Tomato Trouble

“I’m trying to grow tomato plants from seed. I can get the seeds to sprout and they grow very well and even put out two true leaves, but the then the stem of the plant will shrivel (it looks like a strand of hair). This causes the seedling to die.

Most of the time this happens in the root, but I have had some that have a thick bottom root, then a thin root, thin stem and thick top part.

What is the cause of this and what can I do (if anything) to prevent it from happening?

Thank you, Jeff”


Hi Jeff, it sounds like your seedlings are damping off, a general term for a variety of fungi that may affect seedlings and are in the soil you are using. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about the affected seedlings but don’t give up, it happens to all of us.


The best way to prevent this is to start with new potting soil, not overwater, and grow seedlings in 50-65F temperatures. Also, make sure they are not too crowded so buck up and thin out those one and 2-inch seedlings.


You still have time to get another crop started inside and have them ready for transplanting outside. Here is a good source of information on how to grow tomatoes: Good luck!


“Charlotte, how on earth do you grow tomatoes through winter in a window???” – Mary


Mary, it’s really not that hard, I keep telling you. If you remember tomatoes are perennials in their native Peru you know they can live for many years in the right conditions.


I take my time when I water so I don’t make the soil too wet; make sure they get regular sun and frankly try to keep my cats from playing with their swaying leaves. They do all of the rest!

This volunteer tomato seedling has a good start next to an onion start in one of my leftover winter pots. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a gardener, beekeeper and sometimes cook, for more visit Published by Kaleidoscope Weekly with permission. Copyright 2018, all rights reserved. This column may not be copied, published, reprinted, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at

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