July/Aug. 2013 California Bountiful magazine
I do enjoy sunflowers and need a tip on how to keep bugs and/or rabbits from eating the seedlings before they become mature enough to grow large. I live in the Inland Empire in Southern California.
Thanks for writing. Seeds started directly in the ground where you want them to grow are certainly subject to insects and browsing animals. One giant pumpkin grower I know in the Sacramento area has trouble with rabbits nibbling his seedlings. He fashioned cages out of remesh (in essence, made a circular cage), and put one around each plant. Then he wrapped plastic around the bottom 6 or 8 inches of the outside of the cage. Problem solved.
We had skunks coming in the garden at night digging in the beds looking for grubs. They'd disturb all of the seedlings and vegetable plants, and after a few days of being dug up every night, the plants died. We finally put a small picket fence around the vegetable garden.
You can also protect each seedling with something as simple as two sticks with a piece of sunshade over them.
I'd also suggest starting your seedlings in pots or flats and letting them get a bit bigger before putting them out. Older seedlings are less susceptible to cutworms, earwigs, etc. Chances are that earwigs or slugs are eating the seedlings. If the problem is slugs or snails, you can sprinkle diatomaceous earth around them (has sharp edges and the slugs won't crawl over it). There is a product called Sluggo Plus that kills slugs, snails and earwigs, and is nontoxic to people and pets. I've used it with great success.
Good luck, and let me know what works!
How can I protect young plants and seedlings from the sun?
I put inexpensive tomato cages around a few of the plants, then put a black plastic nursery flat on top. The shade moves around the bed as the sun changes position, so all of the young plants and seedlings get some protection, but also get plenty of sun so they grow strong.
What's the best way to make sure potted plants get enough water?
Sometimes during the hottest days, if the pots are in the sun, you might have to water twice daily. I use a soft-rain nozzle, and I water until the water comes out the bottom of the pot, then I water the plant again. Too many people think if they sprinkle the plants, they are giving them enough water. They are not. Remember, plants in pots are more exposed to sun than those in the ground: The pots heat up, and there really isn't enough soil, unless the pot is huge, to protect and insulate the roots. So you may have to water pots in the sun more than once a day.
See how Pat answered your questions earlier this year.
About Pat Rubin, California Bountiful's gardening expert
For Pat Rubin, gardening is more than just dirt and plants. "It's about history, romance, adventure and people," she says. "And it should be fun."
California Bountiful's gardening columnist has lived and chronicled this fun, hands-in-the-dirt approach for years—and for additional publications including Fine Gardening, Pacific Horticulture, Christian Science Monitor, Family Circle and The Sacramento Bee. Pat has also volunteered as a Master Gardener, speaks to garden clubs and appears regularly on gardening radio shows.
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