Slug Control

Slimy garden pests can be devastating; here are tips for reducing their numbers.

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They come in the night to do their dirty work — chewing away on plant parts, leaving huge ragged holes on leaves and feeding underground. These mostly nocturnal shell-less snails can be devastating to a garden. They've never met a lettuce or cabbage leaf they didn't like, and they particularly enjoy hostas, which happen to be located (conveniently for the slugs) in the shady cool environment they need. The succulent growth of spring and early summer is their favorite menu.

Many of the usual slug-control methods have their downsides. Most slug baits are toxic to pets and fish (as well as humans) so they have to be used very carefully; products containing iron sulfate are safer. Sharp surfaces — such as with diatomaceous earth — cut slugs' soft bodies, resulting in deydration and death, but only when the material isn't wet. Pans of beer attract them — and very efficiently; you have to replenish the pan every day, and if there are roaming neighborhood dogs, fashion a sort of lid or barrier to keep them away.

During the day slugs hide out in moist, cool, dark areas such as beneath plant litter and flower pots. Holding slugs at bay is a matter of reducing the number of daytime hiding places they might find and doing a bit of regular housekeeping. It's easier to control them in a sunny garden; in a shade garden where some of their favorite foods, like hosta, are located, you'll have to use more than one method.

  • Keep the area around the veggie garden free of plant litter, excessive mulch, etc. Some gardeners find it helpful to leave a 3-foot perimeter of plowed, fallow earth around their vegetable gardens.

  • You can collect slugs by laying boards on the ground and, in the morning, picking off and destroying the slugs that accumulate beneath — a tried-and-true but only partially effective method that gardeners have been using for centuries.

  • Shallow pans of beer enable you to attract, isolate and dispose of the slimy critters without actually touching them. Put the pan slightly above the soil surface.

  • Copper barriers have proven effective and are especially useful and easy to mount around raised beds and wooden containers. Tack a sheet of copper along the upper edge of the raised bed or container. The slime from snails and slugs creates an electrical charge when the creatures come in contact with the copper. The slugs won't cross the copper barrier. Make sure no foliage overhangs the edge, providing an alternate route into the garden.

  • A solution of .1 percent caffeine, the approximate strength of your morning coffee, is also effective. Find out more.


    (Marie Hofer is gardening editor for HGTV.com.)

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