ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

How to Prevent Leggy Seedlings

Updated on March 31, 2013

Why Are Seedlings Leggy?

To get to the bottom of how to prevent leggy seedlings, let's first make sure you understand what leggy seedlings really are. In a natural growing environment, young seedlings tend to grow stocky and strong, not leggy. This is because the natural forces of nature help to produce plants that learn to withstand the elements they are subjected to.

Leggy seedlings are simply seedlings that are growing weak and tall, with a main stem that is too thin, and too few leaf shoots for the vertical space they are taking up. Really, what is happening is that the plant is reaching for more light to survive, indicating that conditions are not very good for proper growth.

In nature, new seedlings are subjected to such elements as rain, wind, and temperature variations. Also, when they do get light, it is an intense light from the sun. To prevent leggy seedlings when we grow plants from seed indoors, it is these things that must be taken into account.

Read on to see how to supply these forces of nature in your home environment for healthy seedlings that are not too scrawny.

This new seedling will become leggy if not cared for properly.
This new seedling will become leggy if not cared for properly. | Source

How Much Light Do Seedlings Need?

The best way to really impact the growth habit of seedlings is by controlling the light source. Anyone wondering what causes leggy seedlings should first look here, as a poorly controlled light source is usually the primary culprit.

Seeds can be started and raised near any bright window, but this is a tricky spot for training plants to be strong and straight. A kitchen counter may have the same negative effect, as any light that is left on more than others can attract the plant and cause it to roam.

A better approach is to start plants under a grow light, with the light directly above the plants. By doing this the plants will grow nice and straight. At the same time, the light should remain very close to the plants, so that they don't stretch out to reach it. Keep these lights within an inch of the top leaves for best results.

A cold frame outdoors or greenhouse is another great option if you have the means. Here, the natural sunlight will also cause plants to grow straight, and because it is an intense light source, the seedlings won't go out of their way to reach up unnecessarily.

Keep grow lights just above the top leaves for well-branched and strong plants.
Keep grow lights just above the top leaves for well-branched and strong plants. | Source

How Much to Water Seedlings

For new plants to grow well they need water, but how and when you water is what is key. In nature, rain falls in many forms, but a watering can douse plants with too much water all at once. This is not normal for plants, and it has devastating results for immature plants.

Make sure you water only when water is really needed. Seedlings watered too often find themselves subject to damping off disease, which can be fatal to the plant. Seedlings that are too dry may wither before you notice. Watering should be done when the soil begins to dry out a bit but before it is bone dry, and never so often that the soil is totally waterlogged. A cycle of water and a period of drying soil will make young plants stronger.

Perhaps as important as when to water is how to water seedlings. Anyone who has watched with delight as new seedlings begin to grow and then come along with a houseplant watering can to give them a drink may have been unpleasantly surprised to watch the seedlings get crushed by the flow of water.

The best way to water seedlings is from the bottom. Top watering not only increases the chances of soil-borne disease, it disturbs the tender plants considerably. Bottom watering is the way to go to allow the soil to slowly drink water to feed the plant's roots. You will be amazed at the difference.

To water from below, use containers that have holes in the bottom and simply place the containers in a bath, or another container with an inch or so of water, so that they can drink. Typically, a 15-20 minute long drink once or twice per week is more than enough when raising new plants from seed.

A simple water bath is a great way to water seedlings from the bottom.
A simple water bath is a great way to water seedlings from the bottom. | Source

How To Grow Strong Seedlings

Replacing the effect of the wind is one of the best things that you can do to make the main stem of young plants strong. There are really two ways to do this, but using both at the same time may be even better.

You can run a fan in the seed-starting area to create a mild breeze. This allows the plants to feel that disturbance as they would in nature and causes them to grow a thicker main stem to resist. An oscillating fan is an even better choice, as it creates a more varied breeze.

Another method that is used by many gardeners is to simply brush their hand gently over the top leaves of the seedlings once per day as they grow. This simulates a breeze or even a critter walking by, and it has a significant effect on the strength of the plants. Since it only takes a minute to perform this daily task, this one is a must to prevent leggy seedlings.

These strong and stocky pepper seedlings were grown under a fluorescent shop light and lightly brushed by hand daily.
These strong and stocky pepper seedlings were grown under a fluorescent shop light and lightly brushed by hand daily. | Source

Proper Temperature for Seedlings

When you pick a spot for raising new plants from seed, consider the temperature. A sunny window on the main floor could be very hot in the sun - too hot for germinating seeds. Look at the seed packet to see what the optimal growing season is for the seedlings and try to offer that environment.

For many seeds, a cooler basement is a better choice. It may be even better if you can find a spot that is warmer during the day and cooler at night, though this may be difficult. Some seeds, like warm-season loving peppers and eggplant, prefer a nice warm spot.

Use a heat mat where needed to change the temperature. These simple additions can raise the soil temperature by enough to make warm-season crops take off, even in late winter in the basement. For other plants, a heat mat that is on a timer could raise the temperature during the day and then turn off, allowing a cooler night that is more like the real outdoors.

How to Get Strong Seedlings

If you follow these simple tips, your next set of seedlings are bound to be much stronger. Here's a quick review:

  • use a light source you control placed directly above the seedlings
  • water only from the bottom and only once the soil begins to dry out
  • use a fan and/or rub your hand over seedlings often
  • use bottom heat to make the day warmer and nights cooler

Now that you know how to prevent leggy seedlings and get them started off right, it's time to get planting.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 

      5 years ago from The Shire

      Thank you! I just started an herb garden and my rosemary plant was putting out leggy branches. I had wondered what was causing that!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)