The Q&A Archives: Troubleshooting Damping Off Problems

Question: I am trying to grow several things from seed this year for the first time. The items include feverfew, lady's mantle, lavender, bee balm, yarrow, impatiens, tomatoes. I read several items about seed starting so I would do it correctly. So, I got sterilized seed starting mix by Jiffy and the seed starting trays with green house domes, the grow light which I could move up and down as they grow etc. I thought I had a problem with damping off, but I read several of your letters and now I'm not so sure. The lady's mantle got hit the hardest; all the seedlings came up and had two sets of true leaves on them and then one day I came home and they had all keeled over. I have noticed from time to time a white fuzzy substance which looks like cottonon the soil surfaces from time to time and I pick it out when I see it...I thought this was a sign of damping it? My yarrow wasn't affected at all and has performed the best, I do have trouble trying to keep them 'evenly watered' ie..not too soggy or dry...but it's almost impossible...I water from below but,it always seems like some get all of it and some in the tray don't get any of it. The temperatures in my house run from a nightly low of 62 to a daytime high on weekends of 68. What is the white stuff, and do you think that would be killing my plants? If it is damping off, I noticed in one of the other letters..they mentioned something called captin...what is it, does it do any good and where do you get it? I also read somewhere that spraying the seedlings with room temperatue camomile tea helps stave off the damping off...and I have to admit since trying it..I haven't seen the white stuff. What are your thoughts on that?? Thanks for any info... Tiffany Cobleskill, NY

Answer: The potting soil either was not sterile or contamination occurred after you opened the bag. Your seedlings were attacked by the fungus that causes "damping off". One sure sign is the fact that the seedlings came up and then toppled over. If you look closely at the stem at the soil line, you will see that the stem has become brown and withered...a sure sign of damping off! If you wish to sterilize your soil, bake it at 275 degrees F. for at least 30 minutes. The white you see on the soil surface is a fungus but what fungus I am not sure. Once the seeds have germinated, I suggest that you water from above and water until the pot feels heavy. That way you can be sure that all seedlings have received water. If chamomile tea works and the seedlings aren't affected then, then continue the treatment. I could not comment on the chamomile tea treatment since I've never tried it. Your house temperature is fine for starting seeds and growing seedlings.

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