Seedling envy

There’s no justice.

If you’re a plant, and you’re tall, slim, and leggy, you’re a failure. If you’re a human, and you’re tall, slim, and leggy, you’re Gisele Bundchen. So, while I’ll keep the frontal lobe, free will, and opposable thumbs that are the perquisites of my species, I’d love to arrange a physique trade with my broccoli rabe seedlings.

They’d be so much better off if they had my – ahem – sturdy bottom half. And if I had their legs, I could quit this whole writing thing and make a living modeling knee braces, or maybe socks.

Why are my seedlings so leggy? They’re in standard-issue seed starter, growing in a warm room with lots of natural light. But each and every one them is two little tiny leaves perched precariously atop several inches of reedy stem. Where did I go wrong?

14 people are having a conversation about “Seedling envy

  1. There is no justice is a truth inescapable in this life. You, however, did not go wrong. You are just the way you are supposed to be, and I’m glad you write instread of modeling socks. The seedlings are also just what they are supposed to be: baby brassicas. All in all, it’s still better to be on this side of the dirt, getting older and not likely to be snatched up and eaten in the prime of life.

  2. You’re well ahead of me! My husband and I don’t have anything started, yet, except the traditional peas planted on St. Patrick’s Day!

    How far from your seedlings is the light? It sounds strange, but if you keep the light closer, the seedlings don’t try so hard to “stretch” to reach it. Rotating the plants (just flip the tray around) may help, too. That will even out the growth, as the “near” side becomes the “far” side and has to put more effort in.

  3. It’s probable that your natural light isn’t strong enough. Legginess is a sure sign of insufficient light. I have regular broccoli started under a grow light on my garage bench, and the grow light is hovering so close to my seedlings that I have to water from the bottom, which is okay, because it’s supposed to be better for them. But they are doing fine.

    You may want to hold off trying to get a head start on your rabe anyway, because I read on the seed packet that broccoli rabe sometimes immediately bolts if it suffers any transplant shock, and I sure experienced that last year.

    I had to bring my tomato and pepper starts into the house because the seed mat wasn’t cutting it outside, and they definitely like it better, because they’re actually starting to come up. But I think they are going to be leggy, even though they’re in a southern window. We are just not getting any sunshine.

  4. Like stefka said, rotate the tray 180 degrees every day or two. They are reaching for that light. It’s not a perfect solution, but I’ve found that it tempers that leginess a bit.

  5. Yep, more light captain. They are striving for the sun and leggyness is the result. Happened to me too. This year I have LED grow lights and they are all short and stout.

  6. Etiolation caused by lack of sunlight. The plant can’t photosynthesize well, and any chlorophyll produced goes into growth (it thinks it’s below the canopy and by reaching taller, it can outgrow its competition and reach the sunlight). Hence, pale, elongated seedlings.

    You can use the same process to your benefit, for blanching endive and producing sweeter, more tender rhubarb. But I agree that the healthiest plants (and people) have stout stems!

  7. Well, that answers that question. I have 100% agreement.

    Right now, they’re in Kevin’s office (because it’s warm). I’ll bring them home, and put them in the hoophouse during the day and take them in at night.

    Let’s hope for a full recovery.

    • I always had the same problem even with additional light. I tried winter sowing my seeds this year. All of the cold weather crops started sprouting outside in the bags and bottles about 3 weeks ago and they are all looking very heathy. It’s brilliant!

      You can read about winter sowing seeds here:

  8. I agree with the light deficiency diagnosis. One thing (besides more light) that might – might – help correct the legginess is air motion, or, in lieu of that, gentle brushing, as with a large feather. If it’s too cold to expose them to breezes, then brush them very lightly a few times per day, in different directions, with one of those nice big turkey feathers I’m sure you saved from last year. This will simulate wind, and encourage them to buck up and grow a sturdy stem. Apparently, the Japanese figured this out.

  9. My broccoli are doing the same thing. They sit about a foot under 3 lights but it doesn’t seem to be enough. My tomatoes and eggplants are also under the same lights but they don’t have legginess…I don’t get it. I am going to try the air motion tip to see if that makes a difference.

  10. As former New Yorkers, Tamar, I’m sure that you can Kevin can make a fun game out of tickling broccoli seedlings with a turkey feather. OMG, sorry…it just struck me as so funny!

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