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Colored leaves on seedlings

Purple broccoli leaves

Even though the purple and yellow tinges on the leaves of our broccoli seedlings are pretty, any non-green coloration is generally bad news on vegetable leaves.  (That's assuming you didn't select a variety with colored leaves, of course.) 

Neglected broccoli seedlingsIn this case, I know exactly what the problem is --- I left broccoli seedlings in a flat for two weeks longer than I should have because cold weather was nibbling at the garden and I didn't want the babies to freeze.  You often find broccoli seedlings in the same state at big box stores, the result of a manager ordering more seedlings than the store could sell within a reasonable length of time.  If you really don't pay attention to seeding rates, you could see similar symptoms in your garden as a result of overcrowding, especially if combined with under-fertilizing and under-watering.  Finally, mulching with high C:N materials (like office paper) can have the same effect.

Frost-nipped broccoli seedlingThe broccoli seedling to the right had a different problem.  Notice that the older leaves are faded looking, not quite so yellow as the stunted seedling leaves above?  This was one of the broccoli plants I set out before the cold snap and didn't protect with row cover fabric.  The older leaves were burned by the cold, but the vibrant little plant has since put out two new leaves that look a very healthy blue-green.

So, how concerned should you be if you see weirdly colored leaves on your vegetable seedlings?  It all depends on what kind of plant you're looking at.  Broccoli is at the more vigorous end of the spectrum and generally bounces right back from bad treatment, but tomato seedlings have been known to sulk after even moderate stunting.

If you're at the store and notice that all the available seedlings have off-colored leaves, you might go ahead and take your chances with more vigorous types of vegetables.  But I wouldn't buy a tomato seedling that had seen better days --- you might as well just start your own from seed.

Healthy broccoli seedlingIn my garden, I'll replace stunted seedlings if I have spare healthy seedlings of the same size or a bit smaller on hand, but otherwise, I let nature take its course.  I do, however, make a note and try to prevent the problem from reocurring next year.

Notice how happy (although in need of weeding) this little broccoli plant is?  This last photo shows one of the seedlings I started directly in the garden rather than nursing along in a flat.  As usual, the in-garden seedling starting technique produced healthier results nearly as quickly as fiddling with indoor plants.  I did see much lower germination rates in the ground since I was too lazy to erect a quick hoop, but the health of the seedlings is unparalleled.  I guess I should put my spring energy into quick hoops, not flats, in the future.

Our chicken waterer keeps the flock well-hydrated with POOP-free water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Your broccoli seedlings look fantastic! I've been growing mine in my mini greenhouses, and until recently I thought they looked fine. However my plants have nice stalks, but very long branches. They also tend to wilt at the slightest introduction of actual sunlight. Any ideas of what I'm doing wrong? I'm not sure if I should plant these or suck it up and buy seedlings.
Comment by MamaHomesteader Wed May 2 13:24:22 2012

MamaHomesteader --- Our broccoli plants look even better now --- they started flourishing once they went in the ground.

I'm not sure what you mean about long branches on your broccoli. There shouldn't be any branches until they're blooming. Do you mean the leaf stems?

I'd probably be tempted to put your plants in the ground and see how they do regardless. It's getting pretty late to plant broccoli where we're at.

Comment by anna Wed May 2 16:54:59 2012
Thats it, leaf stems! For some reason I couldn't seem to come up with a name :P Yes indeed the leaf stems are long. I planted a few out a bit ago, and I may just go ahead and plant the rest of mine out ( my mom will have to come get hers and do likewise). Also I planted in partial shade as opposed to full sun. Its been in the 80's here in 5A, and even though they've been set out , they really do not like the bright sun. I'll also be backing up the plantings with a few store bought seedlings as a bit of insurance. Hopefully lesson learned:D
Comment by MamaHomesteader Wed May 2 18:05:31 2012
MamaHomesteader --- Technically, leaf stems are called petioles. I'm not sure what's wrong from your description --- could be as simple as the plants getting root bound and drying out, which would fix itslf once in the ground. I hope they do well!
Comment by anna Thu May 3 07:41:54 2012
Well I've learned something new today, thanks!:D After wandering the internet Ive come to the conclusion that maybe they were kept too warm in the mini greenhouse. They were initially really leggy and so I repotted them, and went about getting them more access to light.(They seemed to be doing fine then.) That put them on one of the higher (and warmer) shelves. AND apparently I should have planted them out sooner. I was always told to plant everything out memorial day weekend, and now I'm learning that there are some thinsg that should go out sooner! As of this morning they all seemed to be really loving the cooler temps :D
Comment by MamaHomesteader Thu May 3 08:21:35 2012
MamaHomesteader --- No, broccoli definitely isn't a warm season crop! I recommend my lunchtime series on spring gardening for more information.
Comment by anna Thu May 3 19:55:31 2012
Thanks for the info! My kale, collards, broccoli, and cauliflower are doing fantastic in their shaded spots. They're so perky- even when the temp today was 87!
Comment by MamaHomesteader Fri May 4 00:14:16 2012

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