The Q&A Archives: Seedlings that Fall Over

Question: I have trouble starting seeds, even though I bought a "foolproof" water-from-below seed tray system. As soon as the first leaves come up, the seedling flops over, so thin and weak that the stems are almost translucent! I'm just trying to grow easy stuff, like marigolds, herbs, etc . Can you PLEASE give me a summary of basic seed starting techniques, so I can see where I'm going astray? Thanks!!! Keri Kegley Dallas, TX

Answer: Sounds like your seedlings are being attacked by a fungus that causes what is called "damping off". As soon as the seedlings appear, the fungus attacks the stem and the seedlings fall over. Be careful what kind of potting soil you use. Don't use soil from your garden unless you have to. If you are using soil from your garden, you need to sterilize it. Spread it in a shallow pan and bake at 275 degrees F for at least 30 minutes. It will smell! (I kinda like the smell). Either use sterile potting soil or mix your own. Recipe: half vermiculite/half peat moss or equal parts sterilized garden soil, clean, coarse builders sand and peat moss. Add one teaspoon ground limestone plus one teaspoon bonemeal per quart of media. A good commercial potting soil such as Peters or whatever your local nursery recommends would be good also.

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