Seedlings turning red and wilting

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

There are some seedlings I'm having such trouble with. I should have small plants now, but multiple batches of seedlings have died and it's put me very late.

The one that has been veeeery slow is the campanula. The seedlings start out nice and green, like this

But mine are turning reddish and unhealthy looking, and the one leaf curled up overnight.

The second picture I'm attaching is balloon flower, and while the 3 around it are doing better, this one has a purple glow around the edge of the leaves, and is a paler shade of green.

The third picture is a healthy anagallis seedling.
The fourth picture is a slightly younger anagallis that I'm sure is going to die, even though it looked fine 2 days ago.

I face problems like these with a lot of seeds and despite trying things (wetter/dryer/fertilizer/no fertilizer/more sun/less sun), I cannot figure out what is wrong. As soon as a seedling shows a problem, it's got 1-3 days and it's dead.

I'm keeping them all outside, with lots of wind on my high balcony, so I would imagine it's not damping off.

I've had trouble with seedlings just having sprouted too. Once the leaves come out of the seed coat, I put them in a small pot, where they sit there for a few days and then shrivel up and die.

I grow everything by seed, and I'm hopeless at seedlings.

I wish I could figure this out because it's stealing so much energy from me.

This message was edited Jun 13, 2012 6:59 AM

Thumbnail by BlakeInCanada Thumbnail by BlakeInCanada Thumbnail by BlakeInCanada Thumbnail by BlakeInCanada
Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

Did you harden them off before setting them outside? Sometimes heightened coloration (red, purple) is just a response to sunlight - the seedling adjusts and it's no problem.

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

This pic is of some nigella seedlings (they look so funky as seedlings).
I always attempt a bunch, expecting most to fail. This one had 10 germinate, with 5 remaining in the pot (I'll be keeping the best one).

But the ones that died all lost rigidity like the one in the bottom-right, which is taking a nap and I don't think it will wake up. This is early on a cool morning before it's had any sun. It happened after a rainy day.

How do surrounding plants do fine while a seedling an inch away suddenly kicks the bucket?

@altagardener These have been outside for about 2-6 weeks. Most of them were started outside because the weather was warm enough due it being the 3rd+ batch.

This message was edited Jun 13, 2012 7:20 AM

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

Shoot forgot the pic for the above post.

Thumbnail by BlakeInCanada
Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

1st and 4th pic are dead :(

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

For annuals that develop quickly like Nigella and really don't need any advance growing indoors, you (and most others) would be better off direct-sowing them outdoors.

The red coloration will go away as the plant matures.

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

The nigella had started in paper towel. I could have started them in soil, but I was waiting for a ride to the nursery to get some. But it was only a couple days after germination that they went into soil (May 11 -- 5 weeks ago) and they've been outside since.

The red-colored seedling died a couple of days after that picture was taken. It was like it was crying out for help and I couldn't figure out how. :( Sucks when you order a packet of seeds and use 80 of them, getting 4 seedlings out of it, and they take much longer than they should, eventually dying and you have to go out and buy an adult plant anyway. I wish I could have done that in the first place.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

With this and your other posting on seed problems, it seems you must be doing something, or possibly a number of things, wrong (in the sense of being fatal), systematically. It's really hard to diagnose without seeing what you are doing, as it's not readily apparent in the written descriptions. It must be very frustrating for you, and rather than turning yourself off seed-starting entirely, have you considered just giving it up and buying a couple of six-packs of seedlings from any garden center or nursery, and starting fresh next year?

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

I won't have a balcony next year. All the gardening I can do has to be this year.

I went to buy a mature plant at the garden centre but they had sold out. grr.

I have tried figuring out what is different about me compared to everyone who doesn't have these problems. The only thing that seems different across the board is the way I sterilize soil.

I don't like the oven method because of the smell and the heat. I read once that pouring boiling water over soil will sterilize it the same as long as it reaches the same temperature as it would in the oven. So for the later half of last season and this one, I've sterilized all my soil this way. And some plants do fine in it, it's the only thing I can think of as to why others do terribly.

The reason I started sterilizing at all is because I bought Scott's Miracle-Gro soil when I started and it was totally infested with fungus gnats that were a nightmare fighting indoors.

I tried microwaving, but bugs survived it! I dug through the steaming soil and larvae were running around! I think it heats unevenly, so some areas aren't totally sterilized. With soaking it with boiling water, I let it dry and then mix it so nothing is leeched out.

The only other different thing this year is that my water is soft, which isn't as good I know.

This message was edited Jun 24, 2012 1:10 PM

Dublin, CA(Zone 9a)

I suspect the problem (or at least one of the problems) is your water, softened water typically has a level of salts in it that's not good for plants. I expect the impact of the salt would be worse on seedlings and small plants vs larger ones (or if not worse, at least faster to cause problems). I'd find another water source and see if you have better luck.

Kitchener, Canada(Zone 5a)

I could use bottled water, since seedlings won't be using that much.
The hard water here is very very hard.. I don't know if that is also bad, but I imagine the amount of salt needed to soften it is considerable.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3b)

The water is hard here and it makes no difference to seedlings or adult plants.

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