Gardening with Deb: Sl__ughs
With the wet spring we’ve experienced this year, many gardeners are having problems with slugs … usually a rare occurrence in our dry, mountain environment.
A type of mollusk related to oysters and clams, slugs are small soft-bodied gray or brown worm-like creatures…like snails without their shells. They glide along using a muscular foot that secretes a mucus to make movement easier. The dried mucus is the trail of slime that you see indicating the presence of this pest.
A friend of mine asked how in the world they came to be in her garden this year when they had never been there before. Chances are they were there before, just never in such numbers because conditions in our generally warm, dry climate are not ideal for slugs. And since they come out at night, she probably never saw them or thought it was earwigs or other pests chewing on her foliage.
An adult slug can lay on average 80 eggs into a hole in the soil, sometimes up to six times a year. During our cold weather, they either hibernate in the soil or create a paper-like membrane that attaches to a tree trunk, fence or wall to seal themselves away from the cold. They love cool, damp conditions.
They are most active at nighttime, chewing away at both living plants and foliage that has begun to decay. They love succulents, seedlings, fruit (especially low to the ground fruits like strawberries and tomatoes) and the bark of young trees. While most damage is cosmetic, if you’re overrun with slugs, the extensive feeding can harm your plants, even killing them.
So what can be done to minimize damage and get rid of slugs?
You can hand pick them. During daylight hours, they’ll hide under large wood chips, boards, anywhere that’s damp and dark. Or at night, use a flashlight to catch them in the act. Use rubber gloves to pick them up and then either put them in a plastic bag and dispose of in the trash, or kill them in a bucket of soapy water or a weak ammonia solution, then pour into your compost pile once they are dead.
In the evening, you can set out a can, jar or dish filled with beer — fresh, not stale. The slugs are attracted to the yeasty smell and will crawl into the container and drown. Commercial beer traps are available, or you can just use an old plastic butter tub, leaving the rim an inch or two above the soil line so beneficial worms and beetles don’t fall in and pesky slugs can’t crawl out. If beer isn’t an option, try a water and yeast solution.
There are some commercial bait products designed to kill slugs, but beware of those containing metaldehyde. This bait is toxic to children, pets and other beneficial wildlife. Those products containing carbaryl will also be toxic to beneficial earthworms and the beetles that help keep down pests in your garden. These baits cause slugs to dry out and die. The slug baits that are safest for use around pets, children, birds and other wildlife are those that contain iron phosphate which cause slugs to die through starvation after several days.
To make it harder for slugs to find daytime protection from the sun and heat, make your garden less friendly to them by removing any hiding spots – rake up dead leaves and spent plant material, remove large wood chips and boards or planks under which they might hide. And water your plants in early morning so they are dry by evening, and thus less inviting to slugs.
Salting slugs is another option, but should be use sparingly since salt in your garden soil is not a good thing. The salt will cause the slugs to turn into a gooey mess and die from dessication.
An effective barrier to keep slugs from getting to trees or into a raised bed or patio container is the use of copper. When slugs touch shiny copper, they get an electric shock. Here’s a good use for all those pennies that keep filling your coin jar. Just glue a ring of them around the rim of your raised beds, or containers on the patio. There are also copper strips and tape sold in garden centers that can be used to create a barrier.
Diatomaceous earth, or DE, is another option that works in dry places in your garden. When slugs come into contact with this product, it is abrasive to their skin and dehydrates the slugs on contact. DE doesn’t work when it gets wet, so if you water the garden regularly or it rains, you’ll need to reapply this flour-like substance when it dries out.
A couple new research studies have found garlic and coffee to be effective ways to get rid of slugs. A spray bottle filled with a garlic solution or with a strong batch of cooled coffee can be spritzed on your plants in the evening to keep slugs away. It may also work to keep rabbits, deer and even mosquitoes away.
Once you’ve gotten your garden cleared of slugs, keep them away by keeping the garden as dry as you can and raking up any materials under which slugs will lay eggs or hide.
Deb Babcock is a volunteer Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? Call 970-879-0825 or email email@example.com.
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