You’re excited to see your tiny seedlings sprout and dutifully take care of them until they are ready to be transplanted into your garden. But then tragedy strikes and they start to wilt. This is often a case of damping off, which, while common, can be prevented.
How to prevent seedlings from damping off: When seedlings start to wither, this is often called damping off, which is caused by a fungus. To stop the fungus from attacking your delicate seedlings, aim for moist but not waterlogged soil. Space the seedlings out and leave them in a room with good airflow. Disinfect any containers or tools and use clean potting soil.
What is Damping Off?
Damping off is a common cause of the death of seedlings. It is caused primarily by a fungus that is present in most soil.
This fungus thrives off of germinating seeds, so you might not be aware it is in your soil until you provide the right conditions for it. This fungus will grow stronger if the soil is very moist and if the temperature of the soil and the air are very warm.
What Does Damping Off Look Like?
Damping off will result in your little seedlings starting to wilt. In essence, they are being drained of their nutrients by the fungus, so will slowly drop until they don’t have enough energy left in them to live.
Damping off can also happen before seedlings start to grow. In this case, the seeds within the soil are hit before the plant starts to grow, and the seeds will turn black and become mushy.
What causes seedlings to dampen off?
The damping off fungus will already be present in your soil but what really activates it is moisture. When the soil is overwatered, the fungus has the ideal growing conditions and, when combined with the nutrients from the seedling, it will grow and spread to other seedlings.
How to prevent seedlings from damping off?
Don’t water too much
Even though seeds need water to start the germination process, too much will leave them soggy and prone to fungus. Start by watering your seedlings after you plant them, to activate germination.
After that, only water to keep the soil moist. Use your finger to test how moist the soil is and amend your watering as need be.
Using a large watering can or even a faucet will give too much water at one time. It is better to use a mister or a water dropper to give a steady amount of water that the soil can slowly adapt to.
Try bottom watering
If you just can’t regulate the watering of your plants, it’s best to try a different method altogether. Bottom watering is ideal for seedlings.
With this method, you place the seed tray in a cup with an inch of water. Leave it there for about 10 minutes so the soil has a chance to absorb water.
This method may take a bit to get used to but will help regulate the soil and water levels. If you have a large tray of seedlings, you can make the process go faster by finding a similarly large bucket or even a baking tray to fill with water.
Space out your seedlings
Seedlings are tiny and there’s no guarantee which seeds and plants will make it to the transplanting stage. As a result, many gardeners will try to cram as many into a growing tray as possible.
However, overcrowding can allow the damping of fungus to spread faster. More space between the seedlings will also create airflow. This will allow them to better regulate their moisture levels.
Good airflow is achieved by placing your seedlings in an area such as a kitchen or living room. Placing them in a storage room with a window will be damp and musky, so even if you space the seedling out enough, the air won’t be fresh.
You may be able to plant many seedlings at the same time, but different types of plants will have different needs. Always look at seed packages to determine these factors.
For example, some seeds may need full sun while others need ambient light. Soil temperatures may also vary.
The more you know about the ideal growing temperatures, the stronger your plants will be. This will make them more resistant to fungi and disease.
Use natural fungicides
Chemical fungicides are not recommended as they can inadvertently kill off other important microorganisms in your garden. However, you can try natural remedies.
Powdered charcoal and cinnamon have natural anti-fungal properties. You can sprinkle the surface of your soil with one or both options to keep the seedlings further protected.
Use clean containers
You can definitely reuse your gardening containers but make sure they are clean first. Give them a good wash in soapy water to cleanse them of any residual bacteria.
The same goes for your gardening tools. If you are using a shovel, wash it first. Shovels are exposed to all sorts of plants and dirt and you never know what might be lurking on the blades.
Use quality soil
Seedlings need good, quality soil that is full of nutrients. Old soil left in your shed for a few years can have unwanted bacteria in it, so always start with a freshly bought mixture.
Alternatively, you can try a soilless starting mix. This is a mixture of coco coir, perlite, and organic matter that shouldn’t have any fungi living in it.
What is the best way to prevent damping off?
There are many ways to give your seedlings a good head start at growing. They can take a bit of effort, however, so stick to all of the tips may be too time-consuming.
If you only have time for one takeaway, that is to ensure you don’t overwater your seedlings and to give them plenty of air circulation.
Damping off in seedlings is caused when a fungus in the soil attacks seeds during the germination process. The best way to prevent this from happening is to not overwater your seedlings and to space them out so there is proper airflow.