Nothing is quite as frustrating for home gardeners than the joy of seeing newly planted seeds begin to sprout and flourish one day, and then discovering them collapsed and wilted the next. Damping off is a fungal disease that makes seemingly healthy seedlings suddenly topple and die, or at times, never emerge at all. Although damping off is usually fatal, it is preventable. With a little attention to detail combined with good planting practices, your young seedlings will continue to grow into the healthy plants you want them to be.

 

The Cause

A number of pathogens live in the soil, just waiting for the right conditions to occur before they step forward. The common fungi that cause damping off are Pythium, Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia. Each are microscopic organisms that, when they come in contact with a root or stem system will penetrate the plant and disrupt the normal growth and cell development process of the plant.  These pathogens all grow and thrive in poor soil and less-than-ideal environmental conditions.

 

Soil Conditions

Use a good quality, soilless potting mix to start your seeds. Fresh potting soils are usually free from harmful organisms and the nature of the mix provides good drainage, another important factor in reducing the risk of damping off. Soggy soil encourages fungal growth. Keep open bags of soil away from floors and any unclean surfaces that could transfer contaminates into the clean seeding medium. When planting, also be sure to plant the seeds at the soil depth as indicated by the seed package. Planting seeds deeper than recommended in any soil could slow (or stop) their germination process and ultimately damage the seeds or young plants.

 

Humidity

Good air circulation and room ventilation are other key factors in reducing humidity buildup that promotes pathogen growth; do not crowd pots, flats, or the seeds when planting. If you do have multiple seeds in a pot, as they begin to grow thin the seedlings by removing the weakest looking and keeping those that are growing the strongest. Thinning helps to keep the air adequately flowing around the seedlings, which reduces the amount of moisture on the plants. When thinning, snip or gently pull out crowded seedlings, referring to the seed package for the right spacing for the plant being grown.

 

 

 

 

Temperature and Water

Cool soil temperatures before the seeds begin to germinate promotes the risk of damping off. Help ensure healthy seed germination by keeping the soil at a consistent 20-24 degrees Centigrade (70-75 Fahrenheit) during the seeds’ early growth period. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged until the risk of frost passes and weather conditions are favourable to move the growing plants into an outdoor garden area.

 

Other Considerations

Many pathogens, including those that cause damping off are transferred to new plantings via garden tools. Before working with plants and soil, or after contact with any diseased growth, rinse your tools in a week solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Leave the solution on the tools for at least 15 minutes, rinse them off and allow the tools to air-dry. Planting seeds in new pots and flats as often as possible also helps prevent contamination. If, however, using new pots and flats each year isn’t practical, sterilize the containers along with your tools to provide the optimum environment for new seeds. And always remember to wear eye protection and gloves when cleaning pots and tools.

How to Prevent
     Damping Off
          in Seedlings
 
 
Nothing is quite as frustrating for home gardeners than the joy of seeing newly planted seeds begin to sprout and flourish one day, and then discovering them collapsed and wilted the next. Damping off is a fungal disease that makes seemingly healthy seedlings suddenly topple and die, or at times, never emerge at all. Although damping off is usually fatal, it is preventable. With a little attention to detail combined with good planting practices, your young seedlings will continue to grow into the healthy plants you want them to be.
 
The Cause
A number of pathogens live in the soil, just waiting for the right conditions to occur before they step forward. The common fungi that cause damping off are Pythium, Phytophthora and Rhizoctonia. Each are microscopic organisms that, when they come in contact with a root or stem system will penetrate the plant and disrupt the normal growth and cell development process of the plant.  These pathogens all grow and thrive in poor soil and less-than-ideal environmental conditions.
 
Soil Conditions
Use a good quality, soilless potting mix to start your seeds. Fresh potting soils are usually free from harmful organisms and the nature of the mix provides good drainage, another important factor in reducing the risk of damping off. Soggy soil encourages fungal growth. Keep open bags of soil away from floors and any unclean surfaces that could transfer contaminates into the clean seeding medium. When planting, also be sure to plant the seeds at the soil depth as indicated by the seed package. Planting seeds deeper than recommended in any soil could slow (or stop) their germination process and ultimately damage the seeds or young plants.
 
Humidity
Good air circulation and room ventilation are other key factors in reducing humidity buildup that promotes pathogen growth; do not crowd pots, flats, or the seeds when planting. If you do have multiple seeds in a pot, as they begin to grow thin the seedlings by removing the weakest looking and keeping those that are growing the strongest. Thinning helps to keep the air adequately flowing around the seedlings, which reduces the amount of moisture on the plants. When thinning, snip or gently pull out crowded seedlings, referring to the seed package for the right spacing for the plant being grown.
 
Temperature and Water
Cool soil temperatures before the seeds begin to germinate promotes the risk of damping off. Help ensure healthy seed germination by keeping the soil at a consistent 20-24 degrees Centigrade (70-75 Fahrenheit) during the seeds’ early growth period. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged until the risk of frost passes and weather conditions are favourable to move the growing plants into an outdoor garden area.
 
Other Considerations
Many pathogens, including those that cause damping off are transferred to new plantings via garden tools. Before working with plants and soil, or after contact with any diseased growth, rinse your tools in a week solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Leave the solution on the tools for at least 15 minutes, rinse them off and allow the tools to air-dry. Planting seeds in new pots and flats as often as possible also helps prevent contamination. If, however, using new pots and flats each year isn’t practical, sterilize the containers along with your tools to provide the optimum environment for new seeds. And always remember to wear eye protection and gloves when cleaning pots and tools.

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Saving Seeds

Saving seeds is a great way to be able to enjoy  your favourites year after year - and save some money on seeds costs when the spring arrives.
 
Start with the simple plants - vegetables that contain obvious seed like cucumber, melons, zucchini and tomatoes, and flowers like marigold, zinnia, morning glory and petunia.
 
The veggie ones are easy. Take out the seed, clean it, let it dry, store it. Use small paper envelopes or whatever container works for you and add a label. It is essential that the seed stay cool and dry until it's time to plant again.
 
Make sure the seeds your collect are from either heirloom or open-pollinated plants. The vegetables and flowers will grow the same as the ones you saved - same characteristics and flavour. Hybrid plants (noted by an F1 on the package) are bred to be specific and consistent in growth, created from two parent plants. If you save and grow seeds from hybrid plants, they will not grow true to the parent plant - they may lose their disease resistance, the colour may be different and the flavour might not be the same. 
 
Marigolds: As the flowers start to die off at the end of the season, leave them on the plant for seeds to develop. Once they've dried out, cut them, open them up and voila! Seeds.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Zinnia's are very similar. Leave the spent flowers on the plant until they are completely done, cut them and give them time to dry out completely and when you pull the heads apart, the seeds are contained within.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
For flowers like petunia or morning glory, once the flowers drop naturally the seed pod will grow where that flower used to be. Stop deadheading in September to allow seeds to grow in the plant.

The brown dot in the centre is the start of the seed development. A small seed will grow within the pod that develops. This is where the flower used to be.