Damping off is not a disease, rather a reaction to a disease. When roots, seeds and seedlings are attacked by soil born fungi, the delivering of nutrients upwards through the marijuana plant is thwarted. This results in mushy soft stems, causing the plant to fall over and die. Warm, nitrogen rich soil that is too wet provides a medium for the growth of fungi, especially Rhizoctonia and Pythium. Rhizoctonia do not produce spores; they are asexual parasitic pathogens causing plant disease.
Damping off begins below the soil line. As a result, the marijuana farmer will not be aware of the problem until the stalk and lower leaves show signs of atrophy. At first, the lower portion of the stalk becomes discolored, usually yellowish-brown. The stems will show brown lesions between nodes, eventually becoming dark reddish-brown cankers. The stem will turn brown and soft then it will simply fall over. Without nutrition to keep it strong and sturdy, damping off can kill a cannabis plant, or any other that has been attacked.
Damping off usually hits seedlings before it affects older plants. The condition can first appear as wilting, seemingly due to overwatering. However, as lesions form on the upper portions of the plant, a fungal reaction is evident.
As they say, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. Prevention should be foremost in any gardener’s mind; especially the marijuana gardener, since there are profits at stake. We cannot stress enough the importance of moisture control. Wet soil causes ‘wet feet’, which can be the beginning of the end to your healthy cannabis crop. Water only when the surface is dry. This isn’t always possible during a rainy season, but you can help the soil from becoming saturated. Make sure the soil is well drained in order to prevent water from pooling at the root level. Adding perlite or vermiculite to the soil during preparation will help to encourage air flow below ground. When starting your crop from seed, make sure the seeds have come from disease-free specimens and plant no lower that ¼” in the ground. The moisture level lower down is more concentrated. You don’t want to set your plants up for failure from the get-go!
Start your seedlings indoors or in pots. Prepare the outside site properly as mentioned elsewhere in this category. Add properly cured compost (good bacteria are created during the ‘heating’ process of making compost) and let it combine with the soil at least a week before introducing plant material. Transplant your seedlings to the grow site once they have several sets of leaves. They will need their strength when transplanted so they don’t go into shock. This is advice to be taken no matter what you are growing. As an added measure, spray the soil with a copper based anti-fungal treatment, chamomile tea or garlic oil and allow it to dry-in. Always, always, always use sterile tools. Sterilize them after each use so as to kill any varmints that may have hitched a ride.
Once the seedlings have been affected by damping off, there is little to nothing you can do to save them. However, you may be able to help the older, stronger plants. Remove the infected areas and treat any wounds with diluted hydrogen peroxide. If the stem cankers are severe, spray with copper fungicide, clove oil, coriander oil or sesame oil.
So, there you have it. Mary Jane is just as susceptible to lesions, diseases and over-all ill health if you don’t give her a good strong foundation and feed her properly, as are we humans and our pets. Treat her with tender loving care, pay attention to her and you will be rewarded with a healthy marijuana crop.