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How to Protect Seedlings from Pests

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Seedlings are a gardener’s first step into their future garden. It is important to protect tender seedlings from pests, but it can be difficult without the right tools and knowledge.

Here are four easy ways to keep your seedlings safe from pesky pests so that they have the best chance of thriving and producing delicious produce!

Green seedling sprouting from soil

Why Seedlings are Susceptible to Pests

Seedlings, young plants planted early in the season, are more susceptible to pests because they have not had a chance to build up the natural defenses of an older plant. They are also smaller and their leaves are softer, making them easy targets for pests like aphids, spider mites, whiteflies, thrips, and caterpillars.

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As a gardener, you may have already experienced the frustration of losing seedlings to pests, weather, root rot, or disease. While choosing good quality seedlings can help with the latter two issues, pests can seem to come out of nowhere.

Here are some helpful ways to protect those young plants.

Tips for Protecting Seedlings from Pests

  1. Cover them with a cloche or row cover. This is a relatively simple and inexpensive option that can save your seedlings from both pests and frost. Find good options for row covers on Amazon if you don’t have a good garden supply store nearby. DIY cloches are also an option and can include things as simple as upside down plastic milk cartons with the tops cut off, Dollar Tree wire waste baskets, plastic cups, etc.
  2. Consider companion planting for bug repellent plants. These helpful plants include catnip, coriander, dill, fennel, marigolds, and nasturtiums. These companion plants can deter pests naturally. See my full guide for companion plants to help you choose which plants work best together. This method of deterring pests gives the double bonus of other usable plants in your garden space.
  3. Use repellents around the base of the young plants. For certain pests like slugs, a beer trap can be used since they love the smell of hops, but there are other commercially available repellents as well. (See Gardening Know How’s article on making slug traps.) Cayenne pepper also comes in handy, as well as diatomaceous earth for other crawling pests that may make their way to the stems of seedlings. Some gardeners use garlic oil and other strong smelling deterrents to protect their seedlings.
  4. Use DIY stem protectors. Cut worms are one of the worst pests for seedlings. They feed on the tender stems of seedlings and can kill them very quickly. Some methods for protecting against cutworms include using cardboard collars or toilet paper rolls, even ace bandages wrapped around the stems or toothpicks secured beside the stems can help with this particular pest. This method can also be effective for squash vine borers, which come once a plant is a bit more established. Find my full article here on Pest Control for Squash Vine Borers.
tomato seedlings in sunlight

Healthy Seedlings

While these methods are all effective ways of keeping pests as bay, one of the most important preventatives is to simply have healthy plants. Many pests are actually drawn to plants that aren’t thriving.

So how can you give your plants a good leg up on the pests before they arrive? This means consistent, but not over, watering, proper soil for the plant, quality sun exposure, and well draining soil.

You can also add organic matter to the soil to help with healthy plant growth. See my full post on building up healthy garden soil. Use these methods for healthy young plants and seedlings in conjunction with the prevention methods above to keep your young plants growing and eventually producing.

If you’re considering growing a garden this spring, check out my list of helpful articles to keep you moving toward a successful spring garden!

Starting a Healthy Garden

Everything you need to know to start a healthy, thriving vegetable garden in your backyard, patio, or container. Find out how to thin seedlings, strengthen soil, deter pests, and choose the right plant for the right place.