Seedling Care – When the Seeds Germinate

Seeds germinate over a range of days to months. The odds are overwhelming that the seeds in each six-pack will not sprout together – and may not sprout within several weeks of each other. The seeds that haven’t sprouted need constant heat while sprouted seeds need light.

Moving one seedling out of the six-pack

If you followed my tip in the garden planning section you have already placed old, split, individually cut up six-pack cells into each cell of another newer six-pack. Now it is a simple matter to lift out the sprouted cell and move it to another six-pack with an empty cell out under the lights.

If you didn’t place cells within six-pack cells then I would suggest that you cut out the sprouted cell carefully with sharp pointed scissors and move out to the lights.

Do not place the whole six-pack out under the lights or the germination rates for the other unsprouted cells will greatly suffer.

This method has the disadvantage that every cell must be labeled since it will be moved individually – but if the labels are printed using the avery labels discussed in the planning section it takes little more effort to print six labels as compared to one.

Dealing with stuck seed coats

Some seeds will not shed the seed coat after sprouting. This happens more often on some varieties of peppers as compared to others. It looks bad, but tempting as it seems do not try and “help” the seed coat off the seedling. This is nearly 100% fatal to the plant. Leaving the plant alone will produce much better results – in fact the majority of seedlings will survive and grow out of the seed coat as the dicot leaves grow longer. Even if the seed coat never comes off the dicotyledons will twist and contort enough to let the first true leaves get out and grow. This process might take two weeks.

Light Requirements

Once sprouted the pepper seedling does not need quite as warm an environment but it does need light as soon as possible. For most locales it is way to cold outside and there isn’t adequate window exposure to use the sun, so artificial light is required. I use fluorescent lights for this, but there are other alternatives which are outlined below.

How Much Light is Needed?

To approximate sunlight you will need in excess of 1000 lumens per square foot. This is possible to achieve using artificial light but in practice you can get away with a little less. The further down from 1000 lumens per square foot you go the plants will grow more spindly and be more difficult to harden off. The amount of light available for each of the different light sources is discussed further down this page.

Many plants use the length of day to trigger events such as fruiting. Pepper plants do not. In fact they do just fine with lights on 24 hours a day. I didn’t believe this when I first heard it so I tried it. They really don’t care. Some even claim that you can speed up seedling growth with 24 hour lighting though my experiments weren’t controlled enough to verify this. At least I can say the growth rate isn’t dramatically increased with 24 hour light as compared to 18 hours of light per day.

Temperature Requirements

Seedlings don’t need anywhere near the heat that germinating seeds need. I set up my lights in an enclosed but unheated patio. I haven’t pushed the lower temperature limit enough to exactly where it is but the seedling get down to below 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold night. The patio temp gets quite a bit lower but the seedling are kept a little warmer by running the lights all night long – the heat from these makes a significant difference at the seedlings.

Besides being able to utilize the heat from the lamps to warm the seedlings, my electricity is cheaper at night (I have to pay a surcharge for power consumed during the day). Therefor I turn the lights off during the day to save money. The sun lights the patio during the day (though not enough to count as growing light) so the plants don’t get a “dark” period. They don’t mind though.

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