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Help! Lots of questions

Posted by momstar (My Page) on
Mon, Apr 19, 10 at 11:37

Ive had a very disappointing weekend. Im not sure where exactly to post these questions so Im taking a chance and going here with SFG.
I have about 300 seeds planted inside, most in 8 or 9 oz cups (with drain holes). I had 57 Petunias and not one sprouted. I gave up on them and put the starter mix in with the garden compost. Some other things I have had trouble with sprouting: purple coneflower, asters, cosmos, lavender (understand that is always a challenge), black-eyed susan.

So my first question is the lack of sprouting. Have kept the cups moist and things like Shasta daisy and zinnia in the same conditions have sprouted successfully. What gives with the other stuff?

Second question is, of all the seeds that sprouted weeks ago there are only a few that have true leaves coming on them. I know I am impatient but after 4 weeks shouldnt the shastas have true leaves, not to mention peppers, snap dragons, and zinnias? There are new daylight bulbs in my lights and Ive backed off on the watering some so there has been no damp off. They are in a room that is probably 60-65 degrees. Maybe it is too cold?

Third question. I have lots of these seedlings and our weather here has been wonderful. I have six 4x8 raised beds outside. Three of them have hoop houses on them. Can I move these seedlings out to the hoop house now? They would be protected from any freak frost we might get. Mostly I think Im worried about too hot rather than too cold. Should I replant them into larger pots? Some are a little leggy (not many and not bad). If I repot them, should I repot them up to their leaves or just to the same soil level? (Okay, third question turned out to be a multi-part question, sorry.)

Fourth question. I have three varieties of tomatoes planted. Some actually have true leaves now. I would like to transplant them out of their cups and into some 6" pots I have. Can I do this now and put them in the hoop house?
I made the mistake of walking through HD Saturday. Their tomatoes plants are huge. Mine are tiny little infant plants in comparison. I dont really want to scrap the seedlings and Im hoping they will "catch up" to their HD cousins once I get them outside. Am I hoping for too much?

Im just frustrated because my babies sprouted and now they seem to be stalled even though they look healthy.
I started some cucumbers/squash/melons too. They have just now sprouted but I only planted them about a week ago. They are not in cups but in smaller starter cells (about the size of an egg shell compartment). I obviously need to repot them but when is it safe to do that? Again, the true leaf question comes up do I wait until then?
Wow, sorry for overwhelming everyone with this question. Im just anxious and frustrated and a little jealous of the HD tomato plants. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Ok, first off: you've got a double post showing up, at least on my computer anyway, so you may want to delete one.

Information I'd like to have to help you further:

1. You say you've been attempting to germinate in 8/9 oz cups. That's pretty big. How much soil is in these cups?

2. You mention your lights; what type of lights/how many/how close are they? Fluorescent? Wattage? Shoplights? Tubes or compact?

3. Have you been using bottom heat?

4. What zone are you in?

To address what parts of your questions I can:
1. Yes, I think your seedlings that sprouted should have several sets of leaves after 4 weeks, let alone just one.

2. I wouldn't transplant your tomatoes into 6 inch pots yet. That's a big jump up from a 9 oz cup. How will you fit multiple 6 inch pots under lights?

3. 60-65 air temp is not too cold; in fact, just a tad warmer than the ideal temp. What's important for germination is soil temp, which will be at least 10 degrees cooler than air temp. Check out for ideal germination temps for your seeds. For example, petunias prefer a soil temp of 77F to germinate; without bottom heat, they will be very slow and you'll have a lower percentage. After germination, remove bottom heat, air temps around 55F are ideal, 60-65 is just fine too.

Random things to consider- depth of planting of seeds; aster and coneflower can have smaller seed that I would probably surface sow. Might've been you planted em too deep.

Hope any of that helps.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Petunias usually require bottom heat and warm soil to germinate.
Shasta daisies are a perennial and usually perennials are slow to get going-snaps too are slow and require a month or more to germinate and get to transplanting stage.

Asters Cosmos and black-eyed-susans are usually not too late coming up. Again it may be too cool where you are germinating them--only a guess.

Yes if they are big enough and if you get them into bigger pots you can move them to your hoop house. You could even plant the ones that are going to stay there, but only if you have some way of moderating daytime temps. Can you perhaps lift one side so they get air from all 3 sides.

The other issue will be water. They will dry out fast in there. If you sink the pots into the ground until they are half an inch from the top it will help, not only with water but in keeping the roots cooler.

As for the melons I would wait for the true leaves and next year plant the seeds in your hoop house if that's where they are going to grow.

Be sure to harden everything off before you put them outside

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Oilpainter, maybe I'm confused; I thought she meant that the shastas and snaps had germinated 4 weeks ago, not that she sowed them 4 weeks ago. Regardless, the fact that her zinnia haven't any true leaves yet gives me reason to think there's something more systemic going on. JMHO.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

First, as mentioned already you need to include you zone or location. No way to answer some of your questions other wise like the ones on the hoop houses and moving them outside.

Second, the HD tranplants were grown very differently than how you are doing it so don't bother comparing to them. For next year we can talk about how to do it that way if you wish but that's another story.

As already mentioned you are working with many flower varieties that are slow to germinate and slow to grow unless given ideal conditions and a few that are quickies so you can't compare them to each other. That includes shallow seed beds (cups are too deep unless you only put 1-1 1/2" of soil in them, minimal watering, light and fresh seed only for petunias (no soil on top), and bottom heat. Without those provided the results are minimal and severely delayed. So about all you can wait and be patient. You will get some eventually. For next year most all of them will do better if direct seeded.

