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. Clairwil says:

    We were having a dry season until last week and I’d managed to get get to july without laying eyes on a single slug. With the torrential rain this week I have the most horrible feeling that is all about to change. Grrrr!

    Much as I loathe them I’m going to have to pass on the snipping method- eek! I think I’ll give ammonia a go.

  2. Carole C. says:

    I think this may be the most popular topic to discuss-yuck! I threw out my Sluggo because it turned into a mold-like canopy on the soil in my flower pots so I just mixed a batch of instant coffee to try out tomorrow. Glad to have a practical use for the stuff no one drinks!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Carole. With the Sluggo, a little goes a long way…so if you ever use it again, sprinkle a little but not a covering of the stuff (although in this wet year here, it might even mold up anyhow!). Did you try the ammonia and water spray tip that people here have recommended? Sounds like a winner to me. See you soon I hope (with fewer slugs to report).

  3. TONNIE says:

    I mix lemon ammonia, murphy’s oil soap and water in a sprayer and spray on the slugs. Don’t spray on plants as it will kill them. This mixture makes the slugs boil into a sludge and by the next day dry up to be swept away.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tonnie. Boiled slug sludge sounds just perfect, thank you. Better yet, the part about how they can just be swept away. Thanks for visiting, and see you soon again, I hope, and perhaps for prettier topics next time. :)

  4. If we ever have a rainy year again these hints might come in handy, Margaret! Back in 2007 we had floods and 5″ slugs. I noticed some suggestions at GardenWeb to use windex for direct hits on the slugs. Since it has a smidge of ammonia there’s some science behind the idea, but I’m a fan of My Big Greek Wedding, so the idea of the all-purpose fixer of everything killing slugs made me smile.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  5. Anne P. says:

    I have several slugbuster strategies: one malevolent, and the other much less so. The first is to do a walkabout in the evening before turning in with a flashlight, a trowel, and a cottage cheese container or other throwaway filled with salt water. I simply scoop them up by the trowelfuls and plop them into the salt water, covering them quickly with the container cover so I don’t have to see the descent into hell that they are going through. The second is to simply save bits of bread (they’re yeast lovers) and fruit such as cores of strawberries, blueberries which have gotten soft, soft spots in peaches, or whatever you might be eating yourself. They are attracted to this instead of your fav plants. If you want, you can do a late-night patrol and scoop them up by the tens; or you can simply divert them with something more interesting than your best plants. I also do use the organic slug baits, which are another way to divert their attention; and they work well also. Very important for that tender lettuce and almost everything else I seem to value.

    Anne, Chadds Ford, PA

  6. Barb says:

    Ew and gross. I almost want to stop gardening after finding these things (slugs) in my garden. The thought of snipping them in half is going to keep me up at night.

    My husband piled on the mulch this year and underneath all of it was these yucky slugs. Next to the slugs I found what looked like mushrooms but not quite…could it be there eggs? It was white and had the texture of a mushroom….egg shaped.

    Also, my husband has been watering the garden with our sprinklers..I wonder if this is causing the slug infestation?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Barb. The”eggs” are probably another kind of fungus, aka a mushroom…you can read about some here and get links to try to identify it if you want. Mulch that’s too deep (more than a couple of inches) and not pre-composted/aged (like fresh woodchips) will be more prone to these kinds of growths and also to slugs. Don’t pile it on too thick, and use mulch material that breaks down gradually into the soil. Overwatered areas (especially where there’s lots of deep mulch to hide in) is also an invitation. But you say he “piled on” the mulch, so I am betting on that.

  7. pearl says:

    Leaving beer in cans all around always seemed unseemly and labor-intensive. Instead, similar to your board method, I take two different size smallish clay pots, soaked in water several hours before, and put one inside the other. It creates a perfect snail environment. I leave them top down overnight, and find tons of slugs lining the pots in the morning. I am a wimp about killing them, though.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Pearl. Thanks for the tactic against you-know-who, and I hope to see you again soon (leave the slugs home, though). :)

  8. Karen Trass says:

    I’m reading from the past, actually was looking for a plan for my cabbage pest problem b/f it happens this year. Ducks. Ducks LOVE slugs. We used to have some and had no slugs for years, but ducks are messy. We also have a backyard pool, so no more ducks. But, if you’re up to it, and can keep a duck, try it! Love your blog! Karen

  9. Marty says:

    As I have mentioned before I am not tolerant of frogs or snakes and marvel that you can live with them as you do. I did spend a few moments looking at your frog above and must admit that it is an amazing creature. I do not think I could ever touch it though. I can also assure you that I would never eat their little legs. I live just next to a lake and fortunately I do not have frogs here. I also have an acre community garden I tend. There I have found snakes, some try to tell me the King snake is a good guy to have around because they eat the rattlers that are there too.
    Years ago, really years ago we lived in a house with many many frogs in the yard. If I had to get from the car to the house in the dark I would make my husband carry me in. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that but there I said it. It’s done now.
    Thanks for all the garden info.

