Have you ever heard of damping off? Sometimes a whole tray of sensitive seedlings can be lost to damping off, causing a lot of frustration. It’s heartbreaking to see your seeds emerge only to lose them right after!
What Is Damping Off?
When the growing environment isn’t controlled, pathogens such as Rhizoctonia spp., Fusarium spp., and Pythium spp. can thrive and attack your plants before they’ve had a chance to grow. Fortunately, there’s a lot that gardeners can do to prevent this condition. Plants that have established a strong, healthy root system are more resistant to this problem, so your goal is to get the plants past the seedling state without damping off.
Preventing Damping Off
Clean Your Gardening Equipment
To prevent damping off, sterilize all pots before using them to grow new plants. Soaking them in a 10% solution of household bleach for 30 minutes will kill off pathogens. Always clean the equipment used to work with your plants, and store tools in a dry place. Do not use garden compost or reuse potting soil for starting seeds.
Wet conditions are perfect for the pathogens that cause damping off. This is why it’s critical not to overwater your seeds and seedlings. Every time you see the warning to keep your seeds moist but not wet, this is why. Make sure the potting medium you use has good drainage, and don’t allow it to become soggy. Use warm water, not cool water, for watering.
More Ways to Prevent Damping Off
Other factors in damping off include low light, cool soil temperatures, and over-fertilizing seedlings. To combat these problems, don’t plant seeds or seedlings outdoors until the soil has reached optimal germination temperature. Make sure your plants have plenty of light if you’re starting them inside - 12-16 hours under a grow light or fluorescent light. A window won’t provide enough light. Lastly, wait to fertilize your seedlings until the first true leaves have emerged.
Since these factors also slow your seed germination times, they compound the problem. Seeds that take too long to sprout and establish strong roots are vulnerable to pathogens, and pathogens have extra time to breed.
With a little care, you can avoid the pitfalls that can lead to damping off and give your seeds a great start!
Written by Teresa Chandler