planting leggy seedlings

veronica320's picture

planting leggy seedlings (post #15474)

Can someone out there please help me directly or refer me to a reference source of some kind. The question is this: You know how Cleome & Cosmos seedlings can be buried with their stems down beneath the soil line? Like with tomato plants? Well, when I prepare to install leggy seedlings of other plants, I am tempted to do the same, but don't in fear they'd just rot after I've finally nurtured them into existence. Many have.

Until I get my act together so that my seedlings' first foliage practically hugs the soil, I wonder if there is a 'key' to knowing which flowering annuals can accept this deeper planting treatment. Or perhaps there is a genus or family that universally accepts it? Can anyone suggest a source? Better yet, please post names of flowering plants that you know will survive this deep-stem-planting treatment. I'm particuarly interested in annuals. Thanks and happy gardening.

Edited 3/14/2005 5:41 pm ET by kent3

KathiCville's picture

(post #15474, reply #1 of 13)

I can't believe you've JUST asked precisely the question that I have, Kent3!  Someone over on the Annuals forum at said a day or two ago that ANY seedling could be safely buried deeper, but I find that a little hard to believe.  Surely some stems would be prone to rot, not root....??  So I wandered over here this morning to see if anyone has other thoughts on the subject.  I'll be very interested to read what the veterans here have to say! 

patwjmg's picture

(post #15474, reply #3 of 13)

I'm not an expert but every year do some seeds ,a few perennials and some annuals, some i have good luck with others keel over shortly after birth... after they germinate i put them in my basement under florescent lights and have the lights within a few inches of them to start then as they grow raise the lights up also feed them on a regular basis with 1/2 strength liquid fertilizer. This is my fifth year ... things i have grown from seed that are still going strong or did well... geraniums, pansies, perennial dianthus, cosmos, morning glory, sun flowers, coneflower, joepye weed, petunias plain and wave, blackeyed susans and gailardia. This year i'm trying marigolds, impatients and vinca... the verdict is still out ... lots of fun, some disappointments but gives me something to do while i'm waiting for the snow to melt!

KathiCville's picture

(post #15474, reply #4 of 13)

Howdy......I'm a fiend, too, for starting things from seed---if only because it's such a delight to see little green things growing when the snow is blowing outside!  I've got a great little fluoro light set-up, with fan and heat mats, in my basement and so actually don't suffer the "leggy seedling" syndrome very often.   But, like KENT3102, I'm really curious about the 'rule of thumb' (if one exists) for determining which plants can be 'rescued' from legginess by being buried deeper.  Tomatoes and clematis immediately come to mind, of course--they benefit from having their stems buried.....

Just for the heckuvit I'm trying 'winter sowing' this year for the first time---a method I learned on the Winter Sowing forum on gardenweb.  Basically you sow seeds outdoors, in containers, with just enough protection from the elements (lids w/a few punched-out holes, etc.) to give them their own mini cold frames.  Some people are doing hundreds of containers.  I'm not so extravagantly ambitious, but I did sow about two dozen containers, and am beginning to see sprouts in a few of the hardier/early types: aconitum, dianthus, balsam, great blue lobelia.   Not every seed is a good candidate for winter sowing, but I've been surprised by how many apparently DO fare well, based on the lists of successes that people post on the forum.

The fact that the seedlings haven't been coddled the way they are when we grow them under lights indoors supposedly makes them heartier and healthier.  (Which makes sense, at least to me!)   And it's an easy way to handle seeds that need to be stratified to germinate.  It also means I can devote my fluoros to seeds that  can't handle the cold easily, like coleus, pelargonium and heliotrope.  At any rate, it's been fun to give it a whirl.  I'm trying a few seeds that I probably wouldn't otherwise attempt : e.g. hellebore, clematis, agapanthus, baptisia.  On the easier end of the scale, I'm also trying cleome, cosmos, impatiens, echinops, thunbergia, nepeta, nigella and parsley.  (Plus others I can't think of right now.)  If I end up with even a few extra plants as a result of WS'ing, I'll be a happy camper! 


patwjmg's picture

(post #15474, reply #5 of 13)

winter sowing... sounds interesting  what zone are you in? I'm in zone 6b southeastern ma. I did grow agapanthus from seed a few years ago and this past season they bloomed... I was very impresed with myself!

KathiCville's picture

(post #15474, reply #6 of 13)

Wow, Tricia, I'm impressed with your success with agapanthus!  I confess I bought the seeds on a bit of a lark, not at all sure that I can coax them into being.  But I figure if it works, yahoo, and if it doesn't, all I've lost is the price of a few seeds.  I think they're beautiful plants. 

If you're curious about the winter sowing method, just go to, click on Forums, scroll almost to the very end and click on Winter Sowing.  The FAQs make for easy reading and will give you the basics.   Like indoor sowing, of course, it isn't a perfect system---you avoid damping-off and other diseases that can plague seedlings indoors, but on the other hand you might accidentally 'fry' your seedlings if you forget to take the lid/cover off on a warm day!  My dog gets a kick out of watching me check each of my containers every day---I think she's hoping I'm growing treats for her!  (BTW: I'm in Central Virginia, Zone 7. )

Still hoping one of the veterans here can enlighten us on the to-bury-or-not-to-bury question!


