2017 Grow Season – Damping Off Problems

3/30/2017 – Damping Off

Hi and thanks for checking in to see how this season is going. Unfortunately, I have some bad news this week. My seedlings have a bad fungal problem and I believe it’s due to damping off. If you’ve never heard of it, damping off is a type of fungal growth that plants, especially seedlings, are susceptible to.

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Plants laying over from Damping Off

Maybe I was naive about the fungus, I don’t know. But it seemed like it just crept up all of a sudden. The plants were doing fine! Then they started laying over and I was thinking it had to do with the lighting I had been changing around.

Next thing I know there’s this nasty looking fungus all over the top of the soil. Then the plants start dying faster. And that makes me sad.

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Creeping fungal growth

Discouragement

I’m really disappointed with this because it’s basically setting things back a month. The seeds were started on 3/1/17 and you can refer to this post to see how I did it and an update after one week. One thing is for sure, damping off can be discouraging. However, there’s a chance that not all is lost. More on that later…

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Full tray of plants struggling against Damping Off

One thing I really hope you get out of this post is to NOT make the same mistakes I have. Some of the things done in previous posts should be avoided and we will discuss those here.

It’s good to keep in mind that seedlings are very vulnerable. Imagine a puppy or any other very young animal. You have to be careful in how you take care of them.

Sterilization

First, let’s start with what I did wrong so you can avoid damping off.

Nothing was sanitized before starting. I Just grabbed the seedling trays out of the shed from last year and put them straight to use. I was unaware, but this is a no no and you should avoid doing this.

You wouldn’t put your baby in a filthy crib, would you?

Sterilization is key to avoiding any unwanted mold or bacteria taking hold of your plants. Soaking your trays and other equipment in a mix of 1:10 bleach and water for about 1/2 hour should do the trick.

Hydrogen Peroxide

You might think that H2O2 has something to do with sanitizing. It can help but as this video will show that a simple science experiment proves that a little HP can also help with your germination rate.

This is also something I struggled with. If you check out this post from a few weeks ago you can see what I’m talking about.

Hydrogen Peroxide for Damping Off
Generic and inexpensive Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can help kill off other mold and fungus spores that may be present in your soil, in the air or on your equipment. Be careful not to use too strong of a solution though.

The normal store bought bottles are about 3% diluted (and are inexpensive). Some people claim diluting further is best while other’s may apply it straight to the soil. I would just suggest not to overdo it until you know for sure after testing yourself.

Growing Conditions for Damping Off

Learning how to prevent damping off is great. But knowing what conditions it rears its ugly head best in can also help you avoid trouble.

Overly moist, cool conditions are perfect for most fungus to grow. Lack of airflow doesn’t help either because the surface of poorly drained soil rarely dries.

The constantly soaked soil was definitely a factor for me. I think it was filling the water trays too high. One knuckle deep may be too much.

Plus the fact that I’m starting seeds in the basement where it’s cool couldn’t have helped. Well-drained soil is a good way to combat this fungus, so from now on water levels will be kept low.

Using Fertilizer

In the very beginning, I added fertilizer to the water I put in the seedling tray. It was unbeknownst to me at the time, but this contributed to the problem.

I had read somewhere that it can help your seedlings by feeding them during a crucial stage in their development. The problem was, I added it at the wrong time.

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Mix of fertilizer I used to feed my seedlings with too early

You’re supposed to wait for the seedlings to gain their first set of true leaves before a fertilizer application. This is because the extra nitrogen available makes it easier for mold and fungus like damping off to grow. Lesson learned. My bad.

Use Sterile Soil

There’s a possibility that the soil I used wasn’t sterile and that fungal spores may have been already present. You can buy seed starting soil from most big box stores (got mine at Lowes) and it is sterilized for your seedlings. For the new seeds being sprouted, I will definitely be using this.

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Seed starting mix I will use to start the next round of seedlings

Cinnamon For Fungus Control

Cinnamon has natural anti-fungal properties that can be beneficial to your seedlings. Since damping off is a fungal problem, this is just one more way to help stave off any problems you might have. There are other uses for cinnamon as well. It’s definitely a cheap and organic option for your garden.

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Cinnamon sprinkled to help fight damping off

I have tried this on my plants but don’t really know what to expect. There’s a possibility that sprinkling cinnamon in the very beginning would have helped. But since it’s so late and the fungus has spread so much, I’m not sure it will be much help.

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Cinnamon for fungus control

 Coming Back

I’m pretty worried that damping off will kill all the plants I’ve put so much effort into this past month. All of the methods listed above are things I will be trying or have tried already.

Starting seeds isn’t super easy and the setback I’m facing makes me want to just quit and buy all my seedlings from a nursery. But that’s not conducive to saving the most money. Plus, this is a skill I want to master.

Of all the plants that are affected thus far, my sole Hatch Green Chili seems not to be. Almost everything else seems like it’s dead or dying. But the pepper seedling is making it for now. If things don’t get better though, I’ll probably transplant it to a container of its own and see what happens.

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Fan to help keep the soil surface dry

One other thing I did earlier this week was set a small desk fan up to keep air moving over the plants. It is helping keep the surface drier. Hopefully, there’s a chance things will turn around.

Going Forward

Like always I will continue to keep you updated with future of happenings in my own garden. For now, I am sprouting many more seeds to replace these that have died.

Since it’s practically April, I’m also starting more plants that are supposed to go outside in May according to my zone. Let’s hope that things work out with these new seedlings.

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Next round of seeds part one

Here are some pics of what I’m germinating. Sprouting seeds on a damp paper towel can be a good way to have successful germination. Plus you can transplant the strongest seedlings straight to the tray and not have to worry about thinning later.

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Next round of seeds part two

Hopefully, this strategy will be successful. I’m even trying to germinate some of the peppers with a mix of hydrogen peroxide and water. If that works well I will definitely be sure to share the results.

For now, these trays of everything else are only using water. The lids have been put on and they’ve been placed in a south facing window.

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Set up for germination in a south facing window

Thanks again for checking out my blog and for keeping up with my progress (or lack thereof) this season. If you found this info valuable please don’t hesitate to share. Sign up for future updates and we’ll see you next time!

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