Leggy Seedlings [What They Look Like & How To Fix Them]

by Chenell | Last Updated: March 6, 2021

Seed starting is one of the most fun activities once spring is nearing, but it can also come with a lot of problems. One of the more common ones is leggy seedlings.

leggy seedlings

Can Leggy Seedlings Recover?

I know the first thing you’re thinking is, can I even salvage this situation?!

Yes, kind of. It depends on how long they have been “leggy”. You’ll need to change up their environment a bit.

The first thing to check is how warm the environment they are in is. If it’s 55 degrees or lower, you’re going to want to get some heat in there pretty quickly.

Some plants stretch up to try and get more light, while others are just growing on overdrive because the conditions are so hot.

What are Leggy Plants? What do they look like?

Even if you try your best, you still might end up with leggy seedlings. I bought all the right equipment, but didn’t realize that you needed to remove plants from the heat mat onces they sprouted. I just thought they stayed on there until it was warm enough to harden them off outside.

So then I ended up with these leggy onion seedlings:

Oops!

As you can see, leggy seedlings are seedlings that are stretching and falling over.

If you sowed your seeds a few days ago and they’re already 3 inches tall, that’s NOT a good thing.

That means they are lacking something they needed to grow stronger stems and roots.

They might need more light, more water, or more heat. Or maybe they have too much heat.

Causes & How to Fix Leggy Seedlings

First, let’s check out some of the causes of leggy seedlings so we can decide how to fix them.

Lack of Light

Are your plants getting enough light?

You can use a light meter like this one to help. If they’re not getting enough light, try moving your seedlings closer to the light. Some plants will stretch to get enough light if they aren’t getting enough, thus the legginess.

Sonkir Soil pH Meter, MS02 3-in-1 Soil Moisture/Light/pH Tester Gardening Kit
$15.99
Check Availability
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
06/19/2021 02:18 pm GMT

If they aren’t getting enough light, you should move them to another area of the house to try and fix this problem. Most plants need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight to grow. This generally is NOT what they get on the kitchen windowsill, even if it’s a south facing window.

You might need to get some grow lights to supplement the natural light they are receiving.

I had this problem with my onion seeds and I just needed to lower the light to bring it closer to the plant so they weren’t stretching to reach it.

Plants can’t get too much light, so more is always better (but you don’t need to go overboard and spend a ton of money on lights either).

Too Much Heat

This could absolutely be the cause of your leggy seedlings.

If you’re using a heat mat, make sure you are removing plants from the heat mat once they sprout. If you leave them on too long they can start to rot and fall over.

Too much heat is generally the issue here. If you’re not giving your plants enough heat, they will grow really slow or take a long time to germinate.

If you’re using humidity domes, go ahead and remove those from your seed trays to avoid overheating your seedlings.

Not Enough Water

The next thing to check is the amount of water your plants are getting. If they aren’t getting enough, try using a mister spray bottle to supplement. You can also use the bottom watering technique to make sure they are receiving enough.

It stalls plant growth when the soil is too dry, especially as the seeds are still developing and not yet turning into seedlings.

While this usually isn’t the cause of a leggy seedling, I wanted to include it in case that is what’s happening.

Overcrowding

“Hey, can’t I get a little space around here?!”

If you grow your seedlings too close together, they might be causing one of the 3 problems above. Some of the plants might be blocking the light from others, and they are immediately in a race to the top to get enough light.

If you’re going to plant multiple seeds closeby, make sure you are thinning out your seeds once they start sprouting leaves.

Lack of Air Flow

Another common cause of legginess is not enough air flow. Always, always, always make sure you are blowing a fan around your seedlings. This helps make sure they get enough oxygen, but also helps them grow stronger stems because they’re constantly being blown around.

These are the fans I get that hang from the sides of the shelves in my grow room.

ANEXT, 120mm USB, Silent Fan - 2 Pack
$16.99
Check Availability
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.
06/19/2021 05:29 pm GMT

Yes, they are computer fans meant to cool down modems, but they work wonders at keeping the air flow constant.

You can also use a house fan, box fan, or anything that moves air around constantly.

Remember: Light, Heat, and Water

You can prevent most problems with leggy seedlings by keeping those three things in check.

If your seedlings are already tall and spindly, and you’re already into the season, it might be better to just start fresh and try again.

Fixing these once they’re already tall is hard work, and sometimes not possible, so you might want to cut your losses and try again instead of wasting more time trying to get the conditions perfect.

Chenell lived in a big city for 9 years and loved it. But ever since she was a little kid watching her grandfather raise cattle and pigs, she's always wanted to live on a farm. Once the pandemic hit, she bought a house with her partner on an acre and half of land and started planning a 50 foot by 50 foot garden....with no experience. This site is the place where you can follow along as this millennial tries to learn to grow her own food (and eventually make her own avocado toast).