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Why are my seedlings falling over?

Why are my seedlings dying? It could be Damping Off.

Why are my seedlings falling over?
It could be Damping Off.

These are common questions from gardeners starting vegetables from seed: 

Why are my seedings dying after sprouting?
Why are my seedlings leggy?
Why are my seedlings wilting?
Why do my seedlings keep dying?

Prevent Damping Off on Seedlings - Spinach Seedling affected

Seedling above is affected by damping off.


Every year we get hear from some gardeners that their seedlings mysteriously started wilting, flopping over, and dying – most of the time this is caused by damping off, an invisible killer that is caused by pathogens that kill seedlings after they germinate. This usually occurs in damp, cool, still-air conditions – and be easily prevented. When affected by damping off, the seedling will usually have a shriveled base or the stem will have lesions at the ground level, and it will flop over and die. If your seedlings are dying after sprouting, here are two simple ways to stop this from happening:

1. Provide Air Circulation & Movement

After germination, seedlings should have air circulation and movement. You can put a small fan on the seedlings for a few hours a day, or you can pat or brush the seedlings daily with our hands. This helps the seedlings grow stockier, thicker stems and prevents damping off. It also helps keep your seedlings from getting leggy – sometimes people think that leggy seedlings are caused by lack of light (which can be true) but often the light is sufficient, and it is the lack of movement and airflow that results in seedlings growing leggy!


2. Don't overwater!

Vegetable seedlings don't like to have soggy feet. If you overwater your seedlings and the growing medium is always soggy, you can have problems with damping off, mold, and those pesky flying fungus gnats. Always let the growing medium dry out slightly between watering so the roots can breath. Peppers, especially, are prone to drowning if their roots are in constantly wet soil or growing medium. If your pepper seedlings leaves are turning yellow, this could be caused by overwatering. 

Why are my seedlings Dying? It could be damping off, a common seedling ailment.

From a pepper grower:
We did a fun experiment in college where we put a fan in front of  6 plants and not on the other 6, with the same lights on both. The seedlings with the fan on them grew so much more compact and sturdy compared to the others which were tall and leggy. So give them some air circulation and movement and you'll have a much better chance of success!

Seedlings dying? It could be damping off.

Of course, in addition to having air circulation and movement, seedlings benefit from having good light. Using supplemental lights on your seedlings can also help them grow strong, a sunny windowsill may not be enough. Don't worry about getting fancy grow lights, even an old standard fluorescent white light will do the trick! 
Learn about the Best Light for Seedlings »

For more tips for your seedlings, check out our

Top 12 Tips for Growing Peppers from Seed »

Happy growing!