The Q&A Archives: Damping Off

Question: I have tried seed starting several times and the only success I seem to have is that if I don't use my tap water, I don't have damping off problems. I use distilled water and bottom water my flats which causes me to have concern about nutrient problems. When I move my plants outdoors and attempt to use city water the damping off process starts before the hardening off is complete. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Damping off is a fungal condition that attacks young seedlings, it is not uncommon, but with a little preventive medicine it can be stopped. This fungus attacks in damp conditions. It's sometimes stimulated by applications of nitrogen fertizer, so wait until seedlings have at least three true leaves before feeding them, and then use a very dilute solution of a mild fertilizer. Be very, very careful with watering. Water only in the morning, never in the evening, and only when it is truly necessary. You may want to build raised beds for your earliest plantings to improve drainage, and as weather warms, cover the soil with mulch. Sometimes a very thin layer of sterile sand ("Play Sand" from the hardware store is sterile) can halt the fungus. Good air circulation is important, too, since it dries soil surface, which discourages fungal growth. Space or thin seedlings to 2-3", and pull infected plants as soon as you detect a problem. Hope this helps!

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