the unholy holey garden: tackling slugs

I WAS ALMOST RELIEVED TO HEAR FROM a longtime reader that his Geranium macrorrhizum looked like some kind of lace–“shot through with tiny holes,” and that “this has never happened before.” Me too, and me either. Hostas, yes, and so many other things–but the trouble-free, aromatic, tough-as-nails bigroot geranium? All I can say is: 2012 is host to some fierce breed of slugs–and thanks to another reader, I have also found cabbage looper caterpillars‘ excrement (ahem!) in the geraniums, alongside the slime trails. You can read my safe slug-beating tactics by clicking over to this story.


  1. Linda Smith says:

    The slugs are also fierce in my neck of the woods in western Ma. I use the empty cat
    food can filled with guinness method. One for the slugs, one for me! works great

  2. Astrid says:

    Thanks for the many slug trapping hints you offered. I was going to use the beer method anyway but reading that grapefruit “shells” also work will be great because my husband and I split a grapefruit every morning! There’s lots of grapefruits halves in the compost. I am also going to try putting a piece of wood in areas where my coleus has been chewed to bits. It’s the getting up early in the morning to find the slugs that may be my deterrent for that method :) Thx for the tips!

  3. jim martin says:

    Not sure what it is like for you northern creatures, but the June wet is an experience casting a new list of characters to deal with. Feeling your pain……….as raindrops drip from the tip of my nose.

  4. Phyllis Schlesinger says:

    Some animal had a beer party in my garden last night. I put out little plastic containers of Budweiser buried to the rim in the soil, and this morning they were all empty, and tossed about! I just hope the reveller had some marinated slugs with the brew!

    1. margaret says:

      Oh, Phyllis, I promise it wasn’t me. :) (I prefer wine to beer.) What a tale.

      Hi, Astrid. Glad to help — and yes, you are right, I bet fruit rinds might be of interest to them, too. Keep us posted what happens.

      Well, Jenn, I guess we are all in good company. What a year.

  5. MiSchelle says:

    I have found the beer traps to be ineffective in my garden. In all the years I tried this method I’ve caught nary a slug. Not being the squeamish type, I have been known to snip, squash, and salt many a slug at dusk over the years but recently found an effective and efficient solution. Simply mix a 30% amonia/water solution and fill a sprayer with “stream” capabilities. (I use empty cleaning product containers.) Armed with a flashlight and sprayer I make nightly rounds and zap any slug I see. They die almost instantly and I find I get great satisfaction from it! I have used this practice the past three years and it doesn’t seem to affect the plants at all!

  6. Calvin says:

    Out here in the Pacific Northwest, adjacent to a wetland and backing up to over 300 acres of nature preserves, man, have I got slugs (among many other nasty things). I have a dozen beer traps out and have captured about 300 poached-eggy looking slugs, very satisfying–unfortunately, with as much rain as we’ve been getting, I have to replace the dilute-y beer 1-2 times per week. I am up to a half-case of Schmitty per week, the guy at QFC must think my poor wife is a low-rent boozehound. The commercial slug stuff does work, I prefer Corry’s because I can pour it out with precision through a funnel. In the mornings you can see the zig-zagging slime trails as the slugs approach and back away, and then the trail leads into the beer. The best, however, is when the Mallards walk up from the wetland. They can really chow down some mollusk.

  7. Jenn says:

    The greatest slug deterrent of the century: Slug Shields. i bought these from a small company based in NH at the Mass Hort Garden Sale and THEY WORK. They have a great video at their website showing how it works. These are wonderful. An organic method that lasts all season. I use them for many of my vegetables (kale, basil, tomato, chard) and for my Dahlias. I am sleeping more peacefully now…

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Jenn. Thanks for the slug tip! Who knew? I will go investigate. (Although I’d need about 20,000 of them to cover this jungle of mine!) :) See you soon again, I hope.

      Hi, Calvin, and I love your low-rent boozehound story. Thank you. The duck thing is pretty funny, too — I wonder if they get a buzz from the escargot hors d’oeuvre?

  8. narf7 says:

    One word….”Ducks”…the best slug traps known to man! We inherited 2 of them and suddenly we are slug free…problem is we are also succulent free…I guess ya gotta take the good with the bad! ;)

  9. Louise says:

    Just thought you’d be interested to hear that here in the UK we too are experiencing a very sluggy year. They have had a go at everything in my garden. Plus, lots of new tough weeds have appeared, I have never had bindweed and yet it is popping up all over the place.
    Interesting to hear how similar things are across the sea!

  10. franeli says:

    For the first time ever, I have green looper caterpillars damaging all of my big root geraniums. The foliage damage looks exactly like the damage in your photo from slugs. These loopers are feeding on the underside of the leaves!
    Just a thought for everyone. I’ve read that winter moths have moved into my area.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Franeli. You are right — there is some caterpillar excrement on some of the leaves, too, along with slime trails all over the place beside the plants…I just went out and looked again, but I have yet to find any caterpillars. Fascinating! I suspect it is the cabbage looper specifically. Thanks for the further sleuthing help!

