Damping Off disease and Chamomile

ngrrsn(7)February 12, 2013

Specific inquiry to Chamomile; proven or myth?

I am interested in "home" remedies for common garden problems. However, I have found many of them to be myth propagated over the years without any validation or experimental evidence testing the purported benefits. In some cases they are flat out wrong (like adding crushed egg shells when you plant tomatoes to prevent blossom end rot). Then, when I find something that seems to be plausible, there are huge variances in treatment recommendations. For example, regarding Chamomile one site said to use 1/4 cup chamomile to 1 cup boiling water, another said 1/4 to 2 cups boiling water, a third site said 1/4 to one cup boiling water and then add that to 1 gallon of water! HUGE differences! One site said let it seep until cool and strain, another site said let it seep for two days!

I have seen a number of popular forum, magazine, and garden references to chamomile as a deterrent/cure for damping off diseases (which have plagued me in the past). However, I have not found any agriculture/university/extension reports validating the claim (though I did find a couple of extension articles written by Master Gardeners who mentioned it).

Do you know of any evidential documentation supporting chamomile as a proven and effective solution for damping off diseases?

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Do you know of any evidential documentation supporting chamomile as a proven and effective solution for damping off diseases?

No. AFAIK it is all just anecdotal. Same goes for using cinnamon.

The goal should be to prevent the damp-off from developing in the first place and that is relatively easy to do. Believe it or not millions of plants are grown annually with no damp-off issues. So it it is a common problem then there is something wrong with the methodology.

It is prevented simply by using a sterile soil-less germination mix, avoiding over-watering and increasing the air circulation in the seedling area through the use of a small fan.

I know, everyone will say "but I don't over-water" or "no, I don't keep the soil too wet", or "but i only water the plants when they need it", but there is plenty of documented, evidential information that proves that the majority of growers DO over-water and DO keep the soil too wet, and Do it when they think the plant needs it because they don't know what to look for and just guess. :)


    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 2:57PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Digdirt took the words out my mouth. Damping off is not inevitable. It is easier to revive a thirsty seedling than to resuscitate an over watered one. Err on the side of underwatering until you know the signs. After a while just a change in the quality of the green will tell you if something needs water before it even droops.

Furthermore using chamomile would just add more water to an already too wet mix.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 4:21PM
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Thanks, digdirt and flora. I am trying to grow peppers and they have a long sprout time. I have to keep the soil damp or the seeds die before I have a seedling! I don't have a soilless mix, but I do have a nursery blend for seedling. Unfortunately it does have some peat. If I keep the soil damp (not wet), I get that grey fungus stuff or mold. If I put on a fan for circulation, it dries out too fast. I was hoping a mix of water/chamomile with a light misting a couple of times a day would accomplish my goal. Oh, yeah. And then there are those nasty soil gnats.....

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 4:30PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Well there are several issues here.

First it is soil temp that germinates pepper seeds, not moisture. And they will usually germinate within 3-5 days given the proper soil temp.

As long a pepper seeds have minimal moisture - well wrung out soil mix - they will germinate if given 80+ degree soil temps. So are you using a heat mat? If not that is your primary problem.

And once they do germinate then the water amount given can and should be cut back substantially as they prefer to dry out between waterings.

If I keep the soil damp (not wet), I get that grey fungus stuff or mold.

Then that is a sure sign that the soil is too wet. "Damp" means very different things to different people so what is damp to you may mean wet to others. Any soil-less seed starting mix will contain peat, that isn't the problem. Soil-less mix means it contains no dirt, no ground soil. Do you wet it well with warm water and then wring it out well in your fist before filling the container and planting?

If I put on a fan for circulation, it dries out too fast.

Then either the fan is too close to the plants or on too high a speed or, most likely, only the surface of the soil is drying out and that is normal and is NOT a sign that the seed or plant needs water. A small fan set on low to just lightly stir the air around the plants normally causes no drying.

I germinate hundreds if not thousands of seeds each year and I can swear to you that any seed will prefer and even germinate in too-dry conditions better than it will in too-wet conditions. It just takes longer. And any seedling will tolerate and even thrive in too-dry conditions MUCH better than it will in too-wet conditions.