  10. BeBe says:

    Margaret! Love the site and the blog. Please HELP! Ack.I have slugs in my compost?!? Why is that? It is a nice, big black ordinary compost bin. Perhap they were hiding in the chopped up leaves and brown matter I added last spring? Hmmm. Picked my earliest ever tomato day before yesterday. Not one place in my yard/garden receives 6 or more hours of sun per day, so I always buy the Early Girls and until this year have not enjoyed them til late August into October. Cannot wait for that first BLT. Just returned you book ‘And I Shall Have Some Peace There’ to the library. An admirable endeavor; an enjoyable read.
    P.S. Btw, Who won the fancy hose?

  11. Catherine says:

    I read somewhere that slugs abhor a shiny foil pie plate with cucumber slices in it…I know it seems random and strange, but it worked on saving 7 hostas over the last 2 weeks. I tuck the foil pan under the beautiful leaves about 3 ft apart and in a week – no slugs and plants on the mend. I replace the slices each week…i keep the ends and odd bits for these trays. Best of luck to all, the rain brings many blooms and many snails and slugs.

  12. Kathy King says:

    Dear Margaret:
    I have a little Gulf Coast box turtle named Hot Lips. She lives in my garden and pigs out on snails, slugs, and all the other insects. As a result of her diet, I almost never see a slug, and if I find any snails after a rain, I give them to her in a little dish. I enjoy walking away and hearing the crunch of the snail shells. Hot Lips is about as eco-friendly as one can get.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Kathy. Hot Lips sounds like just my kind of girl. :)

      As for questions about the noise, I love it. Nature’s symphony, no? Tell any neighbors who complain that there are no noise ordinances against the natural world expressing itself.

  13. we have a much smaller space than you do and use the beer and salt methods with pretty good success. I have to share that I think that all of your snake pictures may be helping me a little bit to overcome my phobia. I’m not jumping back from my computer as violently as I used to. We’ll see what happens next time I step on one in the garden! Thank you Margaret!!!

  14. Doris says:

    I am convinced that it is slugs that are having lunch and dinner and probably breakfast on my rhubarb leaves! Time to get my remedy out which is to crunch up egg shells – they should have been rinsed and dried for a few days until brittle. I sprinkle the bits and pieces around my hostas and no slugs. It seems the rough edges are not to slugs liking. Have to try it around my rhubarb plants. As a side note, the blue jays love to eat the shell bits so sometimes I’ll put some on my platform feeder as a treat for them.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Amanda. I would love to have poultry or fowl, but worry about wild animals here — so many predators!

      Welcome, Doris. How sweet that you give the jays that treat! I should try the trick around vulnerable plants.

  15. Liz Davey says:

    Sluggo works for me. It is important to use it early in the season when the hostas are just emerging and keep at it periodically all season. Most dogs love beer and mine would lap it up before the slugs could get to it, however his presence has seemed to help with chipmonks and voles and deer.

  16. Ruby says:

    Have you heard of using crushed eggshells around plants, like hostas, to deter them, I understand that the sharp edges of the shells cut them and they don’t cross over the barrier. Love frogs! Where would one buy them or easily find them to bring and live in ones garden??

  17. viqueen says:

    Ha! Who knew frogs were so aggressive? If I had an amicable female green frog I’d drive her over to your pond.

    Thanks for the stories – a bright spot in my wk!

    1. margaret says:

      You are welcome, Viqueen. The males fight like demons, nonstop. Hilarous. So much bravado — no bloodshed.

  18. Valerie Gillman says:

    What adorable critters you have. It’s been twenty years at least since I had a garter snake in my garden. What a precious baby newt! Never have we seen one except for a classroom pet.So fragile-think how threadlike his skeleton is. I’d like to seed my garden with snakes and newts. Maybe I’ll look on line.We have quite a few neighbor cats-I suppose they would hunt them. Please keep showing us your menagerie.

  19. Barbara says:

    They are digesting whole basil plants in my garden this year. I’ve used the beer with some success and Escar-Go under the hostas but I don’t want to add that to the soil near the herb garden. Thanks for the lumber tip. I am heading out to try that now.

  20. Lisa says:

    They have made a mess of my pulmonaria! I’ve never seen it this bad. I was going to cut them back this weekend anyway. If I clear that bed to the ground, do you think the slugs will move on, or will they be back when the new growth appears?

    1. margaret says:

      Here, too, Lisa — those rough, hairy pulmo leaves are all to pieces here as well. SO WEIRD. Maybe they all took special vitamins this year, these damn slugs?

  21. naomi d. says:

    Went out yesterday evening after the rain to take out the trash, stopping to pick up some weeds I’d thrown down a day before to add to the bag. The slugs, the snails – there were around 30 I could see (though none of the six inch ones). I gave up on Sluggo a while back, though it worked okay. Beer, for them and me after seeing those things.
    I need to get out and do a sweep, but I do hate touching them.

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