  11. Gloria O'Sullivan says:

    Forwarding what I found and have to add, cutting lower leaves and inviting the birds into my woodland garden with cracked corn, even the Momma Robin is bringing her fledgings to dine and they eat slugs!!! Don’t forget bird patrol, it works! I scattered the corn about 7 and they starlings, robins and grackels are working the woodland garden when I arrive! :) loving it!
    First year slugs have started dining on my hellebores! Yikes! A dry week on tap, so down goes the Diatomaceaous earth! Which I have also put in my coleus pots! My dogs drink the beer! so that doesn’t work here in the woodland garden which is also the dog area….
    county office of the NDSU Extension Service,suggests spraying plants with
    Ammonia 2 to 1 with water and spray, safe for plants and slugs stay away.
    Please God forgive me , I make up a spray bottle of salt water and take out to the traps and spray them and delight in their passing to sluggo hell! :)

  12. jeanette sclar, mistress of longears says:

    Do you think I could substitute a bloody mary for the anti-nausea medication? I’m sure it would make me brutal…. :-)

  13. Calvin says:

    narf7, the best thing about the ducks is they don’t seem to have a downside–when they are full, they leave (unlike the other pestilences of varmintiana I coexist with). Don’t know if they get escar-loaded, Margaret, but I dump out my likkered-up slugs right into the wetland, so the ducks don’t have to drink and fly, they can just put their beaks under their wings and take a floating nap. Interesting about the caterpillars–it is a tent caterpillar year here, and I find quite a number of caterpillars bobbing in my slug beer each morning as well. Getting good value for my cheap beer. Cheers!

  14. Terri H. says:

    Paul Tukey recently on his blog linked back to an entry he posted in 2009 about battling slugs. Beer, yes, he said… but he said even more effective is a mixture of warm water, yeast, sugar, and salt. (I’m thinking the salt probably wouldn’t be necessary.) He said what the slugs like about beer is the yeast.

  15. Billy says:

    Here in Nova Scotia we are having a slug invasion the likes of which I’ve never seen. I am trying to use permaculture methods as much as possible, so I put down several inches of leaves last fall as mulch in an effort to build up my soil and cut down on weeds. Well, guess what. I put out several beer traps every other day or so and I usually get about ten slugs IN EACH ONE. It’s truly disgusting.

    Tip: You can use near-beer instead of real beer in your traps. It’s a lot cheaper and works just as well.

    I have foregone the slug repellent tablets I used to use because apparently they are also very bad for worms, which are essentially for healthy soil. I’m actually relieved to hear other people are having slug problems too… I thought it was just me. Seriously, they are everywhere, and it is nasty. They have destroyed all my cucumber plants. At least they leave the garlic alone.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Billy. Near Beer! Who knew? And yes, disgusting to be sure. And I am with you: relieved to hear all of the common stories. Misery loves company, right? :)

  16. Faithy 3 says:

    I am in Jamaica and the slugs to me are at their best this year. They are giving me sleepless night, I am going to try this beer trap and see how it works for me.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Faithy 3. Sounds as if the beer is the way to go — not a big investment, safe, and so what can we lose? See you soon, I hope.

  17. Teresa says:

    We don’t have much of a slug/snail problem – probably because we’re overrun with frogs and snakes (snakes also help with chipmunk control too…hooray!), but those tips for slug control are handy to know…especially when we help my dad garden. My mom used to complain about the slug problem every year when she was alive. The Pacific Northwest, with its moist clime, is certainly a haven for those slimy things. :}

  18. Bad, bad, bad slug year here in PA. But I’m using two tricks – diatomaceous earth for the little dears and for the caterpillars – white flour. My mom taught me to use flour. Put it in the sifter, go out early in the AM when the plants are still damp with dew and sprinkle flour on the leaves. The caterpillars become “papier mache” as they dry out. It works especially well on cabbage loopers….

  19. lou desena says:

    margaret ,thank you for the info on “slugs”.in past years they did not “bother me”.
    this year they “wrecked” my “sunflowers”–they took 6 down in one night .last night i placed 6 plastic cups -about 3 inches in diameter ad about 2 inches deep filled
    with my “precious “bud-lite”.sunk the cups about 3 inches down in the soil.this
    morning i “checked” on the “status” of the “cups”—i got 2 “big-slugs”-trying for “more”-tonight.placed another “batch” of cups in other areas of the garden.

  20. Jenn says:

    Can’t help but mention slug shield again after reading all these messages about slug woes. They are not a silver bullet but they are fantastic for plants with a single stalk or a central base.

  21. Pecker says:

    Ha! Some great slug related stories on here! Personally I wouldn’t waste good beer on these little pests, as Terri H said, yeast is what the slugs crave and that’s fairly cheap to obtain in bulk.

    Keep up the good work!

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