Seedlings are delicate and succulent. Until they develop some toughness, they require protection from the elements and a host of herbivores. The protection you offer depends on your situation. When planting in early spring, pay attention to the weather and be ready to protect transplants and seedlings from cold snaps. In mid-spring, the weeds and insect pests arrive, then later in the summer it may be necessary to protect them from hot sun and desiccation. Birds, deer, and small animals all relish a salad of tender seedlings.
Some protective devices defend plants from a range of assaults. Row covers, for instance, protect early seedlings from the cold, as well as from flying insects, marauding animals and birds, and even hail.
Many protective devices are quick and temporary, just to protect newly-set-out transplants from the weather for a few days until they toughen up. For example, a handful of straw on top of seedlings can break the force of the sun for a few days until the straw blows away, or an old sheet can be thrown over transplants at night if frost threatens.
On the other hand, some gardeners choose to construct permanent or season-long structures. For example, hoops or a frame over a row of vegetables make it easy to cover the plants with clear plastic in the spring to make a small greenhouse, then floating row cover for insect protection, then bird netting later in the summer as the vegetable begins to fruit.
It’s only necessary to protect against known dangers. You probably know the dangers your seedlings face, or you will soon learn from experience. If snails or slugs are an ever-present threat, grow your vegetables in raised beds and protect each bed with a strip of copper foil. Snails and slugs won’t cross the foil, so it makes an effective barrier. If birds pull up your seedlings and eat your strawberries, construct a light frame over the plants and cover it with bird netting. Hinge the top for easy access.
Follow some of the links to the right for more information on protecting seedlings.