Jean's picture

(post #15474, reply #7 of 13)

Not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to make sense to me that anything that can be rooted in water or by pinning down to the side would benefit from deeper planting.

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WayneL5's picture

(post #15474, reply #2 of 13)

I don't know about planting them deeper.  But, I had lots of leggy seedlings and so finally called my old college roommate, who is a farmer, raising lots of flowers, vegetables, and fish for farmers' market.  His counsel was that I needed lots more light, and that stroking the plants from time to time to simulate wind helps too.  Sorry I couldn't be more help, I'm just a novice, too.

Waud2's picture

(post #15474, reply #8 of 13)

first off, I don't think and have never heard of planting any annual deeper than when it was growing in the pot. Cosmos and for me at least Cleome do best when not overly pampered. Cosmos does best in the crappiest soil with full sun. If the soil around cosmos is too rich and humusy they will become leggy. planting any annual deeper than at the level that it was growing in their pot or cell will rot them out. this is from my own experience, and I have grown 100's of different seeds, many being annuals. I think that the trick is to make sure that the site in which they are going in is tilled and ready to take the seedlings. I would dig up the area to about 8-10" and let it settle for a day or two, ( while you're waiting for your seedlings to harden off) then plant out, but, many annuals do better if you direct sow in the spring, less chance of them being leggy. If you still decide to start these types of annuals indoors, then I would pinch the leggy ones before you plant them out to encourage bushiness. Just my 2 cents!

kmrsy's picture

(post #15474, reply #9 of 13)


I've read the other posts and there seems to be some confusion about your technique and your term "leggy".  When you refer to planting certain annuals more deeply, you are talking about transplanting - either potting up to a larger size container or transfering them to the ground.  When someone mentions "leggy", it usually refers to that spindly condition of seedlings that don't get enough light.  But you are talking about those particular annuals that have an innate legginess, a condition normal to them.

I used to have the same trouble with Cleome and a few others until I read somewhere that they should be planted with the node of their seed leaves - called cotyledons, (not the true leaves) just below soil level when potting up or transplanting. Definitely solved the problem, and no rotting - no lollying on the ground either.  Where did I read it?  Don't know; it was years ago.

I don't really have an answer to your question as to which seedlings accept and appreciate this treatment.  However, you might try it with any seedling that has a longer than usual space from soil to seed leaves. 

_^..^_ Kitty, neIN, Z5
veronica320's picture

(post #15474, reply #10 of 13)

Thanks for all the responses so far. I see there's a sensible need for me to clarify, so here goes: I am indeed referring to the 'legginess' of the seedling in that the stem space between the cotyledon (first leaves to appear) and the soil from which it emerged is greater than the stem space between those leaves and the subsequent 'true' leaves. Further, sometimes the space between true leaves is also at a distance as well, whether or not the plant is naturally prone to legginess, like cosmos. I often pinch back leggy plants, and they flesh out nicely, but the main problem is the space between their seedling leaves and the soil from which they emerged. I absolutely know why this occurs, but that's another story. My own stoopid fault. The Q is what to do with them when they go into the garden.

I've also bought pots or 6-packs with this same poor start when lust for the particular plant overrides this 'legginess', esp sunflowers. Like a few of you, I've read or been told that cosmos and cleome prefer to be placed -- when transplanting (thank you kmrsy!) from seedling stage to great outdoors -- at a depth where their actual stems are placed below the soil line, a step that would lead to rot in most cases. For example, zinnias with long soil-to-cotyledon stems and tight above-cotyledon growth rot if I plant deeply (no way they root from the stem) and flop over & spend their summer on a stake if I plant with their start-up and outdoor soil levels at equal depths.

I figured that, aside from cleome and cosmos, there had to be other annuals that wouldn't mind having their stems planted beneath the soil line and hoped that someone out there could fire off a few names. Perhaps I should have posed my question as, 'what annual seedlings can root from their stems and thus be tranplanted outdoors at a lower depth than the germination soil line?'.

I'm checking other sources and will definitely post a list of plants if I come up with good answers. How absurd to consider that I'm in a miserably sunny climate.... Meantime, thanks for responses and Happy gardening, all of you.

Edited 3/25/2005 8:51 pm ET by kent3

rec01's picture

(post #15474, reply #11 of 13)

'what annual seedlings can root from their stems and thus be transplanted outdoors at a lower depth than the germination soil line?'.

Many if not most vertical growing plants that can be rooted along the stem do so at a leaf node, on mature tissue. The condition of deeper planting than the original soil line in such young plants is a recipe for failure. I suspect that vines and other horizontal growing plants may exhibit similar problems at such a juvenile stage.

I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule, but they are more likely few and far between. If your like me and some others here, give it a go and report back. I know we would all like an answer. I have 4-5 hundred leggy seedlings myself.


bobhallsr's picture

(post #15474, reply #12 of 13)



Gardening, cooking and woodworking in Southern Maryland
Gardening, cooking and woodworking in Southern Maryland
watrat's picture

(post #15474, reply #13 of 13)

Why don't you direct seed your Cosmos and Sunflowers?  It works up here, and we get much less sun than you, I'm sure-

Oh, and I always use a fan to keep seedlings stocky, and put the lights almost directly on top of the plants, really about 1-2" away.

Edited 3/29/2005 3:16 pm ET by RickD