One of the downsides of all the recent rain we’ve been experiencing are the pests and diseases that thrive in these damp garden conditions. One such pest is the common brown or gray garden slug. These are a type of mollusk related to clams and oysters and the damage they do in a garden is mostly cosmetic. They cut irregular shaped holes in leaves of plants but later in the season they can feed or ripening fruits and vegetables.
Since I don’t use pesticides in my garden I combat slugs using a variety methods most of them cheap, organic and natural ways of killing slugs.
The first thing you should do is maintain your garden free of debris like fallen leaves and plants that are dying back. The shady and damp conditions caused by a messy garden help slugs thrive. If you mulch try not to use the really large wood chips because they provide good hiding places for slugs.
Attract birds to your garden that will eat garden slugs by planting trees and shrubs or placing a bird bath in your garden.
You can buy products at a local garden center like Escar-Go and Sluggo or make your own bait out of household items like beer and cornmeal. The beer trick has been used by home gardeners for a long time. Simply place beer in a container at least three inches deep around the garden where you have a slug problem. The slugs are attracted to the yeast and barley in beer, climb in and drown. Clear out the slugs and refill with beer. Place a couple of tablespoons of cornmeal in an empty jar and lay it on its side in the garden. Go out in the evenings and check the traps and empty them out.
You can also buy copper tape at a local garden center, which doesn’t kill slugs it just deters them, and place it around your seedlings and plants slugs are prone to attack. This spring I happened upon a construction site and I asked the workers if they would let me collect copper scraps from around the construction site.
I used the scraps of copper pipes as protective collars around some seedlings and didn’t notice any losses due to slug damage. When slugs come into contact with copper a toxic reaction occurs between the copper and the slime that the slug releases, causing a small electrical shock that repels them. As you already may know, copper will develop a patina when exposed to the elements so clean it up by sanding it down to keep it clean and effective.
Diatomaceous earth is the sharp, jagged skeletal remains of microscopic creatures. It is often recommended sprinkled around garden beds because soft-bodied pests, like the slug, will crawl over it and get lacerated eventually die from dehydration. Diatomaceous earth isn’t very effective when wet, instead of wasting your money on it try coffee grounds and crushed egg shells.
I wish I could say my aversion to insecticides came from wanting to make a difference or protecting the environment, but the truth is I like to take pictures and bugs make great models. I will not have much to photograph if I’m spraying for one type of bug that will incidentally kill other bugs in my garden.
Make your garden hospitable to predator bugs like, lightning bugs, that not only add interest and life to your garden but also help keep pests under control.
My favorite method of controlling slugs in the garden is just to pick them by hand and throw them into the middle of the street where they will get run over by cars– if the birds don’t spot them first. If I’m feeling particularly sadistic I’ll collect them in a container and cover them in salt and watch them dissolve. A gardener once told that their preferred method of slug torture was to impale them on bamboo skewers and setting them along the fence where the birds could munch on them.