Something Eating My Zinnias?

davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))July 17, 2008

I planted 2 packets of seeds during the July 4th weekend and was so pleased to see germination in 2 days. Then the seedlings seemed to grow well. I was happy.

The germination rate was great too. It looked like I had more than enough in the original space and I was thinking about transplanting them to other places.

But then I started to notice some of them were not doing well. Soon all of them were becoming the same. Now most of them are gone. Here are some of them that are still there:

You can see this one below is almost gone. I have a few of them looking like this, but most of them are gone completely. Now I am sure I will not have zinnias this year. :-(

Have you seen something like this? Is this a common thing? Can you tell from the pictures what might be the problem?


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maineman(z5a ME)


Clearly, something did eat your zinnias. I have never seen that kind of damage, but I notice that your seedlings seem to be in some kind of mulch. I would remove the mulch and look for something that might be living under it like, for example, slugs, snails, pillbugs (sowbugs), etc.

Since you did not see the creature feeding on your zinnia seedlings, I presume the damage was done at night. If there are still any zinnia seedlings left, go out at night with a flashlight to see who is eating what.

We have a rather cool, moist climate here in Maine and I quit using a mulch because earwigs were having a population explosion in it and under it. In small numbers, earwigs can be potentially beneficial, but in large numbers they can be quite annoying. I added sand to our garden soil because slugs and snails don't like to travel over sand.

My only problem with zinnia seedlings has been an occasional cutworm and, when I see a zinnia seedling that has been felled by a cutworm, I thoroughly explore the soil around the seedling with a small probe until I find the culprit. They are usually just under the surface within one to three inches from the stem.

I suggest you clear an area of all mulch and try again. Zinnias are fast growers and you still have time to get flowers before frost. If you see any more damage like that in your photos, explore at night with a flashlight to identify the culprits. Once you identify the problem, you can devise a solution.


P.S. Those are great closeup photos. Kudos for your photography skills.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 11:56AM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

MM, thanks for the suggestion. I will go out and look tonight.

The mulch is grass clippings, but it is very thin. I would say just one single layer thick. I knew that grass clippings would matte over if applied too thick, so I just dusted one thin layer, sort of like "better than nothing."

But I do have snails. I see some of them even in day time. Do they eat zinnias? I will do some search. Very near the zinnias are nasturtium and cosmos, but they have no damage at all. Here is a nasturtium right next to the zinnia area.

Thanks about your comment about the photography.

Now I don't have any zinnia seeds left. HD and Lowes have removed all their seed racks. I could try Walmart again and see if they still have those. I did order 5 different types of zinnias from a small seed company on 7/7, but it hasn't arrived! I think the government is checking packages more cautiously nowadays. When I sent some amaryllis seeds to a friend in Texas, it took 2.5 weeks for the envelop to arrive by first-class mail. Oh well, worst come to worst there is always next year.

Oh, one question, if I restart zinnias again and say I get bloom, do you think there will be enough time for the flowers to set seeds? My first frost date is October 15. If not, well, I will still enjoy the flowers but will not be able to hybridize. What if I dig some out and bring them indoor to set seeds? Will that work?


    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 2:23PM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

in the above post, I actually meant to say I have slugs, not snails.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 2:25PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

It's really very late to be starting zinnia seeds where you are. One of the reasons why Ma Nature operates the way she does, is because those baby plants emerge when the things that eat them are also babies and the weather is cooler and they don't need such frequent watering and the hot dry wind doesn't blow so much....well you know...seedling, if we didn't interfere would be emeging in the very early spring.
It looks to me like slug damage....keep your nulch but get some Slug-go, or Esecar-go...or another iron sulfate slug bait, you will notice an over night difference.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 9:32PM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

I saw came back from outside. Yes, I saw the ugly guys. Slugs they are! One of them is "standing" beside my few remaining zinnia. Another big one is approaching. Another small one is staying on the top of my other zinnia. They are enjoying their good dinner, I guess.

I put some salt on them just to kill them. I wasn't even concerned about saving the zinnias. I only have 3 or 4 damaged ones left. I don't think they are going to make it.

The zinnia order has not arrived, so I think I am definitely too late for it this year. I think I still need to do something about the slugs though because they might go for my nasturtium next.

One web site says slugs are not particularly interested in zinnias or nasturtium but when they are hungry, they will eat anything. :-(

Just a few days ago I thought I had surplus of zinnias and was thinking about moving some of them. Now they are all gone.

