Have you ever had a flat of new seedlings look great then all of a sudden they seem to fall over at the soil level? The tender seedling’s stem at the soil level seem shrivelled and almost hair like in size.
You are not alone. What is happening is referred to as damping off. This is a plant disease caused by a fungal infection. Plants infected will not produce a vigorous plant and this disease can quickly spread through the tray of seedlings. The fungi and molds that lead to this disorder survive in the soil. It is introduced into the soil by insects, unsterile soil, tools and planting vessels. Cool wet conditions is where they really thrive.
There are practices one can follow to avoid the issue.
- Use fresh sterilized soilless mixture to sow seeds in.
- If reusing a flat or pot be sure it has been washed with hot soapy water and a bit of bleach to sterilize the pots and tools used.
- Use a potting mixture with good drainage. Adding vermiculite and perlite to the soilless mix will help, at this stage do not use soil.
- Try to keep the temperature up as the pathogens like cool wet conditions.
- Provide seedlings with 12-16 hours of light.
- Do not use a fertilizer until seedlings have developed the first set of true leaves.
- Sow seeds thin. Seedlings that are crowded are more susceptible to issues.
- Water from the bottom.
Sometimes even following the above you may still have a few seedlings damp off. Years ago there were mixtures a gardener could buy to use in the water applied to seedlings. I recall my mother using something called No Damp. It smelled horrible but was very effective. Of course with the elimination of many herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, this product is no longer available to the gardener.
The movement towards organic gardening has meant trials of various concoctions we can use. The past several years Murlo has used a concoction. By following the 8 steps above we also implement a spray. This spray is misted onto the flats daily during our watering routine. We continue to use daily until the first set of true leaves appear, then use once per week. We have had little to no damping off, not a real scientific test but for us this is a step we will not go without.
Murlo No Damp Recipe
4 Cups water
4 Chamomile tea bags
2 cinnamon sticks
Place above ingredients into a pot and bring to a simmer. Allow to cool. This should make a very strong tea. Remove the tea bags, cinnamon sticks and cloves. Store mixture in a sealed sterilized jar. Mix the tea solution 1 part tea to 3 parts water into a spray bottle. Mist seedling trays daily. We also use this to soak seeds in such as peas or nasturtiums.
Why We Think It Works
Chamomile is antifungal. Cinnamon has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. Cloves have fungicidal, herbicide and insecticidal qualities.
The best thing is the ingredients are natural and easily available at any grocery store. You likely have all these ingredients in your pantry right now.