This is Steve Rulison bringing you information on Shore friendly living and gardening from the Eastern Shore Master Gardeners and Virginia Cooperative Extension.  

Some of you that have greenhouses or plant your seeds in transplant trays may have seen some seedlings completely decimated or infected and yellowing at the stem. You might not know the diagnosis, but today we are going to discuss the characteristics of damping off and how to prevent the disease from occurring. 

“Damping off” is a soil-borne fungal disease that affects seedlings, causing the rotting of stem and root tissues at and below the soil surface. The term is quite a general one, encompassing several disease-causing culprits, the most common of which are well-known fungal foe species of RhizoctoniaFusarium, and the water mold Pythium.

This disease affects a wide variety of vegetables and flowers. Infected plants usually germinate successfully and come up fine, but start to show signs that all is not well a few days down the line. Young leaves, roots, and stems of newly emerged seedlings are all highly susceptible to infection. This disease causes such major issues in the root system of the plant that seedlings infected by damping off rarely survive to produce a vigorous plant. 

In short, this fungal infection can really decimate your seedlings, and proper care needs to be taken to prevent a tragedy from occurring.

Prevention steps include the following:

1. Sterilize all used pots and trays in a solution of 10% household bleach by soaking for 30 minutes.

2. Use new potting mix to fill trays. Don’t reuse potting mix and don’t use garden soil or compost.

3. Clean all tools that will be used in planting and maintenance of the seedlings. Store them in a clean location when not in use.

4. Use a heating pad under trays to warm soil to 70-75°F for indoor plant production.

5. Use a potting mix with good drainage. Water to keep it moist but not soggy. Use pots with drainage holes to insure good drainage of excess water.  And finally…

6. Do not apply fertilizer to seedlings until several true leaves have developed. Then apply 1/4 strength standard soluble fertilizer. Many potting mixes contain slow release fertilizer and do not require any fertilizer application.

For answers to Gardening questions and more, call your local Accomack or Northampton County Extension Office. Here on the Shore call either 678-7946 or 787-1361.