How To Prevent Damping Off

Things You Should Know About Gardening

by: Marilyn Pokorney

  • Damping off is the single term used to describe
    underground, soil line, or crown rots of seedlings due to
    unknown causes. The term actually covers several soil borne
    diseases of plants and seed borne fungi. The fungi which
    cause root rot are species of Phyium, Phytophthora,
    Rhizoctonia and Fusarium.

    There are two types of damping off: pre-emergence and post-
    emergence. In pre-emergence damping-off, seeds may rot and
    seedlings may decay before they emerge. In post-emergence
    damping off the seedlings emerge then may pale, curl, wilt,
    and collapse from a rot at the soil line and below. The
    base of the stem is generally water-soaked at first then
    turns gray to brown or black then rots.

    Vegetable seedlings often do not grow well under humid
    conditions, particularly if the soil is cold and wet.
    Damping off fungi flourish in moist, unhygienic conditions.
    The disease often starts at one end of a seed tray, and
    quickly spreads to the other end. A fluffy fungal growth
    may also appear on the soil surface as well as on the dead

    When preparing to plant be sure that flats, tools, plant
    containers, and benches are clean. Damping off pathogens
    can live in these containers. The easiest way to disinfect
    them is to dip them in a bleach solution for 10 seconds.
    Use 1 part bleach to 4 parts water. Or use 70 percent
    rubbing alcohol.

    Plant in a light, well drained fertile seedbed. Preferably
    use sterile soils that have been pasteurized with heat
    before planting. Maintain a soil pH at the low end of the
    average scale. A soil of 6.4 pH is less susceptible to root
    rot than a pH of 7.5. As plants are watered the pH
    gradually increases. Test often and continue to maintain a
    lower pH while the plants are still germinating. If
    necessary use one tablespoon of vinegar to 1 gallon of water
    to lower a rising pH level.

    Plant seeds no deeper than 4 times their own thickness.
    Keep the seedbed soil on the dry side after planting and
    allow plenty of bright light but not direct sunlight.

    Use plant containers with drainage holes, water from the
    bottom only, and avoid excess watering. Do not allow pots
    to stand in water as excess water cannot drain and the roots
    will be starved for oxygen which will stop all growth of
    seedlings. Never water late in the day.

    Avoid overcrowding and overfeeding of plants. Do not
    overfertilize, especially with nitrogen.

    For additional organic tips from the experts on damping off:

    About the author:
    Author: Marilyn Pokorney
    Freelance writer of science, nature, animals and the environment.
    Also loves crafts, gardening, and reading.

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