Monday, May 03, 2010

A Pinch to Grow an Inch

Seedlings out in the wild to 'harden off' and get ready for planting. A dangerous time!

We've all had it happen. One day there are beautiful little seedlings, with a pair of seed leaves, maybe even with their first true leaf as well. The next day, bare little stems with a munched top. "That Which Eats in the Night" has come to visit. Snail? Slug? We sigh and resign ourselves to starting new seedlings. But wait! There is still hope!

We tend to consider that once the top of a seedling is gone, it's all over. The apical tip, aka the part of the plant that is growing, has been lost. It turns out that there are two things to consider. The first is that in some plants, the true leaves grow under that first set of seed leaves (the cotyledon leaves). The second is that many plants branch along their stems.

Most of these seedlings still have only the cotyledon or seed leaves yet.

A very wise elder gardener recently shared his "pinch" technique with me, while I was bemoaning some beheaded seedlings at the community garden greenhouse. Squeeze the tip of the stem very hard, pinch it at the top. This seals off the tip. At that point, the seedling may form a branching tip or even a new apical tip just below the pinch. Sealing the stalk allows the tiny plant to increase activity up there and you may get a second chance.

How often does it work? "Not every time, for sure, but often enough that I find it worth doing." was the reply. So pinch off those poor little naked stems and keep your fingers crossed. Before you go off to wait, pick up all your pots and six-paks and see if you can find the snail or slug responsible. Otherwise your new growth may get eaten too, and this is a trick that only works the first time!

I've seen pepper seedlings that have lost their tops be saved with the method we discuss above. Also eggplants!

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