Thursday, November 15, 2012

Seedlings Dying?


Welcome to my blog about growing vegetables in containers in Dubai, the UAE and/or the Arabian Gulf region.
 I received a comment some time back that I am only getting to now unfortunately.  The comment was  "waiting for ur next post eagerly since this is a good time to start potting in dxb. i usually have an issue with my seedlings that i am hoping u can help me with. my seedlings are very weak and they dont grow more than 1-2 inches after which they die. any tips? i planted flowering plants btw."

I had and still have a similar problem in that my vegetable seeds never came up and/or the seedlings are dying off. So, I thought that perhaps some of you may be having the same problems.  Let's look at some of the possible causes of this.

There are couple reasons for seeds not to germinate and/or seedlings to die.
  • Too much sun - I am at fault for this.  I placed my newly planted seeds in trays and placed the tray where it would get sunlight most of the day thinking it would help heat up the soil and thus help with germination. Good idea - bad management!  I did this mid-September when it was still 35C.  I basically cooked the seeds so nothing came up.  I only discovered my blunder after planting tomato seeds in peat pots and putting them to the side where the shade was and forgot about them for a week and then the seeds germinated.  The other pots, after 2-3 weeks, nothing!!!  So, when I decided to give up on them and replant with new seeds is when I discovered how hot the soil was getting.  The same goes for seedlings - after they come up be careful about how much sun they get during the day - too much will kill them.  They need some sun but be careful as the intensity of the sun here is still quite strong even now in early November.
  • Too much water - This is just as bad as too much sun.  You do not want water standing in your seedling trays.  It invites mold (green stuff on the soil) and other water borne problem such as Damping Off discussed next.
Damping Off - This is basically a fungal disease which attacks seeds and seedlings, the plant rots at soil level causing the seedlings to topple over. It occur naturally in the soil; they are encouraged by wet, cold soils and crowded sowings. In damp conditions they produce spores that can survive for several months in dry or cold soil, which would not support the growth of the fungus. Good hygiene and growing technique are the best means of avoiding the disease when sowing seed in trays and pots. Avoid water-logging the growing medium (use a spray mister to water gently).  Here is a link  that explains it in more detail.  For you really techinally minded, here are some of the fungi that can cause Damping  Off:

  • Rhizoctonia solani: Found in all natural soils, it springs to life when the soil is moist and hot. The infected seedling will have a sunken lesion on its stem where it touches the soil or just below the soil line.
  • Pythium spp: Thrives in cool, over watered and poorly-drained soils. It produces a damp, odourless rot that causes the outer portion of the root to become slimy. In severe cases, the lower portion of the stem may appear slimy and black. Pythium can survive in soil for several years.
  • Fusarium solani: Remains inactive for long periods of time, favouring acidic, coarse and poorly fertilized soils. Infected seeds usually fail to germinate and become soft and mushy, eventually disintegrating. Dark and moist lesions on the stems may also appear with "wire stem," where the stem becomes much thinner above the lesion. The lesion gradually grows until the seedling dies.

