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Protecting sunflower seedlings

How can I protect my sunflower seedlings from pests?

**FULL QUESTION:** Every year I try my best to grow sunflowers. They are such happy flowers and they truly light up my garden. When they grow, something keeps eating off the tender shoots. I have tried cayenne pepper, blood meal (works for rodents, but my dogs love it) etc. I cannot seem to find a solution to this problem. I am not sure if I'm dealing with squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks or a combination. Any suggestions to help me get these plants established? *- Crystal Ward, Cambridge ON*

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**ANSWER:** While rabbits could be nibbling your sunflowers, I think the real culprit is slugs. They adore the new shoots and will munch them to the ground. There are several ways to protect the plants until they get big enough to be slug-resistant. Try one or more of the following: • Ring the plants with copper tubing or bands (just lay a circle on the soil)—I've found this barrier to be more effective than crushed egg shells or diatomaceous earth, though you can give those a try, too. • Set out slug traps—saucers of beer; orange or grapefruit halves turned upside down; purchased traps. • Cut the tops and bottoms off pop bottles and use them as collars around the seedlings. • Start the seeds in pots which you can keep in a protected spot until the young plants reach transplanting (and slug-resistant) size. • Don’t mulch too heavily in the area; slugs love the moist warmth of mulch. • Encourage toads into your garden (provide water and shade); a single toad can eat 10,000 slugs and bugs in just one season! Happy gardening, *Karen York, GL Botanical Editor* **Other questions recently answered by Karen York:** The proper way to do begonia cuttings

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