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What causes spindely stems?

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 6b)

I attempted to plant several of my WS containers today as it was a nice day. The morning was cold and windy, even though it was in high 50's. The WS container plants needed to be planted out, they were getting too spindeley..and when I went to remove them from their container, the soil fell apart in my hands. I had to almost take each sprout, one by one and arrange it close to other sprouts and quickly yet carefully pull soil around them. I watered them after I mulched them. Was it the potting mix or weather conditions. They've been "out of the jugs" during the daytime and when temps were predicted 30-40's I retaped the milk jugs.

The alyssum that germinated in 4 days and was planted in 3 in. pots look great but I've lost some because their stems wouldn't hold them..What causes this? I had kept them watered, and they had a capilarry matting under them..They have been outside when above 50 degrees.

Never had this experience before so want to know what I can do better the next time. I still have more seeds to plant out but will try direct sowing from here on out. I hope what I planted today will survive..

Milton, MA(Zone 6a)

I experienced that when I used "sterilized seed-starting mix" but NOT when I used "MG potting soil" or something else that was specifically different from the typical WS recipe. My year 1 was kind of improvised from materials I had on hand -- I was trying to improve in year 2 by using "sterilized seed-starting mix" (instead of potting soil with fertilizer and moisture crystals I think) and CLEAN plastic containers and a WATERPROOF pen and everything fell apart when I tried to plant out. Year 1 the roots were clumpier, year 2 they were falling apart. NOT a scientific study, just 2 different years.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

also it helps to have a bit of a breeze (I use a box fan in the garage) to gently sway the plants; it strengthens the stems according to Hoyle.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Spindeley plants are most often caused by low light, or enough sunlight. For the same reason, the soil around roots falls apart with weak stems. Plants, especially those requiring full sun, do not develop enught roots to hold the soil when transplanting.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Oh, didn't know that. Wish I had more light in my garage. I have six shop lights just 6-12" above my seedlings. I run the lights from about 7am to 7pm. Although I heard that they need up to 16 hours of light.

This message was edited Apr 13, 2012 7:18 AM

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Oberon46,
Are the tubes plant lights or just regular shop lights? Low lights combined with high temp will make for spindley plants. They are actually stretching for light. Yes, sun loving plants require 16 hours of daylight.

I have 156 Daylily seedlings growing in my plants stand, including 2 shelves of 4 foot long shoplight with growlux plant bulbs. The lights are on for 16 hours. I use a timer.

Edited to add that I use tinfoil to reflect light.

Photos taken March 2012. They will be planted out end of May

This message was edited Apr 13, 2012 4:04 PM

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(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Boy you have your lights right down on the plants. I will keep my lights on for the 16 hours. I have timers just hadn't set them up yet. Will do so. I wonder if I hung foil down on each side of the 4x8 sheet of plywood to reflect the light if that would also help. Actually I can only do it on one side as I have big pots with dahlias sitting on stands to the left of the 4x8 on sawhorses. They have their own lights. But I may be able to rig up something. I may get another sheet of plywood, but would need four more sawhorses. I put one on each end and two in the middle. Even 5/8 plywood will sag with the weight of the plants, containers and wet dirt. Thanks for the pictures and ideas. Oh, and yes I just use regular shop lights. My plants are not really too spindly but would like them to 'beef up' a little before time to start the in and out process of getting them used to sun.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Oberon46,
The photo on the left does have tinfoil on the wall. For some reason the photo is not clear.

I keep giving the plants a "haircut" to prevent the leaves from touching the lights. Doesn't hurt them since new leaves forms at the center of the plant. I have some iris seedlings also growing.

Another trick is to have plants standing on tinfoil so light will reflect up. If you do a lot of sowing, I would invest in plant lights.

All fluorescents are not the same. Grow lights are made up of wavelengths within the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, green, and yellow of the spectrum that are suitable for plant growth that incandescent bulbs don't have. Plant lights are made to resemble full sun very closely and contain the wavelength in colors that plants need to grow.

