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Disease in seedlings

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Avoiding disease in seedlings involves a mixture of hygiene, a fertile seed-raising mix, good soil microorganisms, and watchfulness.


Large scale production of seedlings is where hygiene is the biggest issue. Constant reuse of trays, a very large population of seedlings, and different workers moving between many plants combine to create a high-risk environment for plant diseases. To avoid outbreaks, often the seedling trays and pots are soaked or washed with a bleach solution, and sometimes even the seed-raising mix is sterilized.

In home gardens or smaller community gardens, simpler precautions can be taken:

  • Wash seedling trays after use (soaking for a few days swishing around an a quick rinse may be enough). Allow to dry, and store in a dry place.
  • Drying in the sun for a few hours may help, on its own (if fairly clean already) or after washing. The sun's ultraviolet light kills pathogens, and it will help dry them out thoroughly. However, don't leave plastic pots and trays out for days or weeks under the sun, or under a midday tropical sun, as it will damage the plastic.
  • If you know there have been outbreaks of disease, take extra care - perhaps use a brush when washing the pots and trays.
  • Ensure a healthy potting mix with healthy soil microorganisms. Compost tea can help.
  • See if you can diagnose the disease, with an internet search and/or advice from an experienced gardener. Take a sample into your local nursery, and they may be able to help. With a diagnosis comes suggestions that may easily fix the problem (especially if you already have healthy soil and good growing conditions).
  • Check your source of compost - e.g. are you getting is it coming from

Avoid damping-off[edit]

Damping off of young seedlings is where stems rot at ground level, killing the plants. This is due to some combination of:

  • Too much moisture - though this must be very excessive, unless the other risk factors are present.
  • A too-sterile [potting mix].[1] A potting mix with healthy soil microorganisms should suppress the opportunistic soil fungus that causes this disease.
  • Something lacking in the soil. Healthy soil, healthy plants.

Watering with compost tea can discourage plant pathogens by adding helpful microorganisms.

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