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slug control, with a little help from my friends

slugT HE BEST REMEDY FOR SLUGS, I learned in 2009 (The Year of the Slug in my garden), was an end to a super-rainy June. I don’t usually have a terrible slug problem here, but that year, after 13 or so inches the previous 30 days, was Biblical. And even when drier weather slows them, I was left with a bumper crop of the shell-less mollusks with their voracious hunger and telltales trails of slime. What’s a gardener to do?

eaten-abutilon-leavesKnow their habits: Slugs do most of their damage by feeding in evenings and early mornings; they like moist, secretive places better than a place in the sun. Their favorite fodder is often the youngest and most tender seedlings, but they (and their shelled cousins the snails) will eat molds and decaying material and even leathery things like orchid leaves (below), too, not just my Abutilon (above) and hostas. Nothing is safe: foliage, flowers, fruit, and even some seeds are fair game.

eaten-orchid-leafDon’t water late in the day, which will only encourage bad behavior, making things moister during play time.

Eliminate hiding places. Wilted or slightly decaying foliage left in the garden can provide perfect hiding places, as it often bends to touch the ground. This week, now that things have dried a bit so I can get into the beds, a more ruthless approach to cutbacks than normal is scheduled, since the extreme rains caused so much excess, often floppy, growth.

Don’t over-mulch. One to perhaps 2½ inches of mulch is desirable; layering on thicker amounts than about 3 inches just invites damp conditions that slugs love, plus it provides a great place to hide.

Set out safe baits or traps. There are self-described “nontoxic” slug baits these days (though research institutions like Cornell use the term “low-toxicity,” which is probably more accurate), like Escar-Go! and Sluggo, based on iron-phosphate formulations. I have never used any, so am without any detail or endorsement to offer. I’m still back in the lay-down-a-board or sink-a-can-of-beer (as in tuna can or shallow plastic deli container) school; half-grapefruit rinds work, too. Seriously, pieces of discarded lumber laid down in areas of heavy infestation and upturned the next morning will yield lots of hiding beasts that can be scraped into a bucket of soapy water.

Other barriers, like copper strips (are you kidding? I would need 20 miles of this) or Diatomaceous earth (not the kind rated for use in pool filters, but the untreated kind for garden use) are also said to be effective, but the latter is scary-dusty (wear a mask) and needs to be reapplied after each rain (again, are you kidding?). My scraps of siding and shingles and trim don’t mind being rained on, and have weathered many years.

garter snakeEncourage snakes. Many species (including garter snakes) eat slugs. So do salamanders. Walk your property (with a heavy foot!) before firing up the mower, as snakes can’t really hear it and get away in time otherwise. It’s vibrations that signal them to get going, apparently, and avoid being hurt by the machine.

Be brutal. (Take anti-nausea drugs before attempting, as needed, tee hee.) Hand-pick and squash as many as you can, or drown them. A friend who’s somewhat slug-intolerant, even slugicidal, snips them in half with shears. Effective, if brutal. Salt works as well, but at this point I’d need a shaker the size of silo and I could be on patrol with it many hours each day. Trapping (think: beer and boards) is more time-effective.

male-green-frog-mating-seasonLove a frog. Or a whole army of them (yes, the correct word for a group of frogs is army). That’s what I am after: an army of frogs. But you already knew of that proclivity of mine.

  1. This year with all the rain we’ve had, I see an over abundance of the shelled snails. Yuk! I used to love “escargot” – no more. I pick them off, put them on a stone or other hard surface and step on them with force. The slimy, non-shelled ones? I cut them in half with glee. My biggest problem in my woodland garden are moles, tunneling and providing a free ride for voles. Just yesterday I picked up a handful of cut off leaves from a Dicentra ‘King of Hearts” – there was nothing left below ground. I use MoleMax but can’t put it down enough and even rat poison into the holes which I cover with a large stone or tile. I’m afraid my cat will eat one of those poisoned ones so it’s last resort. Otherwise, Max brings me daily presents of dead moles, voles, mice but a single cat is just not enough to overcome the army of voles.

  2. VY says:

    Have you guys tried coffee grounds around the plants? That works best for me. You can collect a ton of coffee grounds for free from your local coffee shop and spread it around your plants. Slugs seem to hate the acidity of the coffee.

  3. Tim says:

    Wait a minute guys….if you prepare them like escargot, slugs make a delicious escargot-like tasting dish. Yum.

  4. Dahlink says:

    Sieglinde, the obvious answer is to adopt a companion cat for your Max. We have a Max, too, and he is an excellent mouser, as is his sister Missy. (Unfortunately, Max didn’t get the memo to leave the chipmunks alone.)

