Q: I have tried growing my own vegetable plants for a couple of years, but they always seem to fail. I am careful with the watering and following the directions on the seed packages. Most of the seeds sprout, but very often, they reach an inch or 2 high and then fall over like they were chopped off at the base. I know there are no insects, slugs or other critters. Nothing eats the stem and small leaves. I really want to grow my own vegetables, but I am getting frustrated by doing so much work for so few plants. What can I do differently?
A: The symptoms you mention perfectly describe a problem called "damping off." Several kinds of fungi that live in soil will kill small seedlings. Damping off is most common when the seeds and small sprouts are too cold or too wet.
We want to keep the soil around the seeds damp like a wrung-out sponge and not waterlogged. We need to keep the trays of seeds on the warm side. Trays on tables in the house are warmer than trays on windowsills. Small thermostat-controlled heating mats can be purchased to keep the soil warm without heating up the room.
The soil that is used to sprout the seeds should be sterile. Don't use old potting soil unless you can heat it up to sterilize it. Bagged seed-starting mixes are better than new potting soil, because the starter mixes are designed to keep the seeds damp and usually sterile.
Check to see if your local garden center stocks NoDampOff from Mosser Lee. It is made from Wisconsin-grown long-fibered sphagnum moss. The damping-off fungi cannot live in this moss, so vegetable seeds will not die from damping off.
Q: I live in Ohio, and I have a few Tartarian Honeysuckles that form a screen along my back yard that blocks a view of my neighbor's ugly garage. I wanted to get a few more to continue making a hedge that would block more of the view. A landscaping guy came to my house to help me figure out what the honeysuckle was and give me advice on several landscape problems. He told me that Ohio recently passed a law that prohibits the sale of this and several other kinds of honeysuckle.
He said the plants are invasive and out of control, and they take over large areas of land. I have several landscape beds near the existing plants and have never seen a single new honeysuckle growing as a weed anywhere in the beds.
How can the state just outlaw a bunch of plants?
A: I am sure there were plenty of hearings and input before the law was passed because it would affect the nursery industry, and it usually has a powerful voice in state capitals. There would also be a strong voice from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and local forest preserve districts trying to put in place a ban on invasive plants.
Every state has a list of invasive plants, noxious weeds and other plants that are banned from being planted or grown. Some of the plants that are on these lists were unintentionally bought into the country. They have become established to varying degrees and should be eliminated whenever possible.
Other plants were brought in to increase wildlife habitat, or as ornamentals planted in urban areas. These plants are harder to remove because so many people have them and, most probably, don't know the potential damage the plants could cause.
Honeysuckles produce berries that birds eat in the late summer and fall when migrating, so they spread the seeds into natural areas that could then be taken over by exotic honeysuckle plants.
If you can, work with your local landscape guy to find a better plant for the screen, and when feasible, remove the honeysuckles. Your local forest preserve district will thank you.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.