For those that have sprouted but failed to develop true leaves, the most likely cause is over-watering. Big cups with one tiny seedling simply retain too much water for the plant to handle. Do not water until most all the soil in the cup is dry - not just the surface - most all of it. Stick your finger deep in the soil - down to middle knuckle to check dampness. Over-watering causes root rot and deprives the root of the O2 they need even more than water. It kills and stunts more seedlings than all other problems combined. And the fact that you have no damp-off, while a good thing, isn't a valid indicator of whether or not you are over-watering. When in doubt - don't water. ;)

Suggest you read through all the FAQs here linked on the top of the front page for lots of basic info if you haven't already and also check out the FAQ on how to grow tomatoes from seed over on the Tomato Forum.

Your tomatoes likely have far too much soil volume in their cups for quick root development (next year go with the 3 oz Dixie cups and start 6-8 seeds in 1 1/2" of soil in them) so are retaining too much water in all that soil.

The main cause I see is simply containers that are too big for germination - this is a good example of when LESS is better than MORE - so please don't transplant them to even larger containers.

I know this sounds discouraging but you have learned some valuable lessons this year so keep good notes to refer to next year, And be patient. You will get some plants you can use. It is just going to take awhile longer.


RE: Help! Lots of questions

Thanks for the responses.

Answers to some questions. I am in zone 5. Last frost date May 16. The hoop houses can be open/vented on the ends but it is still plenty warm in there. I would have planted directly in the hoop houses but they weren't built until just a few days ago. (we moved and are starting over on the garden area). Next year I will definitely plant directly in them for most things.

Dave, we had the discussion on the 3 oz cups on another thread and I think that will be the way I go next year. File that under "lessons learned". I would LOVE to find out how to grow HD-like tomatoes. I also think I will try some winter sowing next year.

The flower seeds were all new this year. Funny thing is, some of the other seeds, like cukes, are a year or two old and they have germinated like gangbusters. 25 out of 25 cukes.

The cups are about 3/4 full (3"?). I really thought it didn't matter how much soil was in the container, just the soil on top of the seed. Another lesson learned. The lights are 4' "daylight" flourescent shop lights, brand new this year. They are approx 8" above the top of the cups. I would have liked them closer but we won't go into why they are that far up (DH was very helpful in that decision).

The cups are all in a shallow plastic bin-type container. I am bottom watering and now that things have germinated, I'm letting them dry out for 5 days or so before watering again. I will move them to the hoop house in the same bins and continue to bottom water. At least that was my plan. If you all have other suggestions, I'm open.

I have had most of them on a heat mat until they germinated. The petunias and other "fine" seeds were top sown, in the smaller starter size containers (not the cups) and were bottom heated until I have up and dumped them out this weekend. The room temp was warmer for the past month. I've since turned the heat off in there. It was (during the bulk of the germination) around 70.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

I would wager that 'not enough light/not close enough light' is the reason for the failure to thrive of your seedlings that are slow to develop leaves, etc. You say the lights are 8" above the lights, so they must be what, 6" or more away from the seedling leaves? Too far. Also, how many lights do you have and how many containers under them? You really can only effectively fit a two-wide 'row' of cups under a single (double bulbed) shoplight. Anything beyond that is really outside the realm of beneficial light.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

I would also suggest that you make your hoop houses with one side that can be rolled up. Just having the ends open is not enough ventilation. Everything will fry in there. The sun shining through the covering can raise the temperature in there hot enough to fry the proverbial egg

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Good thought, oilpainter. I was thinking the same thing myself. Need to modify the design a bit to get more circulation and cooling. I think hubby is pretty set in the design though. Do you think providing some shade over the hoops would be enough to keep the temperature reasonable? I can't be too critical of the hubby's help or I will stop getting it.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Us women have to be devious when we know we are right. Why not ask his opinion about the heat. Put a thermometer in there and take him out in the heat of the day and let him see for himself. If you cover it you are reducing the light and you don't get proper air circulation, which is important.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Well, I had today off for a Dr. appt. After that I worked in the garden, of course.

Hubby was working on putting the plastic on the hoop houses and just sitting near the open end he could feel how hot it was (yes, we are devious aren't we). So he decided that maybe we are too late for the hoop houses and we should just move the plants right on out there.

I explained I needed to harden them off first. The guy owned a landscape company for 16 years and knows his turf - other plants not so much.

So I moved one "sacrificial" zinnia to the patio. Our patio is partially covered. The covered area near the garage gets no direct sun but near the grass it gets sun in the early morning and is shaded by around 9 or 10.

I put the zinnia on a table in the no sun zone. I went about my business tearing out an old brick path where the bricks are falling to pieces (installed sometime in the 1950's) and checked the little zinnia throughout the day. It did very well. Supposed to get rain tonight and tomorrow. About Thursday if the zinnia is still alive and thriving I will take the rest of the plants out and put them in the shade for a day or two. Then in the early sun, afternoon shade for a day or two. Then move them to the full sun garden. I would say the garden spot gets 12 hours of sun. And a lot more wind than the patio. The hoops are still up but the plastic is not. If we get threatened with snow (stranger things have happened) then we can always get the plastic on in a hurry.

If anybody sees a flaw in my plan, please point it out. Lots of lessons learned for next year. My garden journal is loaded with grand ideas, successes, and dismal failures.

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Hi! I do not have much experience with seeds, but I will tell you that Black Eyed Susans in MY yard are like weeds and I dig out hunks of the edges from them every year to give away on Freecycle (with a warning of how they spread)- I love how they look later summer, but you really have to keep them in check - some might say they're "invasive" in a flower bed.

So, you could possibly ask for some on Craigs or freecycle and have a good chance at getting some plants.

:) Rachel

RE: Help! Lots of questions

Thanks Rachel, good idea. I'll check and see if anyone local has anything I can scrounge. Especially if my babies don't harden off well.

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