Damping Off Disease

Damping Off

A serious problem attacking many young plants, damping off disease can be managed using these proven, organic techniques.

A soil-borne fungal disease that affects seeds and new seedlings, damping off usually refers to the rotting of stem and root tissues at and below the soil surface. In most cases, infected plants will germinate and come up fine, but within a few days they become water-soaked and mushy, fall over at the base and die.

Several fungi can cause decay of seeds and seedlings including species of rhizoctonia, fusarium and phytophthora. However, species of the soil fungus pythium are most often the culprit. Damping off typically occurs when old seed is planted in cold, wet soil and is further increased by poor soil drainage. High humidity levels, rich potting soils and planting too deeply will also encourage its growth.

Fungal spores live in the soil and are primarily a problem in seed beds. They can be transported on garden tools and in garden soils taken into the house or greenhouse.

Note: Older plants are rarely killed by damping off primarily because the production of secondary stem tissue forms a protective barrier and limits fungal penetration.


There is no cure for plants that already have damping off. However, you can easily prevent the problem by providing good air circulation. A small fan or simply cracking the lid of the germination tray will suffice. The biological fungicide Mycostop may also be used as a seed treatment to prevent seed or soil-borne diseases. Other steps for preventing damping off include the following:

  1. When starting seeds indoors, use good organic potting soil or sterilize your own potting soil in an oven.
  2. Make sure your seed starter mix is light and fast-draining.
  3. Plant seedlings so that the soil surface is near the top of the container to insure proper air circulation.
  4. Sow seeds thinly to prevent over crowding which can lead to humid, moist conditions.
  5. Seedling trays that provide water from below are preferable to overhead watering.
  6. Never water past noon so that the soil surface and the plants are dry by evening.
  7. Avoid overwatering tender seedlings.
  8. Organocide® Plant Doctor is an earth-friendly systemic fungicide that works its way through the entire plant to combat a large number of disease problems. Apply as a soil drench or foliar spray (3-4 tsp/ gallon of water) to prevent and attack many fungal problems, including pythium, fusarium and root rot.

Tip: Actinovate Lawn & Garden contains Streptomyces lydicus, a naturally occurring soil bacterium that is found in healthy soils. When applied as a soil drench or foliar spray, it establishes itself on plants’ roots and leaves and provides protection against a wide range of root, stem and foliar diseases. Actinovate is OMRI Listed for use in organic gardens.

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