Slugs are probably the most annoying garden pests, but they are also an important foodstuff for a huge range of garden friends. From hedgehogs and birds, to frogs, toads, slowworms and even lizards and snakes, these soft-bodied molluscs are an important part of the food chain.
But there are thousands of them in most gardens, so unless you have a really healthy population of slug-eating wildlife, you will at some stage need to employ a few anti-slug tactics to keep your plants alive. Warm, damp spring and summer weather is the time when you will see the most slug damage, especially to soft new shoots and foliage and seedlings. Look out for slug eggs in the soil and within the compost of your potted plants. Leave them out for the birds as tasty treats, they are like caviar to sparrows.
Use an integrated approach for the best results and always choose safe, wildlife friendly controls especially if you have children visiting your garden, or own pets.
- Homemade beer traps will capture large numbers of the marauding beasts at night, but can also catch beneficial beetles, so ensure you leave a beetle ramp (a stick or two) for these to escape, or raise the trap above the level of the soil to stop beetles falling in. Slugs are quickly intoxicated by the beer and will drown in a soporific sleep.
- Years ago I tested many slug traps for the Daily Telegraph and found that the Slug-X slug trap an excellent design and very effective at catching the beasties. One night we trapped a staggering 147 slugs in just one trap. The worst bit was having to count them. Available from the Green Gardener website and other online retailers.
- Barriers can be effective. Think dry, jagged and gritty; some gardeners swear by crushed eggshells, others use sheep wool products and hair from the hairdressers. Remember too that slugs can move around under the soil, in between the soil particles.
- Nematodes are a natural chemical free way to control slugs. Apply when the weather is warm and the soil is moist for the best results. Perfect for use around edible plants and for organic gardeners.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking the big garden slugs are the most destructive. Actually it’s the tiny ones that do a massive amount of damage.
- Not all slug pellets are bad (avoid those containing metaldehyde and especially the more poisonous methiocarb). Instead, choose environmentally-friendly pellets, based on ferrous sulphate or ferric phosphate – such as Richard Jackson’s slug & snail control – to keep your slithery enemy under control. They are very effective and much safer if you share your garden with pets, children and wildlife.
- Don’t pile any type of pellets up. A higher dose doesn’t kill more slugs and poses a much greater risk to pets, wildlife and children. Where possible use just two or three pellets per metre square and place under a propped tile to hide them from inquisitive little fingers.
- Alternatively place one pellet inside a narrow necked bottle, laid on its side in the flowerbed. The slugs will crawl in attracted to the bait and the pellets will be inaccessible to wildlife.
- If you don’t mind the disgusting, stickiness of picking them up, then consider a torch lit slug hunt. These voracious eaters love the damp evenings and night and will leave the shelter of their safe haven and feed while it is dark. Grab a bucket and a torch and take a wander around your plot (don’t forget the greenhouse if you’ve got one). You will find them slithering all over your plants. Simply pick them off and place in the bucket. What you do with them is up to you.