So my best guess is that if you can convince yourself to dry out your whole methodology a great deal more than you are now and provide the proper amount of bottom heat and air circulation you'll have much better success and no damp off.

Just keep reminding yourself that 95% of the time germination issues are grower method caused problems, not the seed or the plants fault. It is a lesson we have all had to learn the hard way. :)


    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 5:33PM
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There are several things we use around the house that have antifungal properties but the best way to avoid damp off is not to overwater and give good air circulation. A bad case of damp off can't be cured but a little mold can be stopped with these household home made remedies.

Garlic. Whirl a whole head of garlic--separate the cloves-- in the blender with a little water until the garlic is basically mush. Put it in a jar and add a quart of water. Let sit for a couple of days and then strain and discard the garlic bits. Put the resulting water in a spray bottle and spritz your plants every few days. This is also good for powdery mildew if you get it early enough.

Cinnamon. On seedlings in flats if you notice damp off starting a sprinkle of cinnamon will kill the mildew spores.

Camomile .A weak solution of chamomile tea, misted onto the soil surface with a spray bottle two to three times per week, will help protect seedlings from damping off. Chamomile tea contains anti-fungal properties that offset any pathogens in the soil.


Brew a weak batch of chamomile tea, one tea bag to two cups of boiling water. Allow the infusion to cool, then dilute it so that it is a pale yellowish color. Add the cooled, diluted tea to a spray bottle and use as needed. This mixture will be good for about a week. Spray the seedlings regularly until they are planted out into the garden to ensure that you don't have any problems with damping off.

I have used these concoctions myself and they work but only if used on a regular basis or at the first sign of problems. Their antifungal properties are not strong enough if you let things get out of control

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 7:07PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Hi again ngrrsn - I grow peppers (though only a few plants, nothing like digdirt) and have never had damping off problems with them. As DD says, they need warmth to germinate. I have a small (18 inch x 12 inch) heated propagator and I use that inside a glass porch. The seeds are sown in modules and the lid is removed as soon as they germinate. The heat is switched off about a week later. Then I grow the peppers on in the porch as our summers are not reliably hot enough for them.

If you are getting damping off, mould and/or fungus gnats it is pretty certain you are keeping the mix too wet, whatever it seems like to you. I am convinced that it will not be necessary to use any kind of fungicide if the moisture and air circulation are right.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 8:22AM
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If you look around there has been research on using spices to prevent and treat damping off. In most of what I've read chamomile isn't as effective as others such as cinnamon. Here's one http://www.plantprotection.pl/PDF/47(3)/JPPR_47(3)_05_El-Mougy_2.pdf

    Bookmark   March 22, 2015 at 12:00PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

OP, I also know that damping off diseases can be prevented. But the moisture level is only part of the solution. If we chose a coarser, faster draining medium, then problems may never arise. Most of the germination mixes that I've seen are just awful.

Prepare the dry medium by pouring what you will need in a larger container and adding a small amount of water. After a thorough stirring, add a little more water and stir again. Never get it so wet that it drips.....it should feel barely moist.

Fill your germination flats or containers with the mix and now you can drench it. Allow the water to tamp down the mix not your fingers, drain/evaporate for several hours or overnight.

Sow the seed, sprinkling with a dusting of the dry mix if dark is needed for germination. Then, mist to seat the seed into the mix. You should never have to use your fingers to poke and prod, which compresses the medium, eliminating the oxygen.

I agree that chamomile can be steeped as a tea and misted onto the surface. If you did desire to use it as a drench, simply use it when you would ordinarily water your seedlings, not in addition. Buy a box of tea bags!

The antifungal and antibiotic properties of cinnamon have long been known.........so long that it's been forgotten and needs to be rediscovered.

I would stress that with a careful eye on your watering practices, a thoughtful selection of a germination mix, a smart choice of containers, good air circulation, and coolish temperatures, you shouldn't need to worry about cinnamon or chamomile at all.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2015 at 5:01AM
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