    We used to use Sluggo, with good results, and also broken eggshells. Then our neighbors changed their backyard landscaping to eliminate their grass. Now it’s all perennials and gravel paths. They also added a hidden cistern to collect rainwater. After all those changes suddenly we had far fewer slugs–! (Not complaining …)

  5. Robin says:

    I have used the beer-tuna can method with success in the past. Question: where/how do you dispose of the dead ones? those cans can fill up and things get pretty gross after a few days…

  6. winter says:

    I live in New Hampshire and we’ve been having ungodly amounts of rain but I haven’t had a huge problem with slugs. No more than usual, at any rate. My problem is cutworms, every time I go into the garden I discover more death. Lettuces, carrots, arugula, almost an entire row of beets! I have put collars around all of my transplants but the direct sown items are being feasted on. I’m about to put up my row covers and hopefully that will help in the future but I don’t know what to do now. Any ideas? Help!

  7. Kim Jessen says:

    We have a small pond in our backyard, and when I find slugs or cutworms/caterpillars on any of my plants in the backyard, I just toss those little buggers to thegoldfish . I wonder if that is like steak to them?!

  8. patricia says:

    I really don’t care for killing garden pests, all creatures have a place even if we don’t like it, but I can tell you that an inexpensive way to deter slugs is to put down crushed oyster shell. You can purchase it in huge bags from the feed store for very little cost.

  9. Dahlink says:

    Slight swerve here–has anyone else noticed a great increase in the numbers of columbine borers? I normally just pull off the affected leaves, but this year I would need to yank out entire plants!

  10. Valerie Gillman says:

    Dahlink, yes! If I took off all the affected leaves, they couldn’t live. I started many from seed this year and even in pots on my deck they’ve been ruined.Now add the little worms that eat from the edges, and they’ll be finished.

  11. Valerie Gillman says:

    Even more comforting would be a cure. Even hollyhocks are full of leaf miners this year. Maybe the hollyhock rust will poison the little devils.ha

  12. Jane in CT says:

    Bug tea, I learned it from Ruth Stout or the old Organic Gardening magazine, decades ago. Made from slugs the same way as for other garden pests, is effective if yucky. Gather the offenders in a container [use rubber gloves on a rainy day for slugs, tossing them in a bucket and knocking them back in as they climb the sides]. Put them in a blender with some water, and blend until well mixed. The slugs will create a goopy gel. [I know, it takes a strong stomach. Try not to gag!] Add some more water for a soupy consistency if needed. Let steep overnight. STRAIN the mixture so all that remains is the concentrated “tea.” Dilute freely—I don’t remember the percentage being critical—add a few drops of surfactant or dish soap, and spray on the plants affected. Infestation will drop immensely. The bugs end up killing themselves with their own viruses or bacteria; I don’t really remember the why, just the result.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Donna. The predators of slugs and snails are many, including invertebrates and vertebrates:

      Invertebrate predators of land snails include beetles and their larvae, millipedes, flies, mites, nematodes, and other snails. Vertebrate predators of snails and slugs include shrews, mice and other small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, especially ground-foragers such as thrushes, grouse, blackbirds, and turkey.

      That is from the Carnegie Museum site; more here. My attitude is that the less chemicals I use (I use none) the more diversity I attract and the more intact my little corner of the food chain is, so to speak. Happy to have snakes, frogs, birds, beetles, etc. all eating slugs and snails (and one another I guess too in some cases!).

  13. Kim says:

    Oh my gosh, the slugs this year! They’re on my house, my feed buckets, they’re just everywhere! Salt, beer, snakes, chickens, egg shells and coffee grounds not deterring them! The best defense I’ve found so far is pre-1982 pennies in the garden!

  14. Anne Pounds says:

    I have been using Sluggo this year with great results, since I have slugs everywhere, climbing into every container and populating every bed. But I also have a few other ideas which work well. I save all bits of blueberries and other fruits, as well as bits of bread which are getting stale, and I sprinkle them close to my beds. Then I do slug patrol before I turn in, with my trowel, a flashlight, and a cottage cheese container with a good bunch of salt water in it. The container is opaque, so I don’t have to observe their writhing deaths, and after a few days I can simply trash it and start another one. This is a very effective way of having the slugs come to me, and away from my plants. They rate berries and bread higher than plants, so we’re all happy for the first part of the evening, and then I go to sleep happier than they.

  15. Sheri says:

    I post coffee creamer containers with some water & salt in them all over my yard. There’s always one in easy reach. In the morning or if I feel like I’m in the mood for a “good hunt” in the evening, I grab one and start cleaning up. Pop it in, put the lid on and shake it down. When they get filled or start getting a bit smelly into the trash they go. I do keep some stones in garden areas just to kill slugs on, their death smell lures more to them.

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