How To Prevent Damping Off Disease In Seedlings

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Have you ever started seeds indoors only to have them germinate and then start dying suddenly?

You probably had damping off disease and it can kill off your seedlings quickly, but there are easy ways to prevent and control damping off.

I love using these easy tips to keep my seedlings healthy! Damping off disease can kill seedlings quickly but these simple tips will help beginner gardeners start their own seeds indoors and get your seedlings thriving. Learn how to prevent damping off in seedlings with 4 homemade organic fungicides and seed starting best practices. #Gardening #SeedStarting #IndoorGardening

What is Damping Off Disease?

Damping off is caused by fungi and mold. Rhizoctonia, Fusarium, and Pythium are the most common causes of damping off. They cause a sudden death of seedlings and it can be just heartbreaking to watch all the plants you’ve worked so hard to grow, die.

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Symptoms Of Damping Off Disease

When your young seedlings are looking healthy one day and dying the next it’s probably caused by damping off. It can appear in many ways in your young plants.

When damping off has hit our seedlings in the past it normally appeared in the most common form. That is that the seedling stems become thin, almost pinched and threadlike in appearance. They then flop over and die. Other times you may see a more gradual change in the cotyledons (seedling leaves) where they change from green to a grey or brown colour.

If your seedlings seemed to be growing along normally and then suddenly started dying it’s a good bet that damping off disease is your problem.

I’ve had this happen twice to my seedlings in the past and thankfully found some easy ways to prevent it from happening and treat an outbreak if it did start.

Quick List Of Damping Off Symptoms

  • The seedlings stem pinches and fall over.
  • Seedlings may fail to germinate.
  • Young leaves will turn a grey to brown colour.
  • The seedling’s roots are stunted, or have grey or brown spots.
  • The plants have a white cobweb-like growth on the plants.
  • The Cotyledons (seed leaves) appear to be wet, mushy and a grey to brown colour.

What To Do If Your Seedlings Have Damping Off Disease

Unfortunately, they say there isn’t a cure for plants that are already suffering from damping off. Damping off happens so quickly that by the time you’ve noticed the problem it’s very hard to treat infected plants.

If you are lucky enough to catch the problem when it first starts, remove the infected seedlings right away and try one of the homemade fungicides on all of your remaining seedlings. I’ve had good luck with saving seedlings when caught early with these treatments.

How To Prevent Damping Off Disease

  • Always use a sterile seed starting mix. This can be a mix that you buy or your own homemade mix that you’ve sterilized. You can sterilize it yourself by heating the soil mix in the oven until it reaches 82 C (180 F).
  • Use clean pots and trays for your seed starting. If you are reusing pots sterilize them before use with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.
  • Always plant your seeds at the right depth. Planting seeds too deep can cause them to struggle and take longer to germinate and reach the surface.
  • Make sure to provide enough air circulation for your seedlings. Don’t plant them too close together and use a fan to help circulate the air around the plants.
  • Don’t overwater your seedlings or allow them to sit in standing water. Use only enough water that they can absorb without being soaking wet. You want moist soil not soggy.
  • Water the seedlings from the bottom by placing your cell packs or pots into a tray of water. This will keep the stem and leaves dry and reduce the chance of mold growth on the plants.
  • Use warm water when watering. Cold water can slow down their growth.
  • Adding a thin coating of vermiculite or sand on the top of the potting soil can help keep the surface from becoming to wet.
  • Always remove any seedlings that don’t look healthy right away.
  • Provide plenty of light and heat so your seeds will germinate and grow fast.

How To Make Your Own Organic Fungicides For Damping Off Disease

While damping off can be frustrating to deal with there are 4 homemade fungicides that are both easy to make and work well for preventing damping off.

Using Chamomile Tea To Prevent Damping Off

Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile Tea, 16 Tea Bags (Pack of 6)

Chamomile is a traditional treatment for damping off disease and is a very gentle treatment that you can try first. Chamomile works as a mild fungicide because it contains sulphur which is a natural fungicide.

Make a strong chamomile tea using 3 – 4 tea bags and steeping them in 4 cups of boiling water for 20 – 30 minutes.

When it’s cooled dilute the tea with water until it’s a pale yellow colour. Then either water your plants with this tea instead of water or place it in a spray bottle and mist the seedlings 3 to 4 times a week.

Using Cinnamon To Prevent Damping Off

Cinnamon also has anti-fungal properties and will help to protect your seedlings. You can simply sprinkle a light dusting of cinnamon on to your soil’s surface to prevent damping off. This only needs to be done once.

Using A Garlic Infusion To Prevent Damping Off

Garlic is another easy to make homemade fungicide. Simply chop 7 garlic cloves and simmer in 1 quart of water until the garlic is soft. Strain the garlic infusion and after cooling spray onto the seedlings.

Using Peroxide To Prevent Damping Off

My personal favourite prevention and treatment of damping off is using peroxide.

Essential Oxygen Hydrogen Peroxide 3% Food Grade, 32 Fluid OunceEssential Oxygen Hydrogen Peroxide 3% Food Grade, 32 Fluid Ounce

While I have used the above natural treatments in the past and they did work for me, I find that using peroxide is so much simpler.

I use the mixture below to water my seedling with starting from the time I plant them until they are transplanted into our garden.

Mix 1 TBS. of 3% peroxide to 4 cups of water and use this to water your plants. You can also place it into a sprayer and mist your seedlings with it if you see signs of mold.

If you haven’t caught the damping off outbreak in time to save your plants, don’t give up. Sometimes you just have to start over but, by following the tips above you can help to prevent another outbreak and raise healthy plants.

Kim Mills is a homeschooling mom of 6 and lives on an urban homestead in Ontario, Canada. Blogging at Homestead Acres she enjoys sharing tips to help you save money, grow and preserve your own food.


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