Is this broccoli already too leggy?

SusanCF(9)January 10, 2014

In my ongoing quest to grow broccoli, I started some seeds indoors last week. I've been growing them in an enclosed porch that has three windows on the east and one window on the south; they get direct morning light only until about 11 AM. I have not been using artificial lights, but I do have a space heater in the room that keeps the temperature between 66 and 75 or so.

The seeds all germinated by day 6 and I was feeling pretty smug about them, but now I am reading that seedlings need a lot of direct light and am wondering if they are too leggy already. It's now day 8 and the tallest seedlings are maybe 2 inches. Yesterday I started putting them out for a couple of hours in the early afternoon to catch little more sun, in hopes of encouraging their proper growth. (Outdoor temps here have been in the 60s.)

The seedling all still have just the original leaves that I believe are called cotyledons. Do you think they're on track to develop their true leaves and grow properly or do they look too spindly to survive? My intention was to wait for the true leaves, then cut all but one plant in each pot.

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If it were me, I'd cut all but a couple now. You can trim down to one per pot later. Then I'd put them it as much direct sunlight as possible every day, adding an hour or so each day so they get used to it, as long as temps are above freezing.

I think they look fine -- I've had broccoli grow well even when I forgot about the seedlings and they germinated faster than I thought, so they were in the dark for the first couple of days!

    Bookmark   January 10, 2014 at 8:12AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

They are TOO leggy. And the reason is NOT ENOUGH LIGHT.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 5:01AM
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floral_uk z.8/9 SW UK

Although they are very leggy, if you lower the temperature and increase the light they should toughen up. Height achieved fast is not the goal. You are looking for sturdiness even if it takes a little longer. It's referred to over here as 'growing them hard'. You could also thin them to just 2 or 3 per pot, then ultimately to 1 per pot ready to plant out. Brassicas can be planted deeper than they were in their pots and they will root from the buried portion of the stem so all is not lost.

    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 10:44AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Agree with floral - they are leggy and far from ideal but some may be salvageable IF you will provide them with substantially more light than they are getting now. Window light simply isn't sufficient no matter how many windows there are or what direction they face.

This time of year, unless you live in the southern hemisphere there isn't enough hours, enough intensity, nor a full spectrum of light available from the sun.

I'd trim out all except the very shortest ones, reduce the ambient air temp to 60 max. and double the light least.

You can lift them out of the existing containers - called pricking - and transplant them deeper to bury most all that stem but it won't help without more light.

You'll find this discussed in more detail over on the Growing from Seed forum here.


    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 3:16PM
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What everybody else said. Thin, and if you can, get under some shoplights an inch or so from the tops for 12-16 hours a day.

Like Dave said, even when they're leggy, when you're ready to transplant, you can bury them deeper than the current soil line an inch or 2 to help them straighten out.


This post was edited by woohooman on Sat, Jan 11, 14 at 21:04

    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 8:25PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I believe, thinning is not going to help. You will end up with just fewer of them. They need more light and very close to them.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 12:31AM
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Thank you all for your answers. I see a spectrum from very hopeful to not very hopeful for my plants.

Based on my understanding of all the suggestions, my plan now is to

(1) thin the broccoli to one or two stems per pot, keeping the shortest (but few of them are short). Most pots only have three or four stems, anyway.
(2) start putting the plants outside during daylight hours. Daytime temps here range from the low 50s to the high 60s; nights occasionally dip below freezing. I have been putting the seedlings under a plastic box when outside to keep them warmer -- does that block the full spectrum? Should I just put them out with no cover?
(3) when I transplant them (should I do that as soon as I see true leaves?), bury the stems an inch or two into the soil.
I am planning to transplant them to pots first, and then to the garden with some kind of protective mesh or something when they seem pretty sturdy. In the past, something has eaten my broccoli plants outside within a couple of weeks of germination every single year (which is only about three before I stopped trying).

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 12:53AM
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It all sounds good -- except I would definitely skip the plastic box, and just bring them back inside at night. The box, with 60 degrees and sunlight, could even fry them (too hot).

I am firmly in the very hopeful camp -- I have had seedlings start out much leggier, and end up producing excellent, huge broccoli plants that produced all summer and into the fall.

Also, from the size of the pots I'd think you could leave them where they are for longer than just arrival of first true leaves, and that way they'll be even sturdier when you do the first transplanting.

One more suggestion -- every week or so, check the undersides of the leaves for tiny yellow eggs, and squash them. Imported cabbage worm larvae (which hatch from those eggs) will eat your seedlings.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 9:32AM
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Thanks, Elisa. I will look for those eggs. It's been so frustrating to see the seedlings start in past years, only to be eaten bit by bit! I've never seen what was eating them.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 10:23AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

I'm in the not very hopeful [negative, unsupporting, and hateful? group lol]

I would start over and take them outside [weather permitting] as soon as they come up. That is what I do here in March and early April. Yes, I tend to bring them in at night under light for a while. This way they are fairly short and already hardened in. I transplant out into the garden at about 27 days from sowing and have excellent results.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 11:59AM
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The suggestion made by wayne_5 is, unfortunately, the right one. The good news is that you still have plenty of time to start your broccoli seedlings. Start over and do it right. You'll be much happier in the long run. A good detailed description of broccoli culture can be found here:

Biodynamic French Intensive System

Scroll down until you see the article on broccoli.

Here is a link that might be useful: French Intensive System

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 1:38PM
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Well, perhaps I'll follow everyone's suggestions -- try to save these seedlings but also start more as soon as I can with the new instructions. If all happen to survive, we'll just have two crops several weeks apart. We eat a lot of broccoli.

While I have people's attention, I'll sneak in a basil question. I started basil at the same time and in the same conditions as the broccoli, but it germinated more slowly (and only some of the pots germinated -- I think I buried the seeds too deeply). Now I have many tiny basil seedlings, not leggy. But I read that while broccoli is a cool weather crop, basil likes a lot of warmth as well as light. I'll put both types of seedlings out in the daytime, but should I continue to keep the basil artificially warmed to 66-75 degrees at night, or will it be okay with the broccoli, at lower indoor nighttime temps maybe down to 50?

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 2:04PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Again, this is all Growing from Seed forum info - the primary reason that forum and all its detailed FAQs was created. Please check out all those resources.

But one point I think you may have missed is the light issue. All other factors aside, without sufficient supplemental lighting you cannot grow successful transplants. They will be leggy, have long narrow stems and weak circulatory systems, and be prone to diseases. Even in our greenhouse supplemental lighting is required this time of year.

Please understand that full spectrum and full intensity light is simply not available from the sun this time of year in the northern hemisphere. That is a fact of life.

should I continue to keep the basil artificially warmed to 66-75 degrees at night,

All plants once they germinate prefer cooler growing temperatures in the 60 degree range as long as they are growing in an artificial environment of any kind. That basically means anything except in the garden.

It slows the top growth and allows for stronger root development instead.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 2:19PM
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