Seedlings are the young plants that emerge each spring as warmth and moisture help them to convert stored food (endosperm) into new growth. Learning more about seedlings can help you get the most from your garden. (You’ll get an awesome vocabulary while you’re at it!)
Factors of seedling growth
Seedlings are initially dependent on their stored food reserves. Once photosynthesis begins, things really get growing. Temperature, light, and moisture are the major factors in seedling development, but wind and other forms of physical contact (thigmomorphogenesis) are critical to developing a strong plant. Most seedlings need 14 hours of daylight to grow. Compacted soil can make it difficult for tender new roots to anchor themselves in the soil or to find enough nutrients. One way you can give your seedlings a boost is to feed them with fish emulsion. You can also apply mulch, which will shade the soil, add nutrients, and reduce competition from weeds. (Unfortunately, it may also attract and protect sowbugs and earwigs). Remember that any major, sudden changes can be devastating to a seedling. Erosion, in particular, can expose delicate seedlings to more stresses than they can handle.
Too many plants in one place means none of them get enough of what they need. Overcrowding and undesirables used to be eliminated by simply yanking them from the earth. We now know that this isn't in anyone’s best interest. First, it damages neighboring young root systems. Also, it removes millions of beneficial soil microorganisms that help plants find the food they need. Instead of pulling, it is more productive to snip unwanted plants off at soil level. The roots will gradually die (unless it is a particularly tenacious weed), giving the microorganisms the time they need to migrate elsewhere. Weed seedlings can be eliminated with a nice thick (4” or more) layer of mulch.
Seedling pests & diseases
Seedlings often need protection from birds, squirrels, slugs and snails. This can sometimes be easier if you are using raised beds or containers, but the addition of trellising, row covers, and protective wire or netting in any garden location can help keep keep some of these pests away from seedlings. Since seedlings are so tender, they are favorite foods of many garden pests:
Nematodes and boring insects can also damage or destroy seedlings. Fungal diseases, such as Fusarium wilt, Verticillium wilt, damping-off disease, and stem rot, as well as bacterial diseases, can block the developing vascular system of young seedlings, causing them to wilt and die.
Most plants produce an abundance of seeds for good reason: growing up is hard to do. Many seedlings never make it. They are eaten, desiccated, drowned, stepped on, chewed up, or try growing in a location that doesn’t work for them. As a gardener, you can improve the odds of survival for your seedlings by providing an environment rich in nutrients, moisture, sunlight, and protection.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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