Ingardenous Basterds.
April 1, 2010 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Please help me diagnose this annoying plant killing problem in my garden!

I have been growing a number of plants in pots in the backyard of my new house for the last few months. I've been starting most from seed in Jiffy pellets, which seems very successful (most plants are thriving after starting this way). However...

After moving a few outdoors into pots with garden mix that is growing a bunch of things very well, certain plants (not all but a significant amount) are being struck down by a mysterious stem destroying disorder that is killing some but not others. It just withers small areas of the stalk, leaving most of the plant untouched. It's happened to plants that are from seed, from seedlings given to me by a friend, and from sprouts purchased from a local nursery. I have used no fertilizers or other additives in the soil, which I've used for a long time and is supporting quite a few plants with no problem. This winter has been rather wet here in Florida (I suspected over watering but it's not affecting all plants) but they have good drainage and I've moved them to where they are more covered and it still happens.

Tomatoes from a friend. Of 4 seedlings, all had the issue but 2 have survived and are now thriving.

Sage from seed. Sadly, it was unable to recover.

Strawberry bought from a local nursery. Survived and is now going strong.

I am thinking it's possibly insects but I have seen none, and would expect it to spread to all plants if true. Also, destruction is limited to small areas of the plant, mostly the bottom 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the stem.

Help me Metafilter, you're my only hope.
posted by dozo to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Looks like damping off which is caused by a fungal infection.
posted by jamaro at 3:33 PM on April 1, 2010

Here's some more info on damping off and how to prevent it.

You can take the top of your tomato seedling and put it in a little cup of water - it may grow new roots. Tomato plants can easily grow roots along their stems.
posted by Ostara at 4:03 PM on April 1, 2010

Yeah, this definitely sounds like damping off. Be careful with how much you're watering and make sure your plants aren't in oversized pots, which can lend itself to soggy feet.

Also, how is the air flow where the seedlings are growing? Maybe run a box fan over your plants if things are stagnant.
posted by pilibeen at 4:06 PM on April 1, 2010

Seedlings need really good air circulation. This helps enormously with fungal infections.

Once your seedlings get an inch high or so they can dry out a touch in between waterings, instead of being evenly moist when germinating. This will also help.
posted by missmary6 at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2010

I'm going to be the dissenting opinion here, though damping off certainly sounds like a possibility. Nontheless, I think you have CUTWORMS!!!!!
posted by pullayup at 5:44 PM on April 1, 2010

...and the hive mind does it again. Damping off looks to be the culprit. Incidentally, I've had some of my seedlings growing very very slowly, which I am now positive is caused by damping as well. It's strange that I've never had this happen previously.

They have been very moist due to the large amount of rain we've been getting over the last month or three, so this makes a lot of sense. I haven't had to water in a long time because of the amount of rain we've experienced.

They have great air circulation. Along with the rain we've had lots of wind, but it doesn't seem to be helping the pots to dry out in a timely manner. I'll make sure they all get a good drying out and perhaps even starting over with a few.

pullayup, although I DO have cutworms in the yard I don't think they are the issue, but I will keep it in mind if it continues.

Thanks to all.
posted by dozo at 5:57 PM on April 1, 2010

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