Slugs, slugs, slugs…. what’s the best solution to ridding our vegetable patches and borders of these slimy little beings without automatically reaching for the slug pellets? It’s the question I’m asked the most and everyone has their own answer.
Before you start obliterating the garden of every last slug in sight however, it’s important to know that not all of them are baddies. Leopard slugs (which we found with a mouth stuffed full of cat food one evening!) also eat dead animals and hunt other slugs. Defra have a page here containing the most common which will help with identification, and I’d recommend you take a peek as slugs can do great work for us in our compost heaps.
So now you know your leopards from your common or grey keeled varieties, what can you do to get rid of them?
From beer to salt, copper to egg shell’s, I’ve heard lots of tips and advice over the years. Here are the most common fifteen:
- Encourage predators into your garden – birds, frogs, toads, Devils coach-horse beetles and hedgehogs all like to snack on slugs. Ducks and some hens (sadly not mine!) enjoy snacking out on them too if you’re lucky enough to have them. Turning over soil will expose the slugs to birds in dry weather. If you let your poultry roam the garden but are worried about your seedlings and plants, covering the soil with horticultural fleece is said to be enough of a deterrent to keep them away.
- Beer traps – bury shallow plastic containers around your garden (take away containers are the ideal size) and sacrifice a drop of your favourite brew. If you can’t bear to give up your drink, pubs may give you something from the slop bucket if you ask nicely. Be careful not to fully bury the container though – leave a small ‘lip’ above the soil level so that beneficial beetles don’t fall in and drown. Alternatively pour some beer into a spray bottle and spray all the weeds. As the slugs like the beer so much the idea here is that they’ll eat the weeds, leaving your veggies alone. You’d have to question whether you want your garden to smell like a brewery though.
- Egg shells. I’ve tried these and I personally didn’t notice a difference. However, as we have hens and use a lot of eggs I heard a new method recently that I’m going to try out. Collect and wash egg shells then heat in the oven to harden them. Put the egg shells in a food processor and blitz until small, then place a protective ring around seedlings. A friend swears by this! You could also use sawdust, sand or seaweed – all of which are supposed to hinder the slugs movements.
- Copper. Mr G spent ages stripping the copper out of some old electrical wire a few years back, patiently stapled it around the raised beds and placed a slug in pole position to test out the theory that slugs don’t like copper. The slug smooched his way over the wire and straight into the veggie bed. The trick with the copper is to use lots – thick bands can be purchased at garden centres, or even better if your budget will allow, buy copper tools that discard tiny pieces into the soil.
- Traps. If you don’t like to kill creatures of any description you can trap slugs safely. Cover an area with cardboard or black plastic prior to sowing. The slugs will all hide under it so that when you expose them a few days later you can pick them off. Slugs also like grapefruit so leave halved and emptied shells lying around (dome side up) with little doorways cut into them. The slugs will head into them, hiding away until you can collect them up and add them to the compost heap.
- Instant Death. If you prefer to permanently get rid of slugs the quickest way is to put boiling water into an empty milk carton, pick them up and drop them in. I’ve read that after a few days this foul-smelling solution can be watered onto soil which will detract other slugs from venturing onto it, but have yet to try it. I’ve another friend who simply cuts them in half with scissors – I guess when you’ve seen slugs wipe out your entire seed collection the war is on!
- Microscopic nematodes ‘phasmarhabditis hermaphrodite’ also known as NemaSlug are available online that can be watered onto plants. They are said to be very effective but the downside is that they’re quite pricey and will have to be re-applied after six weeks or so.
- Use ‘safe’ iron based phosphate slug pellets such as “Growing Success Advanced Slug Killer” or Ferramol Phosphate which is approved for organic farming. Unlike ‘regular’ slug pellets these will only kill slugs and snails. Regular slug pellets are usually made from poisoned cereals containing Metaldehyde or Methiocarb which (because they are food based) are also attractive to cats, dogs, birds and hedgehogs.
- Caffeine. Slugs and snails do not like coffee. Sprinkling coffee grounds around plant bases will act as a repellent, as does filling a spray with cold, strong coffee and spraying slugs.
- Bran came out tops in a Gardeners World trial a few years ago. They placed a ring of bran around each plant ensuring it didn’t touch the stems. As slugs are almost entirely made up of water, the bran had a desiccating effect which killed them. Salt would have a similar effect but as its toxic to all but a few salt tolerant creatures and plants, and not good for the soil it’s not recommended.
- Planting flowers and herbs around borders that will repel slugs such as Astrantia, Lady’s Mantle, Dianthus, Foxglove, Geranium, Peony, Lavender, Phlox, Alyssum and Lobelia, African violet, Strawberry Begonia and Gloxinia may help, but it’s unlikely that anybody with a standard vegetable patch/allotment arrangement would go to this trouble. I can’t help but think how lovely a lavender hedge around my patch would look and smell though, and attract lots of bees and hoverflies in too.
- Start seedlings off indoors and transplant them outside when they’re about 10cm or so in height will give them protection. If you’re unable to do this, place a cut in half clear drink bottle around seeds/seedlings until they’re bigger and stronger.
- Watering. Slugs prefer dark, damp conditions so if they are a problem in your garden, avoid watering in the evenings.
- Diatomaceous earth and or rock lava have been used as a barrier around plants as their sharp edges lacerate the soft-bodied slugs, ultimately leading to dehydration and death.
- Garlic. Slugs don’t like the smell so you could try crushing a clove and adding it to the watering can, sprinkling the mixture over areas worse affected.
Have you any sure-fire tips for saving your vegetables from slugs? Have any of these worked for you?