, getting rid of that legginess and giving the plants a second chance. Give it a try and if it doesn’t work, try again or sow something else.
  • Remember that just because a seed packet holds 150 seeds (or however many), it doesn’t mean you need to sow that many.
  • Whatever you sow, make sure that what you’re planting in your soil is pest and disease free. You can avoid introducing pests and diseases by buying verified seed or plant stock. There are reasons that you have a verified seed stock – it’s not a money making scheme, it’s to give you a history of where your seeds/bulbs/tubers etc come from, and for live stock, a plant passport. If you use stock that comes from a supermarket, you cannot guarantee it is pest or disease free. It may not seem like a big deal but I cannot stress how important it is to your soil health. You cannot trace what chemicals have been used on supermarket food stock, or what has infested the soil it has grown in. The last thing you want to introduce is a disease that will prevent you growing alliums for the next 15 years such as onion white rot, which is a SERIOUS fungal disease of garlic, leeks and onions.


We all have our own routines and practices that we all swear by and I have written this to help beginners get things going and understand the principles of basic seed sowing. What are your hints and tips that never let you down?

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