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Damping Off Seedlings Cure

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Good morning friends! We are thrilled this morning to be able to welcome Chris Dalziel from Joybilee Farm to this space! She was kind enough to send us a post for after the baby is born but we loved it so much that we just couldn’t wait to share it with you til June.

Be sure to check out her blog and get your hands on a copy of her awesome free ebook, 4 Keys to Food Security and Homestead Abundance today! I’ll leave you in Chris’s very capable hands, I’m heading out to give my seedlings a few of her treatments! Thanks again Chris!

Bean sprout cc Brian Giesbrecht

Damping-off disease is the number 1 cause of failure

Starting seedlings indoors in the early spring can give you a jump start on your gardening season. It saves you money, when you can buy seeds in February instead of investing in bedding plants in April or May. You can plant specialty varieties adapted to your growing season and climate, guaranteeing a successful crop, rather than buying generic nursery plants that may or may not be adapted to your growing condition.

The biggest draw back with starting seeds indoors is the lack of air circulation and direct sun. Combine that with the high humidity and warmth necessary for sprouting seeds, and you have the perfect environment for damping-off disease. Damping-off disease is the number 1 cause of bedding plant and seedling failures, by home gardeners.

Damping off disease is the bane of home gardeners. It can kill your seeds as they germinate. It can also injure growing plants. Damping-off disease is a fungal disease that strikes potted plants often without warning. It will start with a white mold barely visible on the surface of the soil. If left unchecked, your baby plants will suddenly break off at the soil surface and fall over, dead, separated from their root system. If it strikes your seeds before germination, you won’t even see a green sprout coming off your seeds.

Commercial growers resort to strong chemical fungicides to combat damping off disease. The are strong smelling poisons that you don’t want in your kitchen, where most home gardeners, work with their baby plants. The good news is that there are several natural things you can do to prevent or stop damping off disease before it kills your babies.

Start with a clean environment

When you begin your seeds, start with well washed pots and sterilized potting soil. You can pot-up into garden compost, or worm castings once the seedlings have their first true leaves, but in the beginning, while the seeds are germinating, you need warmth and moisture, more than you need plant nutrients. Your seeds have all the nutrients that they need in their own seeds.

Put your sterilized potting soil in your washed pots. Put the seeds into the pots just below the soil surface, according to the needs of each plant species. Cover the seed, if necessary, and sprinkle with powdered cinnamon or the powdered spice of your choice. Cover the pot with clean, new, plastic wrap to hold in humidity. Put this in a warm place, on top of your refrigerator, or on an electric heating pad or plant propagation heat map, to encourage germination.

Don’t add any fertilizer to your pots when you are just planting the seeds. Fertilizer encourages mold and fungal growth. Fertilizer feeds mold and fungus, by increasing the available nitrogen – a necessary ingredient for both growth and decomposition. Your plants don’t need to be fed until they’ve grown their first true leaves.

Which leaves are the first “true” leaves – some plant anatomy

When your seed first germinates it is feeding off the energy dormant in the seed. It sends up a leaf stalk (cotyledon), and it sends down a root (radicle). The leaf stock opens up with 1 or 2 leaves. These are the seed leaves (cotyledon). Plants are categorized by how many leaves show up when the leaf stock unfurls its seed leaves. For instance all grasses are monocots because they send up a single leaf from the seed. Onions are also monocots. The prefix “mono” means one. Beans, on the other hand, are dicots because they send up 2 leaves from their cotyledon. Most vegetables are dicots. The prefix “di” means two.

Once these seed leaves have unfurled the plant extends its stalk and grows its first true leaves. These are the leaves that you will recognize as being similar to the mature leaves that you’ve seen before on that species of plant. Once these true leaves have grown, your baby plant is ready to transplant into a larger pot with some fertilizer or a richer growing medium.

The most critical time for damping off disease is from 4 days after you plant the pot until the first true leaves emerge. Once the root system of the plant is well-established, excess soil moisture is absorbed by the plant and the plant roots themselves give off fungal-inhibiting compounds to protect the plant, if the humidity in the soil isn’t extreme.

But until the plant is big enough to protect itself, you can use several natural helpers to protect your babies from damping-off and other fungal diseases.

