Slugs, the one creature I wage war on, year after year and yet could we garden without them?
The damage they do can be soul destroying when you’ve invested time, effort & money on trying to grow that wished for flower, fruit or veg. That perfect display just in time for the village fete or open garden ruined by holes in leaves or collapsed foliage due to the stem being chewed through.
How many of us have successfully germinated seeds only to have the young juicy seedlings munched?
But really why do they exist?
What purpose do they have in the food chain? Quite a lot really, they are perfect for hoovering up decaying vegetation and go on to be food for birds, toads, beetles, slow worms and if you’re lucky enough to have them in your garden, hedgehogs.
If you have an established wildlife-friendly garden then you probably don’t notice but for those of us in small urban gardens, slug control is almost always in the top 3 list of problems. Encouraging wildlife in and good garden housekeeping can do wonders.
There is so much advice out there on the best way to deter slugs
What works for one doesn’t always work for another so it’s worth trying a few out to get the best result.
If, like me, you’re not keen on taking life (vine weevils are pretty much the only thing I’ll squish) going out with a torch on a damp evening to check under pots and plants, collecting them up and then releasing them far away in a lovely countryside hedge is probably the most humane method (if a little time consuming).
Here are some other methods.
An organic biological control that doesn’t do any harm to the plants or other animals. The eelworm moves through the soil entering the slug’s bodies and infecting them with bacteria that causes a fatal disease.
- The ground temperature needs to be above 5C (41F) at night for these live organisms to survive and ideally applied to cool damp soil,
- They need to be thoroughly mixed and remixed before applying to ensure an even application.
- Avoid using any pesticides immediately before or after application as they will cancel the nematodes out.
Some larger garden centres will have packets (hopefully in a chilled display) available in spring or they can be ordered online. The most readily available is Nemaslug.
Work modestly well and sinking them down into the soil doesn’t spoil the display. The principle allows the slug to slide in but not climb out and you have to hope it’s not too much of an unpleasant way to go.
- Use a slippery container (like a beer can with the top removed with a can opener), half fill with beer and sink into the soil with the rim just above the surface.
- Traps normally only attract slugs nearby so it’s recommended they’re spaced every 1m (3ft) and remember they need to be emptied and refreshed on a regular basis.
- Empty the contents out under a hedge for the wildlife to enjoy, alternatively into your compost bin or the municipal green waste bin.
To save the beer you can mix yeast with water, flour and sugar to make an equally appealing solution for the slugs.
If you’re prepared to live with a small amount of slug damage and just want to protect favourite plants then there are various materials that can be used to create “barriers” to deter slugs and encouraging them to slide off in a different direction.
- Crushed egg shell
- Coffee grounds
- Wool pellets
- Copper bands or tape from a DIY shop (particularly effective around pots)
If the containers are small enough, tip the root ball out occasionally to check you’ve no slugs (or eggs, transparent in colour) already in the soil as the barrier might be trapping them in!
There are a wide range of chemical products available from DIY stores, supermarkets and garden centres and those made using ferric phosphate are compliant with organic practices.
I have in the past used slug pellets opting for the cheapest option as the budget was tight, this was before children & pets arrived on the scene.
The jury is out as to whether or not slug pellets made with metaldehyde are responsible for hedgehog and bird deaths but I’m persuaded enough to have stopped using them.
You’ll hear me and many others say right plant, right place, a happy healthy plant holds little or no attraction for a slug looking for an easy munchable meal. On my plot I rarely direct sow, raising young plants at home until they’re strong enough to be planted out and withstand the occasional nibble.
Now the bad news …. The cold doesn’t affect slug numbers. They bury themselves down deeper and sit it out ready to devour all the remains of our beloved plants killed by the frost, on the plus side they save us the job of clearing up, maybe we shouldn’t garden without them.