Tag Archives: seed starting

Four Ways to Prevent Dampening Off

One of the many reasons I haven’t been blogging is that whenever I started writing about gardening I found myself on another rant about climate change. There is nothing like paying close attention to the weather to make one notice strange patterns. So rather than going on another rant, I will simply reference this Sac Bee article on the changes in the jet stream that has made this winter-spring so cold in much of the West.

A mixed bunch of seedlings (with the names in notes, roll your mouse over ...)
Creative Commons License photo credit: hardworkinghippy

Here in the Williamette Valley temperatures are still below normal. I lost some basil to dampening off. When conditions are cold and damp they stress tiny seedlings and promote the growth of fungus. If this happens seedlings will suddenly just fall over and die. So sad.

So here are four things to do to prevent dampening off.

1. Clean your containers. Recycling old containers is very environmentally friendly, but without a good cleaning they can harbor diseases. Before reusing your containers, wash them with very hot water and a biodegradable soap. If you still have trouble, you can mix a small amount of bleach in to help sterilize things.

2. Sterilize your seed starting mix. If you are reusing old potting mix it also could be hiding diseases. Commercial mixes aren’t always sterile either. You can bake your potting soil in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. However this process does involve a smell that some might not enjoy. Another option is to cook your seed starting mix in the microwave. Cover and cook for about 8-10 minutes until steaming. Allow to cool.

3. Provide ventilation. Seeds need to stay moist in order to germinate, but there can be too much of a good thing. Providing a little fan for your seedlings can help them grow strong and stocky as well.

4. Avoid overwatering. You don’t need to water unless you see the top of the soil is starting to get dry, especially once the seeds have germinated. I find that even tiny seedlings without their first “true leaves” often have roots going right down to the bottom of the container.

Truthfully most of the time I find I can just buy some seed starting mix, pop it in a container, water, add seeds, water again, and presto! Baby plants! However, if you are starting seeds when it is cold and wet, dampening off can be a problem. Depending on what seeds you are starting, you might need to provide a seedling heating mat to avoid stressing your little darlings. In general, the more ideal the conditions, the less you have to worry. So give them lots of warmth and light too!

Hopefully warm, sunny weather will be on the way soon and we can forget all about the dreaded dampening off.

Seeds are sprouting!


Creative Commons License photo credit: mahalie
Last Saturday I took a study break and headed down to the Eugene Propagation Faire at the local community college. The organizers had gathered an amazing array of fruit tree cuttings: apples, pears, apricots, almonds, plums, nectarines, etc. Gathered around long tables were people watching local experts raptly as they grafted the cuttings onto rootstock. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a place to plant fruit trees at the moment and while I could plant a dwarf tree or two on my patio garden, I decided to wait until I was better prepared with the perfect container and planting mix.

Instead, I took advantage of the seed swamp happening on the other side of the cafeteria and went home with a nice mix of herb, flower, and vegetable seeds. When I got home I sorted through my box of old seeds and made myself a promise to plant all those old seeds this year. I have quite a collection of seeds of various ages going back about ten years.

Take note gardeners! This is not good practice. Seeds that are a year or two old are generally still viable, but the older seeds get, the less likely they are to sprout. Some types of seeds, like corn, age quite rapidly. I tend to be tempted to buy more seeds than I have time or energy to plant. Also, seed packets generally hold many more seeds than a home gardener would need in one year.

Saturday evening I planted something like ten different types of old seeds, figuring I would just experient and see what sprouts. I set my little plastic pots on the windowsill of my office and next to the sliding glass door were they could get some sun. Most of what I planted will take 10-20 days to sprout, but I woke up to find my first seedlings this morning!

Some of the seeds in my collection are from packets, some are seeds I collected from my own garden, and some are seeds I collected in my wanderings. When I see a flower I like somewhere going to seed I stick a few seed pods in my pocket to take home. My seedlings came from a plastic bag marked “unknown flower.” Also not good gardening practice! I’m excited to see what they turn out to be. When they get some real leaves I will try posting a photo and we can play name that plant.