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Transplanting Leggy Squash Seedlings – What’s The Best Method?

Not all seedlings grow the same, which may surprise, but it makes sense since not all plants grow the same either. Often, seedlings are supposed to have strong stems, a good amount of leaves, and maybe even small branches starting to appear. However, sometimes anybody can get what we call “leggy” seedlings.

Luckily, leggy seedlings can still be transplanted. By being extra careful and using different techniques than you would for a healthy seedling, you can transplant leggy seedlings, and your harvest will not be affected. 

In today’s article, we will be talking about leggy seedlings, how they happen, how to fix them, and how to transplant them. Stick around!

What Are Leggy Squash Seedlings?

Leggy seedlings are exactly what they sound like. They are… leggy. Leggy seedlings often look very long and lanky. Normally, healthy squash seedlings tend to be shorter when they are ready to be planted; leggy seedlings will be much longer and have a very weak, thin stem. Leggy squash seedlings also may only grow one leaf, as opposed to the two leaves that squash seedlings normally have. This one lead (maybe it has two) will look smaller and probably be yellowing or looking pale.

Leggy seedlings only happen for one main reason: not enough light. Seedlings need up to 16 hours of light a day to grow properly. If they aren’t getting that, or their light source is too dull or weak, they may get leggy. They are trying to reach and find a better light source, thus becoming long, lanky, and weak.

How To Transplant Leggy Seedlings

Transplanting leggy seedlings is not ideal. The plant itself may be very weak, and the yield may suffer. However, there is one technique you can try, which is to bury the seedling deeper in the soil. Squash seedlings normally grow with two leaves, and if they are leggy, they will be very long, lanky, and hopefully have at least one leaf on top.

To transplant this seedling, you would bury the whole thing in the dirt up to the leaves, leaving a small sliver of the stem. This is to try and compensate for the legginess, and hopefully, by burying it deeper, the stem can harden up.

Normally, most gardeners do not plant leggy seedlings. Instead, they will attempt to correct the issue before transplanting to avoid any problems down the line. We will talk about how to reverse leggy seedlings below.

How To Avoid Leggy Seedlings

Luckily, leggy seedlings are something that can be avoided. Here is how you can avoid having leggy seedlings.

  1. Light
  2. Grow Lights
    • Most often, we start seedlings sometime in the early spring. There are usually not 14 hours of daylight during this time, so if you have a tray of seedlings, leaving them in the sunlight alone will not be enough. Hang a grow light above your seedlings. The light should hang about 1 foot away from the seedlings (raised as the seedlings grow). If you are starting your seedlings indoors, you can leave the grow light on for the full 14-16 hours that the plants need sunlight and turn it off so they can get 8 hours of darkness. You can set up the same system if you have your plants in a greenhouse. I always have my lights on a timer, so they turn on and off automatically, and I never accidentally miss it.
  3. Do Not Cover 
    • Do not cover your seedlings with any thicker cloth. Seedlings benefit from having a plastic cover, but the plastic needs to be thin and see-through so the light can get through.
  4. Provide Nutrients 
    • It is always good to make sure your seedlings are getting the nutrients they need to help them grow. Starting your squash seedlings in good organic fertilizer will help enormously. Afterward, once the seedlings start popping and have some growth, you can give them a feeding spray with phosphorus-based liquid feeds to help their roots stabilize and to help their growth.

Can Leggy Seedlings Be Reversed?

It is never guaranteed that your leggy seedlings can be reversed. But the effort to reverse it is worth it. Here are some things you can try to reverse leggy seedlings.

  1. Light
    • Get those babies under light immediately. If you notice your seedlings are starting to look or grow leggy, change up your light situation right away. If you already have them under light, switch your lights up. There are many different kinds of lights you can grow seedlings under. From LED to fluorescent, try something new if you think the ones you have aren’t working. I can’t stress it enough: make sure they are getting 14-16 hours of light. Wait a few days, and your seedlings should start looking a bit better after getting the light right.
  2. Air Flow
    • If you have your plants in a greenhouse, try opening one side of the greenhouse. If they are indoors with a plastic cover, take the cover off and let them breathe a little. This will help promote happy growth.
  3. Nutrients
    • Like I mentioned above, seedlings need nutrients too. Try giving your seedlings a good spray of phosphorus and nitrogen to help green them up and strengthen their stems. It is recommended to do this once a week to keep them healthy.
  4. Starting Over or Plant
    • At this point, if you have tried everything and waited at least a week to see if there are any changes, you have a decision to make. The nice thing is seedlings will grow leggy pretty early off, and if you planted them early, you have time to scrap them and start over. You can also plant them by planting them a little deeper than you usually would and hope for the best.

Final Thoughts

Squash seedlings, like all seedlings, can grow leggy if they do not have the right amount of light. There is no need to worry too much, you can try and reverse the leggy seedlings by getting them the right amount of light, or you can transplant them and hope for the best. Your yield may or may not be affected too badly, depending on how weak the stem is. Happy gardening!

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