Oh well. It is still an experience, and I still learn something from it. And it was fun too.

    Bookmark   July 17, 2008 at 9:52PM
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maineman(z5a ME)


"... if I restart zinnias again and say I get bloom, do you think there will be enough time for the flowers to set seeds? My first frost date is October 15."

Most zinnias will bloom in 8 weeks from emergence. Some of the smaller varieties are a week or two faster. From the time you pollinate a zinnia stigma, you will have a reasonably "fat" embryo in the seed within three to four weeks, even though the petal and the seed are still "green". That embryo can be viable, even though the seed is not brown. My second generation of zinnias is coming into bloom now, and they were all planted from "green" seed of the first generation. I haven't run the experiment yet, but I have some dried green seed that I am going to try to germinate.

So, it will be a bit close, but it could be possible to plant zinnia seeds now or within the next week or so, get flowers, pollinate or cross pollinate them, and have viable green seed by October 15.

"What if I dig some out and bring them indoors to set seeds? Will that work?"

I started this hobby in 2006 and some of my pollinated scabiosa hybrids weren't mature by our frost date that year, so I dug them up and transplanted them into big 10-inch pots and brought them into my computer room/study where I have fluorescent lights. Their seeds successfully matured and I started them early indoors under fluorescent lights in the Spring of 2007. I got some good hybrids from that, and some of their descendants are still in my zinnia gene pool.

So, yes, it can be done. However, the zinnia plants I brought in had aphids on them and a few lady bugs and lady bug larva. The lady bugs had been keeping the aphids in check in the garden but, inside, the aphids multiplied faster than the lady bugs and I wound up using one of those small computer keyboard vacuum cleaners to suck in the aphids.

I think in general you will have more problems with plants that you bring inside, but it worked for me.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2008 at 12:26AM
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maineman(z5a ME)


I inadvertently left my computer with the previous message unsent for half a day and didn't see Linda's message or your response until after I hit "Submit Message" late this evening. Had I seen those messages first, I would have revised my wording.

In view of your serious slug problem, you probably will just be feeding the slugs when you plant more zinnia seeds, but I think I would try it anyway, and follow Linda's advice to fight them with Sluggo or Escar-go Supreme (incidentally, Linda, the active ingredient in Sluggo is iron phosphate instead of iron sulfate, while Escar-go Supreme adds the additional ingredient Spinosad to the iron phosphate).

Slugs are very numerous in the area around my garden, and I have seen all sizes of them, including some very large ones, ever since the Spring thaw. I have used Sluggo to kill them in large numbers, but I still see many slugs.

I think the only thing that is saving my zinnia seedlings is the sandy soil that they are growing in. Slugs don't like to travel over sand. (They also don't like to travel over the metal copper.) In previous years, I added 24 yards of sand to the garden and mixed it in with my tiller. I didn't do that because of slugs, but because the original heavy clay soil was difficult to work and to work in. The wet clay tended to stick to my boots, which made it difficult to walk back into the house. Maybe they should make garden boots with Teflon soles. Anyway, the slug protection from the sand was just dumb good luck. Our cool, moist climate is very favorable to slugs.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2008 at 1:22AM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

Thanks MM and Linda. I am going to Home Depot later to look for the chemical you mentioned. I had also done some surfing and read about the copper strip thing too. Sounds amazing and might give that a try too.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 18, 2008 at 5:21AM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

Ok, I am going to start over again.

Went to HD and bought the snail bait. Will go out every evening to check too. Went across the street from HD to Walmart, and yes, they still have the seed rack. Bought 5 packs of zinnias, 97c each. Probably nothing extraordinary but good for practice. :-)

    Bookmark   July 18, 2008 at 4:12PM
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maineman(z5a ME)


Good luck. I think that is a move in the right direction. At least it will be a learning experience. As they say, "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger."

Grin. Hopefully that doesn't apply to the slugs.


    Bookmark   July 18, 2008 at 5:18PM
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davemichigan(zone 6a (SE Michigan))

The Slug Baits seem to work very well here. I don't see ANY snail or slug anymore.

As for the zinnia, I sow another pack of dwarf type. A mini zinni mix. I think they are basically all kind of random mix from open pollination, which is fine for me. I want to see different forms, colors, etc. anyway for a start.

And I planted them last Saturday. Now I have about 60 seedlings! They are very fast and co-operative. :-)

    Bookmark   July 25, 2008 at 9:49AM
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