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Battling Garden Slugs

Posted on 04 April 2011



By Danni Duggan for Landscape Network

Vegetable gardening often yields huge rewards for the weekend gardener. It provides a green space in the yard that you can fuss over, weed, tend, and generally nurture. And all that hard work pays off when the very plants that you have babied for a number of months suddenly start producing some of the most delicious edibles ever to grace your dinner table. Vegetable gardening can be a stress-reducing, win-win situation.

So you can imagine the righteous indignation that many feel when their little slice of gardening heaven is suddenly overrun with garden slugs. Who are these midnight marauders that come to wreak havoc in our gardens while we sleep, and how can we stop them in their twinkling, mucous-laced tracks?

Garden slugs are a universal problem in gardens across the U.S. Whether you are at sea level in a coastal state, or mile-high in Denver, Colorado, chances are, if you are gardening, then you are battling these gastropod mollusks. Slugs require a moist environment to survive, so shade gardens are particularly prone to their visits. They may hide under leaves during the hot, dry portions of the day, but once the soil is watered and moist and the sun is down, they begin chewing their way through seedlings, leaves, and eventually, your ripening vegetables. Adjusting your watering schedule so that the plants are not watered prior to sunset may go a long way to controlling slugs in your garden.

There are a number of commercial products available to help battle slugs, and they enjoy varying levels of success. With the increase of organic gardening practices, however, many home gardeners are looking for home remedy methods for pest control.  Whether you employ these methods yourself, or seek the assistance of a landscape maintenance expert, you will be surprised by how easy it is to stay on top of a slug problem.

Trapping is a common method used to control slug numbers. Place any of the following items throughout your garden:

• damp wood shingles
• damp newspaper
• empty grapefruit or orange halves set up so the slugs can easily crawl in
• overturned flowerpots or jars, propped up slightly with a stone under part of the lip.

Be sure to check under these damp hiding places several times a week to handpick out and dispose of any congregating slugs. Slug disposal methods vary.   If you have chickens or ducks, they are often too eager to help you dispose of these delicacies.  Other methods including drowning in soapy water, crushing, or spraying with a solution of water and ammonia (only a 5 to 10% ammonia solution is required).

Another increasingly popular method of slug control is a “beer bath.” Using empty tuna cans or cat food cans, sink them into the garden soil so that the tops of the cans are flush with the ground. Fill each can with beer. Slugs are attracted to the beer, and they will fall into the beer bath and drown. The cans should be emptied and refilled every three days, possibly more often, depending on their success. Avoid getting the cans wet when watering to ensure the beer solution remains.

Generally speaking, slugs are a cheap date. They do not require your finest microbrew. Still, if the thought of sharing your favorite beer with these garden pests is more than you can “beer,” you can try making your own slug-attracting solution for each can by mixing:

• ½ teaspoon baking yeast
• 1 tablespoon white sugar
• enough warm water to fill a can the size of a tuna can.

Other methods of slug control involve creating barriers so that slugs cannot access your plants. Lava rock is a great barrier because the texture of the rock creates tiny cuts and abrasions in the slugs, which will dehydrate them should they be brave enough to attempt to cross. Crushed egg shell acts in the same manner.

Whatever method you choose to employ, reducing the number of slugs that have access to your garden will give your plants a fighting chance to reach maturity and finally bear vegetables for you and your family to enjoy.


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