By Geoffrey Ives, President & Founder of the Northeast Slug Defamation League
I am an amateur gardener; not a ‘prize winning roses’ gardener, more like a ‘some years I harvest Brussel Sprouts’ gardener. During spring and summer you’ll often find me digging, weeding, and harvesting, in our Maine garden. Two years ago I realized my garden was overrun by slugs. Perhaps due to my former habit of creating many convenient compost piles, and due to a series of cold, wet springs, I now seem to dedicate the majority of my outdoor time to the capture, and termination of slugs.
Slugs are a gardener’s nightmare. These slimy, legless creatures range from a quarter inch to three inches long. They excrete sticky mucus that helps them move across the lawn and garden. Slugs come in several bland colors that blend in with decomposing organic materials. They feed on delicate garden vegetables and fruits such as Lettuce, Swiss chard, Strawberries, and Basil. They can wipe out an entire bed of these plants overnight. I hate their guts, which are currently filled with my lettuce and chard.
Slugs procreate very efficiently, so there’s always a new generation of the slippery villains coming along. In our garden, we’re surrounded by hay fields. These healthy fields are a breeding ground for thousands of slugs, all of whom eventually get the message that things are much better in Geoffrey’s garden then they are in the field.
The best slug deterrent is dry weather. Slugs are 70% water, so as soon as the sun comes out they hide in places that preserve their moisture content. Thus, one way to control them is to capture them under old boards placed near threatened plants. Check under those boards and you will often find a few slugs. It is both convenient and enjoyable to put them on the board and squish them with your shoe.
Slugs are lushes. They love their beer. Actually it’s the scent of yeast that drives them wild. However, a bottle or dish with beer in it, left over night, may net a few of the more party oriented slime-balls. I use this method as a targeted trap in garden beds currently undergoing slug destruction. When I can’t find the guilty party mauling my Basil, a beer trap can sometimes lure them out. Be sure to leave them a ramp to get in so they can drown in their beer. Idiots.
Copper is to Sluggo, as Kryptonite is to Super-Man. Copper has an electrolytic reaction with slug mucus – it zaps the little turds. So I have lined some of my lettuce and chard beds with an adhesive copper tape I found on Amazon.com. And I’ve laid old pieces of copper plumbing along a garden edge. This electrolytic reaction is very cool, unfortunately slug life runs too slow for humans to pull up a chair and watch slugs suffer from electro shock therapy. You end up asleep.
Caffeine is no friend to the slug. Evidently coffee bothers them. So I spread the morning’s used coffee grounds around the bases of key plants. I sometimes water with leftover coffee. I figure, if slugs don’t like it, I’m giving it to them. Another kitchen waste product, egg shells can be used to deter slugs. Crush the shells into sharp little bits that rip open their sensitive slug skin when they try to slide by. Diatomaceous Earth has the same effect on the slimy dirt bags. But it must be replenished after rain.
There are anti-slug pesticides on the market. The only one I felt safe enough to use in my ‘sort-of organic’ garden is called Sluggo. It contains mostly iron-phosphate which they supposedly eat and then die. I like the dying part.
I read somewhere that ground limestone powder sweetens the soil, makes it too alkaline for slugs, so I line the perimeter of my garden with fresh lime after it rains.
Unfortunately, the best way to control slug infestations is by hand picking their cold, slimy bodies where they congregate. Consequently, during wet and cold stretches, about three times a day, I don a rain coat, grab a bucket, and make my rounds. I find most of the good-for-nothing lettuce hogs hanging around by the compost pile, smoking cigarettes, spray painting walls, and generally damaging property. You might want to wear gloves, but I just hand pick them with my bare fingers and place them in a bucket. I find old kale plants and sunflower heads are pretty good slug attracters, so I check around them. They like wet grass clippings too.
On a bad (good?) day I might net a couple of hundred the crawling phlegm machines. Once I’ve visited all the compost piles, reviewed the beds for active perpetrators, and combed the lawn for new comers, I fill the bucket with warm soapy water and set them out to slowly drown. “Take your medicine,” I might say sternly. Or, “You guys need to wash-up. You stink.” Or maybe, “You broke into the wrong garden, Slugmeister.” These small affirmations make up for the soul-pain a gardener experiences when his or her carefully cultivated basil seedlings turn to stem nubs overnight. While running the hot water and dish detergent into the bucket of ooze zombies you might say, “The Basil seedlings send their regards.”
But variety is the spice of life, and so it goes with slug disposal. Sometimes a small batch of captured compost bandits is perfect for board-on-board squishing. Or bring a hammer into the garden and pretend to nail a slug to a hard surface. Salt will kill them if you’ve got some near the garden. However you deal with the vegetable villain, have fun with it. Get creative. Show the slugs who the garden boss is.
For more garden pest solutions see:
- Flying rocks – the woodchuck & porcupine deterrent.
- Screaming at deer.
- Why gardening naked is a bad idea.
Still learning. I notice now that slugs travel in groups – possibly families. So when you find one, besure to look for Mom, Dad, and fat Grandma. They are probably hiding nearby. And look under nearby larger plants for slug hiding places.
I recently made my own pole with a sharp-pointed nail at the end – perfect for litter pick-up and slug-she-bab. Impale the slippery-mush buckets and then cast the pole over your shoulder like casting a baited hook for fish. Watch as the garden trasher sails through the air with a hole through its middle. My fantasy is that they land in the field in the midst of a slug family headed my way, providing a morbid warning to the crawling travelers, “Beware! Stay away from Geoffrey’s garden or he will run you through!”