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Caring for Seedlings

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Patience is the key

After germination, you will now have to care for a number of very small, very fragile seedlings. Once again, I'd like to stress on the importance of being patient. Most seedlings grow slowly. S-l-o-w-l-y. S---l---o---w---l---y. For an impatient urban dweller like me, that's bad because I will make silly mistakes and seedlings will die. So keep in mind that caring for seedlings is not the same as caring for mature plants.

Remember, you start with a bang (germination) and then it is downhill (waiting, and waiting, and waiting...) from then on. Are you ready for it?


Rest in peace, dudes!
A couple of weeks of neglect is a sure way of killing seedlings, especially when the pots dry out and the seedlings start to cook in the containers in the hot Malaysian weather.

The photo shows some unfortunate Horti seedlings. Dried husks are not as bad as liquefied seedlings (when damping off happens). I hate squishy seedlings. Yucks.

As long as a seedling is growing steadily, let it be. Don't overload them with chemicals or water. Keep to whatever routine which is working for you. Attempting to 'boost' seedlings often results in failure.


Moisture and nutrients

Seedlings are pretty fragile. In order to keep them growing steadily larger, it is necessary to supply moisture and nutrients continuously. In Malaysia, since it is tropical all year round, I don't have any winter care issues, so I try to give seedlings a consistent environment which is conducive to growing.

For seedlings, I try not to overload them with fertilizers. I give them a very mild dose of seaweed extract. I like it, and I've heard positive comments about the use of seaweed extract. Allow water to drain, to allow excess salt to leach out. If at any point you see salt deposits, remove the deposits and try to flush out excess salt with water.


Stressed, but still alive... heh heh.
Never let seedlings dry out completely. The root systems of seedlings are quite easily damaged. All it takes is a few days of neglect, and whoa! they never seem to grow anymore.

Stressed seedlings turn reddish brown, and it might be difficult to start them growing again. Excess heat and light are common culprits.


Fungi, algae and insects

As always, soak up excess water after you've watered the pots of seedlings. If a pot is standing in water, algae will almost certainly start to grow after a few days. So, never let the soil soak for any length of time. Algae will compete with your seedlings and may choke them.

Soil which is too wet will also cause damping off, in which there is a massive die-off of seedlings due to fungi. The seedlings simply liquefy. When this happens, transplant healthy seedlings elsewhere immediately, and keep the conditions a little more dry. If a seedling shows signs of damping off, it usually cannot be saved, so choose only the really healthy ones.

If the soil has not been sterilized, eggs of insects may hatch and larvae may attack seedlings. Watch for signs of insect or larvae attack.


Pricking out seedlings

Seedlings can stay in their original pots for a long time as long as there is nothing hampering their growth. You can opt to transplant (prick out) seedlings only when they start squeezing each other.

Alternatively, if your seedlings start to etiolate (become unnaturally long and thin) it's because there isn't enough sunlight. When this happens, you may decide to move them to a brighter location (taking care not to get them cooked), or take them out of their box or any other covering implement.

Sometimes your hand is forced, for example when algae start to overrun everything in sight. Actually, if you are careful, you should be able to successfully transplant even very small seedlings. Just take care not to damage anything. There will be casualties, of course, but you should be able to save many.


In conclusion

Different species have different characteristics, and I haven't much experience in growing succulent seeds, except for Euphorbia triangularis, which is dead easy to grow. I plan to rectify that later on, so what I've just discussed apply mainly to cactus seeds and seedlings.


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  Last modified: 2002-08-26  Copyright © 1997-2002.  Kein-Hong Man.  all rights reserved