Just as the weather starts to warm up and we get to enjoy our gardens more, the heralding cry goes out for the ever growing slug brigade! It can often feel like a losing battle in the war to save your favourite plants but there are tried and tested methods which gardeners turn to and a combination of methods is often the best bet!
Slugs remain active throughout the year, unlike snails, which are dormant during autumn and winter. Warmer weather, combined with damp conditions greatly increases their activity. Slugs are most active after dark or in wet weather.
In no particular order of effectiveness, these are some things you could try in your own garden to strengthen your defences against the slime trail:
- Good Housekeeping – prevention is better than cure and one of the best ways to combat the threat of slugs in your garden is to promptly remove any dying or fallen leaves. Slugs feast on decaying vegetation and by removing the food source, you make the area less attractive. If you rake up your fallen leaves in Autumn, you take away a hiding place for slugs to over-winter.
- Use a Cloche – Slugs love to feed on new, soft growth so if you are setting out new seedlings or young plants, you can protect them with an easy home-made cloche made from cutting a juice bottle or milk carton in half. The cloche will not be able to stop slugs coming up underneath from the soil but it will stop those out for a jaunt across the soil.
- A mulch of Eggshells – You may know that eggshells are a great barrier method to deter slugs from chomping on your prized plants as apparently they do not like to slide over the sharp, crushed eggshell edge. Scattering one or two eggshells here and there however, will not really be very effective, you have to lay them around the plant you want to protect in a thick mulch. They work on the same principle as using horticultural grit or sharp sand which is also thought to be uncomfortable for slugs to travel over.
- Spread sawdust – sawdust and wood shavings can be spread on the soil around plants as a barrier against slug attack. Sawdust is thought to work as it is very dry so slugs do not like to move over it or wood shavings. Both of these will lose their effectiveness though once it rains and they get wet.
- Sprinkle used Coffee Grinds – this is another barrier method and involves spreading a mulch of used coffee grounds around any plants you want to protect as the mere smell of coffee is thought to deter slugs. Caffeine in large doses is said to be toxic to slugs and in smaller doses it can slow them down. You can also make a caffeine solution to spray onto vulnerable plants.
- Beer Traps – it’s easy to make a slug trap using a yoghurt pot or similar and some leftover or cheap beer. You simply half sink the container into the soil, with the rim above ground level. You can do the same by laying an old jam jar on its side. The idea of using beer traps is that the slugs are attracted to the smell of the beer and head for that instead of to your lovely plant and they then meet a beer-infused ending. Open top containers in the soil should be loosely covered though to prevent other small creatures from falling in. You do need to empty the beer trap once it gets crowded and refill with more beer. The scent of the beer is also lessened after rainfall so that might be a good time to think about emptying and refilling.
- Citrus Fruit – if you haven’t got any beer handy, then halving and scooping out the inside of orange or grapefruits and laying them facedown in the soil can also act as a slug trap. Slugs like dark damp places and the theory is that they will be attracted to the hollowed out fruit. Turn over the fruit the next day to check if there are any slugs underneath and rehome them.
- Sacrificial Plants – knowing which plants slug love to eat can allow you to plant out a few plants as sacrificial plants for the slugs to munch on. The theory here is that the slugs will be happy with their find and leave your other plants alone as they banquet on what you have provided for them. One way to do this would be to plant lettuces around the edge of your vegetable beds, just for the slugs. Just remember not to plant them too near your other growing crops.
- Plant in Pots – if you can plant some of the most attractive things to slugs in pots then you really have the advantage in deterring them. I plant all my broccoli in pots on the deck so they are off the beaten slug trail.
- Garlic Spray – Slugs are apparently put off by the taste of garlic so will avoid plants which you spray with garlic. It’s a great homemade and easy solution. Crush up and boil a couple of garlic cloves in 2 pints of water for around five minutes. Make the solution back up to 2 pints and then use 2/3 tablespoons in 5 litres of water and spray this onto the leaves of plants which slugs like.
- Copper Tape – or copper barriers work as an effective deterrent as the slug receives an electric shock once it comes into contact with the copper. You can buy copper rings which you can place in the ground around your most vulnerable plants or copper tape which can be attached around the rim of pots.
- Spread Vaseline – a bit like using copper tape, vaseline can be spread in a rim around pots to prevent the slugs from crawling up and reaching your plant.
- A Sprinkling of Bran – slugs apparently will gorge on bran if you lay it out. It makes them bloated and dehydrated which means they cannot slither off to hide so they become an easy picking for the birds. Try to do this when dry weather is forecast as the bran needs to stay dry to be effective.
- Plant Plants which slugs don’t like – Whilst it may seem that slugs are having a party in your garden, there are plants on which they are not so keen. Shrubs with hard stems or plants with with tough, hairy or waxy leaves are not so attractive to slugs as they are more difficult to chew. Similarly, plants which smell unpleasant to them or taste bitter will be left alone.
- Old Carpet – Using an old carpet, a piece of rotting wood, some rocks or even some plastic plant trays in a specific area will give slugs a dark, damp place to congregate, making it easier then for you to pick them off and remove as you see fit.
- Attract Predators – If you garden organically and allow a thriving ecosystem to flourish in your garden, other wildlife will thank you by eating slugs and snails. Ground beetles, centipedes, thrushes, hedgehogs, frogs and toads are all partial to a bit of slug so to attract them to frequent your garden you need to provide plenty of cover and avoid using any toxic chemicals.
- Use Nematodes – Nematodes are a biological control which you can buy which release microscopic nematodes into the soil. They work by entering the slug’s body and infecting them with a fatal bacterial disease. Nematodes have to be mixed with water before applying to the soil and can only be used when the temperature is between 5 – 20 degrees.
- Build a Pond – This is not a quick fix but a longer-term solution for the garden. Once your pond attracts frogs and toads, the slug problem should decrease. One quicker solution is to build a mini pond in a pot which can sit in a border or on the patio or decking.
- Night Patrol – slugs are most active at night so you can, and many people do, head out to the garden armed with a torch and bucket to literally pick slugs from the plants. This is an effective, if time-consuming method but the silvery slimy trails are often easier to spot at night as the slugs carve their way along their highway of destruction.
There are of course, various other methods, both home-made and commercial to add to your arsenal in the battle against the slug. One thing though to bear in mind is that using non-chemical methods is always better for the other wildlife and the whole ecosystem of your garden. There is no gain in using a chemical to fight one thing if in turn, it brings harm to other things in your garden.