M. Grabowski, University of Minnesota Extension
Damping off is only a disease of seedlings. Once plants have mature leaves and a well developed root system, they are better able to naturally resist the damping off fungi. There is a critical period of growth where special care needs to be taken to protect sensitive seedlings. This period begins before the seeds are ever planted. One of the most import strategies of controlling damping off is preventing it in the first place. Since the damping off fungi typically survive on plant debris, soil, or in contaminated water, all pots, trays, potting mixes and other planting equipment must be sterilized prior to planting. New trays, pots, and potting mix are typically sterile. If you are reusing last year's pots and trays, they should be soaked in a 10% bleach solution for about 30 minutes. It is best to use new unopened potting mix to start seeds.
Careful attention should be paid to watering seedling trays. Seeds need moisture to germinate, but too much water will encourage damping off. All pots and trays should have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away. Seedlings should be watered with lukewarm clean water (like tap or other drinking water). Watering with cold water will slow seedling growth and favor the damping off fungi. Hoses and watering heads should be kept off the floor where they could come into contact with infected soil or plant debris. An oscillating fan can be used to increase air flow around the seedlings, but care should be taken to avoid over drying of the sensitive new plants.
Cultural practices that result in tall, thin, weak plants like growing plants under low light conditions or over fertilizing with nitrogen will result in increased damping off problems. Provide seedlings with just enough of what they truly need.