Sprinkle the soil surface with powdered spices:

Several powdered spices are antifungal and antibacterial. Using one of these or a combination of spices on the surface of your soil, where damping off disease usually begins, will prevent it or stop it before it takes hold.

I sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surface and repeat the application when the cinnamon gets damp from repeated watering and begins to lose its effectiveness. Cinnamon has a pleasant smell. It’s inexpensive. It’s common so you don’t need to go hunting for it at specialty food stores. I buy the large bottle at Costco for less than $5, making it very economical. Cinnamon is nontoxic to pets and children, too.

Other spices that have antifungal and antibacterial properties:

  • Cayenne
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Cloves

These are stronger smelling than cinnamon, but will also work, if you need it in a hurry and are out of cinnamon.

Use spiced “tea” to water your seedlings:

Whole Spices that are antifungal and antibacterial:

Whole cinnamon Sticks
Whole cloves

To Use:

Make a strong tea using the whole spices by simmering them on the stove for 5 minutes. Use about 1 tbsp of broken pieces of whole cinnamon sticks and whole cloves, per cup of water. Allow to cool completely with the spices in the water. Strain when it is cool. Use this to water your plants about once a week to keep damping-off disease away.

Water with hydrogen peroxide:

Add 1 tsp. of hydrogen peroxide to 2 cups of water and use this to water your plants. It helps to oxygenate the soil and helps to keep fungus spores from multiplying within your potting soil. Hydrogen peroxide super-oxygenates the soil, effectively killing bacterial and fungal spores.

Let the plant’s root system mature before transplanting:

Mature plants that have filled the root zone in their pots give off plant compounds that inhibit fungal spores. Allowing the plants to fill their pots with roots before transplanting to a larger size pot, or into the ground will help the plant to overcome any stray spores of damping-off fungus.

Conversely, transplanting too soon, will make it harder for your plant to ward off the fungal disease without extra help. You don’t want the plant to become root bound, as many nursery plants are by the time you buy them. But you do want them to extend their roots right through the soil of the pot. Well rooted plants are more likely to be able to overcome fungal problems.

The Recap: The natural way to keep damping-off disease away

  • Keep the environment within the pot clean
  • Use powdered kitchen spices on the soil surface
  • Water with spiced “tea”
  • Water with hydrogen peroxide solution
  • Let the plant’s root system grow so it can protect itself before transplanting

Arm yourself with these natural and easy steps to keep your seedlings growing strong and defeat damping off disease once and for all.

Chris Dalziel is a veteran homeschool Mom with 3 graduates, a published writer, with 30 years of homesteading under her nails.  Living in a log house, in the mountains and surrounded by pines, and pasture, Chris was a city mouse who migrated to the country, as a young mom.  Her passion is to revive the skills and knowledge of the “Lost Arts” of homesteading and present this plainly, so that others can master them and live joyfully and courageously in these perilous times. Chris writes about gardening and food security on her blog: joybileefarm.com. Get her free e-book, 4 Keys to Food Security and Homestead Abundance now!

Top Photo Credit: Brian Giesbrecht Creative Commons via Flickr


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About Dani Meyer

Hi, I’m Dani! I’m most importantly mama to 3 wild little dudes. I spend my days cooking, photographing and exploring the Pacific Northwest. I'm a full time food blogger and online business coach.

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8 thoughts on “Damping Off Seedlings Cure”

  1. Hi, Pam
    I would use the hydrogen peroxide solution to do the initial watering, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Because you are going to cover the soil surface after planting, this ensures that mold doesn’t start before the seedlings are up. After that, I resprinkle cinnamon about once a week, and only use the hydrogen peroxide solution if I actually see evidence of mold. Once the damping off has taken hold its harder to eradicate. I have done it though by switching to the cinnamon tea or peroxide waterings and letting the soil dry down a lot.

    I hope this helps,

  2. Great, informative post, Chris; thank you! I have lost a few of my little tomato shoots to damping-off disease. I did sprinkle some cinnamon on the soil, but didn’t know to reapply. Do you recommend doing more than one of these steps? For example, if I sprinkle the surface, should I also water with cinnamon tea/hydrogen peroxide solution?


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