Thirteen ways to Stop Slugs
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Question. Mike: How do I rid my romaine of those pesky slugs? They have invaded my 1st ever crop of lettuce!
---Donna in Woodstown, NJ
We planted host as in the garden in back of our brownstone and now they're covered in holes. We've seen a few slugs in the area, so we're guessing it must be them. We've got pets and a toddler so want to treat the problem organically. Any "eco-friendly" advice on how to get rid of slugs?
---Hannah in Brooklyn, NY
Help! Do nematodes work on slugs? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks,
---Karen in Iowa
What is the best way to control slugs in vegetable gardens?
--Eileen in Anchorage
What's eating my basil before I can? The leaves are half gone already. I don't see anything, but I'm going to try looking when it's dark to see if slugs are the culprit. If they are, is beer an OK organic solution?
----Colleen in Spokane WA
Thank you ladies! Your varied locales—East, West, smack in the middle, and Alaska—should help reassure all of our mollusk-munched listeners that slugs are a universal problem. And yes—unexplained, raggedy-leafed damage occurring overnight in your garden is likely slugs. Go out with a flashlight around midnight to confirm this—and to get REALLY grossed out.
Hostas and lettuce are two of their favorite foods. But they will happily chow down on just about any plant in your garden. One year, I found them in the tassels of my sweet corn—a good seven feet off the ground! Unfortunately, the existing beneficial nematodes used with great success against fleas and grubs can't help here, because slugs are above ground pests. And the 'new' slug-eating nematode we mentioned last year will probably not be made available in the US, due to fears it may prey on earthworms as well. But don't worry—there are many other non-toxic ways to subdue these slimy sons of snot!
- Beer. Yes, it really does work. It's also the best non-personal way to confirm that overnight damage is due to the slimy beasts. Just don't use the often-cited "stale beer", which slugs like about as much as you and I do. Place commercial traps or old margarine tubs on top of the soil close to the damaged plants, wait until dusk and then fill them with the cheapest—but freshest—beer you can find. The next morning, they should be filled with dead drunken slugs. Dump this defeated debris nearby (where it will attract their cannibalistic pals) and repeat every evening.
- Coffee. New research has found caffeine to be very effective at dispatching slugs. Save your dregs and spray them full strength directly on the beasts in the evening. Surround plants under attack with a mulch of used coffee grounds to deter slugs and feed the plants.
- Iron phosphate. Turns out that iron is very bad for a slug's digestion. Like deadly bad. So a new generation of products with brand names like "Sluggo" and "Escar-Go!" wrap iron in a slug-attracting bait. You simply scatter the pellets around plants in peril to wipe out the pests without poisons. (And a little extra iron is good for your garden soil.)
- Copper. Slugs get shocked when they touch this shiny metal. You can buy ready-made copper plant guards or just adorn your raised bed frames with copper flashing. Hot-glue rings of pennies around the tops of your containers. Drop captured slugs into a jar of pennies and watch 'em spark!
- Diatomaceous earth. Available at garden centers, 'DE' is the mined fossilized remains of dinosaur-era, sea-going creatures called diatoms. It looks like white flour, but is incredibly sharp on a microscopic level, dehydrating slugs on contact. Surround plants under attack with protective rings of DE (be sure to wear a dust mask); freshen them up if they get wet.
- Boards.Lay some old planks between your garden beds. The vampiric slugs will crawl underneath to hide from the sun. Come morning, lift the boards and scrape the slugs into a bucket with a flat piece of metal. Then do with them what you will. Hey—got any pennies?
- Human hair. Surround your plants with a protective barrier of hair. The slugs will get all tangled up in it and strangle (hey—it was them or the hostas!); and the hair will eventually add plant-feeding nitrogen to the soil.
- Citrus. Leave lemon, orange and grapefruit rinds out overnight near slug prone plants, and then collect and trash them—covered with slugs—first thing the next morning. Old lettuce leaves work well too.
- Vinegar. A spray bottle filled with plain white vinegar is a great cure for slugs that aren't on plants. An extremely effective mollusk dissolver, vinegar is also an herbicide—so don't spritz the salvia.
- Toads. Avoid all pesticides, provide water low to the ground and a damp shady spot for them to hide during the heat of the day, and these wonderful nocturnal predators will eat lots of slugs for you.
- Rove beetles. These big black bugs don't bother plants, but do eat LOTS of slugs and their eggs. So don't hurt them!
- Lightning bugs. The larval form of these summertime entertainers, the fascinating "glowworm," eats slugs and their eggs. To encourage adults to breed nearby, turn off outdoor lights at night, allow a small area of your garden to stay moist and a little weedy, and don't use pesticides.
- Ducks. Just turn a few loose in the garden—these feathered friends (and natural fertilizer providers) are among nature's FINEST slug-eaters! And all together now: "We can always use the eggs". Thank you.
You Bet Your Garden Question of the Week ©2005 Mike McGrath