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I need some help. I set up two half barrel planters this spring, filled with nice bagged soil from Lowe's, but have had no luck growing plants from seed after about two months. I think my issues are twofold - I have read that barrel planters dry out very easily (making it hard to get seeds to germinate and then grow for those that do), and I have seen a number of sparrows peck at the dirt (could they be eating seeds and shoots?). It seems like it should be easier to grow in the easier planter than in the ground. What am I doing wrong, and how do I make it better? Regarding plants, I seeded poppies and two types of lettuce.

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    Did you drill drainage holes, and did you add something to help the bagged soil drain better? – Graham Chiu Apr 12 '16 at 3:10
  • You should have seeded them elsewhere and transplanted them here for best results. My neighbor has a barrel and he bought starter plants and stuck them in there which worked great for him, not to say seeding is a bad way to go. Most if not all Poppies wont tolerate too much water as seeds. And I agree with Graham, drainage is a must. – Srihari Yamanoor Apr 12 '16 at 3:21
  • I drilled drainage holes in the bottom, and laid a couple inches of gravel in the bottom of the planters. The whole thing sits on a couple pacers as well. – Dan H. Apr 12 '16 at 3:46
  • Waht variety of poppy were the seeds, and what variety of lettuce too? And when did you sow? – Bamboo Apr 12 '16 at 14:12
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I think the comments that suggest you'd have more success if you started your seeds in smaller containers and then moved them into the barrels are spot-on. Using a seed tray or small starter pots makes it easier to ensure that you're providing the optimal conditions for the seeds to grow. It may also mean you can find a place for them that you'll keep an eye on better than the barrels, which you've mentioned dry out easily.

That said, if you still want to start the seeds in the barrels, you could form a makeshift greenhouse over the seeds. This would prevent birds from eating them, and help prevent them from drying out in between watering. An easy way to do this it to cut the bottom off of a clear 2 liter soda bottle, remove the cap, and place the bottle over the spot where you planted the seeds.

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