If your fixture takes 2 fluorescents tubes, replace one with a grow light. will help. The grow lights will last as long as any other fluorescents tube. Walmart sells them the cheapest.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

I will check with WM on Monday. Thanks again. I am going to a one day seminar put on my the Cooperative Extension here in Anchorage. Should pick up some good stuff.

Silver Spring, MD(Zone 6b)

Isn't it great to pick up so many helpful gardening tips from these boards? There's always somebody that knows the answer to our questions. I feel blessed by this and other garden websites.

Pueblo, CO(Zone 5b)

Main problem is not enough light - but Oberon46 is correct, air movement to cause plant movement also helps thicken stems, too. If they aren't so so spindley that they are fragile, you can also brush something gently over the tops once per day.

This is also why they now say to stake new trees low on the trunk to stabilize the root ball instead of the trunk. Research has shown that the tree swaying in the wind a bit actually stimulates the trunk to thicken and get stronger.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

pollen,
last I heard is that a trunk gets thicker due to age. A newly planted tree swaying in the wind tears feeder roots.

Plants grown in the house also get spindly due to not enough light combined with too high temperature. Commercial nurseries grow their plants between 60 to 70 degrees for stocky plants.

This message was edited Jan 8, 2013 1:25 AM

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Well, so much for the 'wind in the willows' theory. lol. My garage is just the right temp for starting plants then. Or will be in the spring. And with my new used light tables, light is not a problem anymore. I heard 16 hours is about right? Is that correct?

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Oberon46
Yep, 16 hours is correct. Keep the light 1 or 2" above the leaves. If you can't adjust the light, give the plants a step ladder by putting the container on something. Air movement doesn't strenghten stems, only enough light and cool temp does that.

I have always used a timer, cheap at Walmart.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Thanks for the confirm. My lights are adjustable down to sitting on the plants if I want. And I do have timers which help a lot. Problem is I have to plug the two shelving units (with five shelves each and four bars each) on two different circuits as they will blow the breaker if they all come on at once on one breaker. Substandard wiring. :(

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Oberon46
That's what an extension if for. Or, set the timers to light the tubes 1/2 hour apart.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Yes, we use extensions frequently. One of the racks is connected to an outside outlet. We also had four timers set up on my previous set up to have them come on sequentially. I hadn't given much thought to that last spring when I purchased the shelves, was just so anxious to give them a try. They were a dream I never figured I would have. :)

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

I also have a stand.
1] Got it in the '80's so not new.
2] Also rigged up 2 shelves in my office with lights
3] My outside stand to acclimate the seedlings before planting. Holds 156 seedlings--3" pots.
4] The result of all those seedlings in October 2012. Iris on the right.

Sowing a lot less this year for lack of garden space until I cull. I have also iris seedlings.

Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma Thumbnail by blomma
(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Holy cow. Are those all iris? And you do indeed keep the lights right tight on the plants. I have one of those outdoor shelves but with three shelves not four. I am making notes from all the blogs I can find to try to be more structured in my planting this year. Pays off in successful seedlings. I end up with way more than I need or want so I give away a bunch. I need to plan better. It is wasteful to plant more than you need or can give away. Better to have a greater variety than too much of the same thing. I appreciate your pictures and advice. Pictures are worth a great deal. Thanks.

Casper, WY(Zone 4a)

Oberon46
They are daylily seedlling from seed purchased and my own crosses. Each will be different since they do not come true fom seed. That is how new varieties are produced. And why I am addicted to them

I also have 144 iris seedlings. You can see part of them on the right of the photo. Those from 2009 bloomed last year.

Another coldframe holds 48 daylily seedlings from 2010. Some bloomed last year the rest will bloom this year.

(Mary) Anchorage, AK(Zone 4b)

Yup, sure sounds like an addiction to me. :)

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