Avoid damping off disease in seedlings by using boiling water

Growing your own transplants from seeds is a very satisfying experience and can save you money too. However it is not without it’s problems. Just about every gardener who has started plants from seed has a story to tell of watching a crop of seedlings just starting to make good growth then all of a sudden the plants shrivel at the soil line, fall over and finally die.

That is a symptom of a condition known as “damping off”. It also kills newly sprouting seeds under the soil giving the impression of a low germination percentage. The gardener gets the wrong impression that he’s planted a batch of bad seed when in reality it’s damping off.

Damping off is most commonly caused by a soil based fungus called Phythium, but Rhyzoctonia and other species of fungi can cause similar problems. Whatever the case, it is not curable.

It’s an insidious disorder. The seedlings can look sturdy and strong then suddenly,bam! overnight an entire tray of seedlings will be lost.

Most of the time you can avoid damping off by purchasing a fresh bag of sterilized soil-less seed starting mix. Sometimes however, even a new bag of starting mix can harbor the fungus, although that is pretty rare.

When Pythium shows up, it’s probably the gardener who contaminated the mix by using dirty tools, pots, or even the potting bench. All tools and containers need to be scrubbed clean with a detergent. To be doubly sure, the items can be dipped into a 10 percent solution of household bleach.

Although all plants can be infected, some species of plants are more susceptible to damping off than others. For example petunias are prone to the infection.

Pour the boiling water evenly over the whole surface.
Pour the boiling water evenly over the whole surface.

Whenever I start a batch of expensive or hard to find seeds and don’t want to take any chances of losing those precious seedlings, I take the extra step of re-sterilizing the starting mix. Some might say I’m being extra cautious but sometimes seeds are irreplaceable and need all the protection we can give them.

For small amounts of soil, I pour boiling water through a pot of starting mix — then go back and do two additional pours. If you decide to try it yourself, be sure to place the pot in a spot where the water can drain through easily. I like to do this outside on a wire rack rather than in the sink.

This boiling water method has been used by gardeners for a long time and has shown to be pretty effective. Since the entire volume of the soil mix will not reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit — the temperature at which it would be considered sterile — this could be considered more of a pasteurization method rather than actual sterilization technique.

Bob

Clean up used plastic containers before seed starting

It’s that time of year again.┬áThe new seedling growing season is just about here. After a few years of gardening under their belt, many gardeners get the urge to start their own plants indoors, especially after paying retail prices for started plants.

To be fair to retailers out there, when you consider all of the labor, materials, heating costs, insurance, taxes, transportation, greenhouse construction costs and overhead, most of the time those prices from garden centers are quite reasonable.

Before the first seed is sown, I make sure I have all of my materials and supplies ready to go. Gathering up containers such as pots and seedling trays are the first thing that needs to happen.

I haven’t had to buy any pots or seedling trays for many years. I always recycle and reuse plastic planting containers. Many of them I’ve salvaged or were given to me by others. Modern plastics are very durable and last a long time. Some of my pots have seen more than ten years of use.

The problem with reusing plant starting containers is that they can easily become a source of disease that can decimate your seedlings. This is especially true if some one gives you their used containers, even if they assure you that the pots are perfectly clean.

Of course if you purchase new pots and trays, there is no need to worry about disease — the manufacturing process destroys any microorganisms.

It’s relatively easy to get those used planting containers in shape using simple washing techniques, just as long as you do it in the right order.

First, rinse off all large clumps of old soil still stuck on the pots. This is best done outside to avoid getting dirt in the sewer system.

Next, wash the containers with dish-washing detergent, I keep a bottle of cheap detergent from year to year for garden use. This is the a critical step because disinfecting agents won’t work if dirt is present.

Rinse off the detergent, then dip everything in a bleach solution. One part bleach to nine parts water works well.

Rinse again and the containers are ready for potting soil.

This procedure almost sounds like the steps a Mom would take to clean bottles for her young baby: rinse, wash, sterilize. When you think about it, we are preparing containers for babies — baby plants.

Also, always start with new sterilized potting mix. Now, I know that some master composters — yes there is such a thing as a master composter –have had success using compost as a starting medium. They use material from a hot compost that heated up enough to kill plant pathogens. Most of us however, shouldn’t take the risk of using our everyday compost that we have in the back corner of the garden.

Like most things in life, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Bob

Downton Abbey roses for your garden

I was a late comer to Downton Abbey, it wasn’t until season four that I started watching the series. That’s when my wife insisted I watch a a couple of episodes — I was hooked from that point on.

Of course after that, we watched a marathon of all the past shows so I could get up to date on everything and my wife could watch a couple of episodes she missed.

Now that we know that there is nothing but blue skies ahead for all of the characters, what’s next?

The producers of Downton Abby have teamed up with a highly respected California rose grower, Weeks Roses, to develop a line of roses based on the television series. The roses have names that will immediately invoke an image: Anna’s Promise, Pretty Lady Rose, Edith’s Darling, Violet’s Pride.

Week’s Roses is a grower and wholesaler, that means they don’t sell directly to to public. The good news is that the roses are readily available from local garden centers and online sellers.

How about that Edith? She’s a marchioness now!