So, what can be done to inhibit Damping Off ?  After a bit of investigation I came up with these tips.
  • Use new potting soil each time you plant seeds - When planting seeds buy new potting soil and you should have a better rate of germination.  If you are going to use your old soil for your pots then Damping Off  will not be as much of a problem just as long as you make sure the new seedlings are mature enough to transfer to a larger pot - at least past their second leaf stage maybe even later if you think your soil is prone to Damping Off . 
  • Keep your gardening equipment clean - I haven't tried it yet but some suggest cleaning your stuff with 10 ml of hydrogen peroxide to one litre of water. Leave the solution on for five minutes, rinse off and air-dry. 
  • Sterilize your soil- Some gardening experts recommend sterilizing potting soil in the microwave for 10 to 12 minutes to kill any residual fungi.  Be sure not to seal the container of soil and add a bit of water.  Heat it up to a steam, remove it and then seal the container to trap the steam within the soil.  You may find it easier to buy new seed-starting soil.
  • Mix your own soil - If you are planning on planting quite a few seedlings, it may be cheaper to make your own soil mix.  Some recommend using two parts compost mixed with two parts peat moss and one part vermiculite, pre-wet. You can substitute coir for the peat moss.
  • Prevention is the best - Over watering can be deadly, so how do you get the right balance of moisture?  Put the seedlings into a tray, pour water into the tray and let them soak for about 15 to 20 minutes. Pour off any excess water-you don't want them sitting in water since this can activates dormant fungus. Also overcrowding seedlings can encourage fungus spores to grow as seedlings need room to grow and if they are crowded together they won't dry quickly enough.
Try an herbal remedy - It's far easier to prevent damping off than to cure it. While it's possible to buy seeds soaked in herbicides or spray them with a chemical fungicide, there are enviro-friendly herbal remedies are equally as effective:
  • Chamomile: Naturally high in sulphur, this popular tea is a natural fungicide. Make an infusion with three chamomile teabags, steep for 20 minutes, then mist over the seedlings.
  • Cinnamon: Sprinkling the soil surface with ground cinnamon will stop damping off. It, too, is a natural anti-fungicide. Do this only once.
  • Some Organic gardeners recommends using garlic, since it's a natural fungicide. Mash up several cloves, boil in an inch of water, cool the mixture and then use to water the seedlings.

I came across a couple of guys on You Tube while researching Damping Off that have different remedies for natural fungicides.  I am not the tree hugger type that thinks very thing has to be organic.  But, here in the United Arab Emirates, the Arabian Gulf region and perhaps the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) region it is very hard to find a reliable source of agricultural/horticultural chemical product where you get good instructions in english on usage and dosage.  So, I am more incline to go organic as it is safer both to humans and the enivorment. So when looking for guidances on this I listen to others that I think are legitimate and not like a lot of cowboys telling & showing you things on You Tube that may not be truly tested.  So, if it is something serious I try to bring you videos for folks that seems credible.  So lets start with the "Dirt Doctor."

So, break out your cornmeal.  I haven't been to the organic store at Dubai Mall to check if he has some of the cornmeal mentioned but if you are a regular vistor perhaps check it out the next time you are there and  if they do please mention it in the comment section.  You can get more information about alot of things to do with your soil and potting soils at his website: .

And then there is a TV show out of Austin, Texas called Backyard Basics presented by John Dromgoole "The Natural Gardener".  He talks about ways to improve your soil including the method with the cornmeal mentioned in the previous video.  His website is

So, basically I need to doctor up my old soil for planting seeds.  I will take my old soil that I suspect is affected with Damping Off  and treat it with cornmeal and cinnamon and try it again to see what happens. I'm sure if it doesn't work it will at least smell nice!!!

Having lost my first seed planting by cooking them to death,  my second seed planting which I kept in the shade with only very little sun in the morning, the tomatoes came out much better than the bell peppers.  The peppers are just starting to come up now but the percentage of seeds planted to what is coming up is low.  I have never had much luck with bell peppers in the past couple of years.  What I am worried about now is that the ones that are coming up may die off from Damping Off.  So, I may start some more bell peppers seeds after googling bell peppers and finding out I am not the only one on the planet having problems getting their bell peppers seeds to germinate.  I will try out some of their suggestions and keep you posted if it works or not.  BUT FOR SURE, any new seed planting will be with new clean potting soil!!!

Just to show you what Damping Off  looks like - here is an image of my beefsteak tomato seedlings on Nov. 14, 2012.  It looks like I may get 5-6 good plants out of the 20 you see.  Even more have died earlier. 

So, as you can see they are suffering and I can only think that it must be Damping Off .  Here is a detail picture I took of one of the plants.  I circled the affected area - note it is at the soil level.

As I said I will replant some more vegetable seeds soon but in new pots (perhaps peat pots) with new soil.  I have enough tomatoes coming along from the second planting, so I will again plant bell peppers, eggplant (big black type - I have some growing now that I bought in the market but have no idea what I will be getting), cantaloupe, chili peppers, onions and herbs.  Herbs are something I have no experience with but thought I would give it a try.

So, that it's for now.  I plan to blog soon on my new seed planting as well about a comment I received lately about hand pollinating your vegetable plants.

Thanks for stopping by!!!


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