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Tea and fungi

Making chamomile tea

Chamomile tea prevents damping off—I’m a believer! It’s one of those natural but-do-they-really-work remedies, used where more product-minded folks would fork over a few bucks for a bottle of No-Damp fungicide… I brew up a batch of tea, dilute it by eye to a pale gold,  and apply every couple of days with a fine-misting spray bottle. I’m pretty casual about the recipe, and keep spraying until the seedlings are established (that’s my method, there are more precise instructions around as well, search online).

Damping off is the name for a bunch of different fungal infections that can hit seedlings in trays with similar effect. In my encounters, the damage appears right below the soil line, strangling the stem just out of sight. Dig up a stricken seedling and there’s a small section of the stem, all pale and shriveling to nothing, while above and below, all looks well (the symptom’s called “wire stem”). It’s pretty shocking to see in action. One minute, your seedlings are looking all perky, and then you touch one…and it topples over! Whooaa!

Up to a couple of years back, I’d lose a few seedlings, usually PEPPERS for some reason, never anything major, parts of a tray or two, but enough to be scary. I seed-start in soilless mix (so it should be disease free), trays and tools are given a good disinfection at the beginning of the season, there’s always plenty of air circulation, and I make sure the soil surface doesn’t stay wet—all the things these soil-borne fungi don’t like. Still, damping off was sneaking in, until chamomile tea spray came along… Coincidence?



  1. Hmm.. something to try. I sprinkled cinnamon on top, but the mold is still all around. My seedlings are just now poking out, so I will have to see if any succumb.

  2. Katie

    Thanks for the tip. Now I know what was wrong with the cabbage plant I had to pull out the other day!

  3. Thanks for the tip. I’m going to grow chamomile this year, but it’s the lawn variety. I wonder if a ‘tea’ from the leaves will work too, I’ll have to experiment next year.

  4. Great comment/suggestion on the tea. I’ll apply some today to our seedlings.
    Nashville, TN

  5. willing hands organic farm

    Thank you so much. I am having this problem in flower and herb seeds. Some of these are so picky, any little thing will make them go kaput. Can you do a topic on starting fussy seeds, and how you grow them?


  6. That is good to know! We haven’t had much problem with damping off–maybe a couple sprouts here and there–but as we start more and more seeds inside every year I can the need for some defensive tricks. Thanks, Mike!

  7. Anita

    Deborah, lawn chamomile should work fine, but the *flowers* are the best bit. Use the flowers!

  8. I’ve made it a point this year to really begin to learn and understand more about the organic ways to prevent and treat pests and plant ailments in my garden, I’ll definitely be adding this one to my list; especially since I will be starting some of my seeds this week! I wanted to let you know also that since I found this blog a week or so ago, it has quickly become one of my favorite daily reads. Great pictures, good information. Thank you and keep it up!!

  9. I will need to try this, I’ve tried some other methods without success.

  10. Wow – I’ve not heard of that one before – thanks for the tip Mike!

  11. willing hands organic farm

    I forgot to ask how you prepare this. Yesterday I took a guess and used 4 teabags to a bit less than 2 quarts water. Steeped the bags for 1/2 hour or so, actually I forgot about them……….uh oh. Is that too strong?? What ratio do you use and if in fact does it even matter?


  12. Julie: I don’t have an exact recipe. I’ve been using tea bags, about one bag per quart (2l) of water. I steep the bags for 10-15 minutes or so, but sometimes forget ’em too. If you search the web, you’ll find all sorts of different ratios, so I think “real weak” seems like a good general rule. I’ll dilute to a pale brownish-gold.

  13. Savor Culture » Blog Archive » Try, Try Again (The Growing Challenge)

    […]  Apparently, chamomile discourages the growth of fungi that cause seedlings to fall over.  Mike recommends a solution of one bag of chamomile tea brewed in one quart of boiling […]

  14. Sie Whange

    Thanks for your comments.I am having this problem in flower and herb seeds.lawn chamomile should work fine, but the *flowers* are the best bit.

  15. Rino

    I am making some chamomile right now! I am loosing some flower seedlings (Helenium, Columbine, and Painted Daisy) and this morning I was thinking of buying some “No-Damp” at the Home Depot, but then I read this and other websites preaching this “chamomile treatment” and since I have two boxes of chamomile bags in the kitchen, I am absolutely gonna try this.

    I hate the damping off disease!

    • Rino: That’ll be a fun experiment! I’m not exactly “preaching” the merits of the chamomile treatment. I found out about it as you did, by reading, so I gave it a try, and I haven’t had the problem since, so I assume it’s part of the solution. Still, learning a bit about damping-off diseases, I also paid more attention to air circulation and soil dampness in particular. So maybe it was those things that fixed the problem, or maybe chamomile helped. Or maybe it was chamomile on its own. Or maybe the fungi never came back! I find with alternatives to the usual buy-some-chemicals approach, I’m usually not 100% certain that “that” fixed it, the way we tend to feel with modern tech solutions. What happens is, I get more familiar with the apparent causes, and do a few things together, and things generally work out. Damping-off is a perfect example of that. I’m still getting used to this new outlook, where things aren’t so clear-cut, and solutions overlap. For example, I improve air circulation with a fan, and that’s also part of stimulating seedlings to toughen ’em up, another thing I learned about and started doing. It all sounds more complicated, but it’s really cool, more fun!

  16. Susan MacPeek

    Thanks for the info on chamomile and damping off.  I heard something about this last year but it was too late for my poor little seedlings which had the exact symptoms you described…and they had been doing so well until!  One question:  Do you wait until your seeds have sprouted to use the solution or is it wise to apply some to the soil (maybe with an eyedropper?) before they sprout?  I just put in my indoor seeds today so I’d love to know. 

    Thanks much!

    • It’s a few years later and I’ve never had a recurrence of damping off, so the circumstantial case for chamomile’s effectiveness is even better!

      I make up a batch of tea solution at the beginning of the season and keep it in a spray bottle. I use it to mist the tray right after seeding – so, yes, before the seeds sprout – and then every few days after the seedlings have emerged. I have a spray bottle of plain water at hand as well, and I’ll kind of alternate, using the chamomile solution every once in a while, 2-3 times a week until the true leaves are well underway.

      As I said above in the original post, my approach is pretty casual, you can also search the web if you’re curious to see what others do and recommend! And maybe believing in its effectiveness is part of the cure as well. :)

  17. Mellifera

    That’s really interesting!  I’ll have to try that out some time.

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  19. oolong tea

    lol, i love the pic, haha…

  20. Kathi Knoles

    Thanks on your marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will come back later in life. I want to encourage you to definitely continue your great posts, have a nice afternoon!

  21. randi robinson

    So yo only spray with it? how about watering from below with the tea – ever try it as the sole source of liquid for seedlings?

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