The Q&A Archives: Herb Seedlings Dying

Question: My 91-year-old father is trying to grow herbs indoors. His seedlings grow to an inch or so, then wither and die. He claims he neither under- or overwaters his plants. He's using fluorescent lights, which he has hanging about 18 inches above the plants. His soil mix may be the problem; it's a combination of a commercial seedling starter and also soil he's taken from the woods (lots of compost he says). What can he do to get these plants growing?

Answer: It sounds like your father's seedlings are suffering from "damping off," a disease caused by a number of different fungi. My guess is that the problem lies in the soil he is obtaining from the forest. While rich in nutrients, it is probably also rich in assorted fungal diseases. For optimum results, seed starting medium should be sterile.

Suggest he use a commercial seed-starting mix. Also, before he tries again, he should sterilize the pots or flats with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water, and rinse them well before using. Once the seedlings are up and going strong, he can tranplant them to an enriched soil if he likes. Also, he should try to keep the lights closer to the seedlings -- just 1 or 2 inches from the tops of the plants.

Give this a try... your family should enjoy an herb harvest soon!

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