By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:
Seedlings often times show us their levels of stress or comfort through their color, shape, and sometimes by their scent. For instance, when seedlings are started indoors by a window and have spent some time growing there, then are moved directly into sunny outdoor conditions, often times they get sunburned. This sunburned area will look white/grey on the affected leaves. Do not confuse this white/grey color on the leaves with mildew. Mildew will look raised on the plant leaves and a sunburn will look like part of the leaf. If your seedlings are around a month old they may recover from their Sunburn. But, if the seedlings are around a week old or less and get sunburned, then it's easier to start new ones -mainly because there is not enough of the baby plant yet to bounce back from the sudden exposure to the intense rays of the Sun. If your seedlings turn a yellow color there can be a few reasons including: too much water, not enough sunlight, or being infected with fungus/disease. If your seedlings leaves turn red/purple when they are usually not supposed to, it can be caused by being exposed to cold temperatures under 40 degrees F. Sometimes a cold wind can also cause the leaves to turn this color.
The shape of your seedlings as they grow can tell you a lot about the level of stress or comfort they are experiencing. If your seedling appears to have a strong stem and it's height is proportionate to it's width, then most likely, your seedling is getting the right amount of Sun that it needs. If your seedling has a long stem and appears to be top heavy with little new growth, it may not be getting enough sun. Also, sometimes in full Sun a seedling may appear stunted and small, while also appearing not to grow as time goes by. Provided the seedling is growing in healthy soil, this stunted growth in full Sun is often caused by a seedling that requires Part-Sun/shade conditions being placed in full Sun conditions.
When it comes to phototropism, your seedlings shape will appear to be growing upright, while also turning and growing towards the brightest source of light. This happens most commonly when growing seedlings indoors by a window. But Phototropism can also happen when seedlings come up under bushes and other dense growing perennials which block out much of the light that is trying to reach those seedlings under the mature bushes/dense perennials.
With herb seedlings that have scented leaves or roots, the scent of your herb seedlings early on can help you decide which ones are both healthy and happy, while also helping you determine which ones naturally containing higher levels of the herbs essential oil. Sometimes if these scented herb seedlings are not getting the sun they require, or a naturally low concentration of essential oil is in the leaves/roots to begin with, the seedlings will lack a strong scent. Too much water for some scented herbs can dilute the amount of oils in the plant. Your herb seedling may look healthy but the essential oil content will be low. To raise the concentration of essential oils in a seedling as it grows, it is important to allow your seedling to go through occasional short dry spells, mimicking natural rain patterns which are sporadic. This allows the seedling to become used to growing with a high oil to water ratio. This trait can be passed on to the seedlings offspring when it is old enough to produce seeds of it's own.
Learn more about Andrew Padula and Padula's Plants here or find them on Facebook here.
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(Photo attribution: By Momali - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11840240)