What is causing my beet sprouts to disappear?


I have planted beets multiple times this season, with very little success. What happens is this: I plant the seed (Detroit Red) and a week or so later the little sprouts poke through the soil. I keep them watered, but over the next week or two, almost all of them disappear. I have a few surviving plants, but 90 percent of the crop just disappeared very early. Do you have any idea what might be causing this?


Jonathan Foster, Special Projects Assistant

I’m sorry to hear about your beet woes, but if it’s any consolation at all, you aren’t the only client in Maine reporting such issues this year.
What you are most likely dealing with is called “damping off” (please see this Wash St Univ page on damping off for more information), an infection that happens in wet conditions where naturally occurring, soil borne fungi attack germinating seeds and newly emerged germinants/seedlings. It can be quite a heartache to see an entire crop fail to germinate or push their heads up only to flop over and die. There are a few suggestions to avoid and/or mitigate the problem in the link above, but the easiest solution might be to either germinate your seeds indoors where you can control the environment or to buy healthy, vigorous seedlings from a nursery to plant in the garden. More mature plants are generally quite resistant to damping off, so it’s less of a concern than with direct seeding. Next season, you can alternate where you have planted your beets or at least hope for drier conditions!