In the Beginning Part 3 of 8
Damping Off (1)
Have you ever had beautiful new seedlings pop up perfectly, then the next morning find them flopped over and rotting at the base of their stems? This is a fungal problem known as “Damping Off”, it can be heartbreaking!
There are two main causes of this problem, but both of them have to do with a fungal organism infection known as pythium. Depending on the components of your growing medium and how it has been stored, your starter soil could possibly contain dormant fungal spores of pythium that once wetted, become activated and begin to bloom.
This will not only make a mess on the surface of your soil, but also infect young seedling roots and flow up the stem until it causes the stem to fall over.
The second possible exposure to pythium is through contact with fungus gnats, since they feed on fungus, their mouths and feet can carry spores to everything they touch. Fungus gnats can find their way to soggy or fungus laden soil like a magnet, but their eggs can also be found in cheap soil mixes, just waiting to be hatched into a warm moist environment. Once hatched, they will find their way to the surface and begin consuming fungus on the soil and on your plant’s stems. If they don’t kill the plant, you may see small chewing marks on the lower stem of your seedling as it grows.
For both of these reasons, it is very important to choose a quality soil mix, purchase it fresh, and store it safely. No matter the quality of your soil, never use saved soil to start your delicate seedlings in. Storage creates a risk for becoming contaminated by fungal infections and insect larva, save the leftover soil for larger outdoor plants or add it to your compost pile.