, Salem, MA


March 14, 2014

North Shore Gardener: Why did my hot pepper seedlings die?

Q: We started some hot peppers from seed and they grew nicely. However, when the seedlings were about 2 inches tall, they mysteriously fell over and died. We were careful not to overwater. What happened?

A: Seedlings are susceptible to damping off, a disease caused by a number of different fungi. Unfortunately, there’s no hope to save the plants once they’ve contracted the disease. To help prevent the disease, always use a sterile seed-starting mix and avoid overwatering by allowing the soil surface to dry out slightly between watering. Since high humidity and poor air circulation can increase the likelihood of damping off, place a fan in the room to create a gentle breeze. Finally, if you replant using the same pots or trays, be sure to wash them well with hot, soapy water and rinse with a 10 percent bleach solution (one part chlorine bleach to nine parts water).

Q: What do I want: determinate, or indeterminate? They both sound alike — explain please!

A: You see tomato seeds and plants referred to as “determinate” and “indeterminate” varieties. It’s no great mystery.

Determinates are bushier, but how do you remember? I think of it as their growth is predetermined. They take less space, and they don’t always need staking. Determinates grow to a certain height and then stop — their growth is predetermined. The plant develops a flower cluster on the top of the male stem. Many gardeners use cages for determinates just to keep the fruit off the ground and away from rot and pests.

Indeterminate varieties wander around on longer, taller vines. If well fed and watered, they just keep growing and growing. This is the kind of tomato plant you might see growing up the side of a house. Indeterminate should be supported by very tall stakes or cages — or grown crawling on the ground, protected by straw to help prevent fruit rot.

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