Cures for a Sluggish Garden

July 1, 2019

They work at night under the protective cloak of darkness, slithering along on a silvery slime secreted from their own bodies. As daylight takes over the garden, they seek dank and dark places to hide from the sun. The only traces remaining from their attack are hardened, slimy trails glistening in the light and rough holes in the leaves and stems of plants.

Who are these slippery culprits that deface scores of plants yet are barely ever seen? The villains responsible for this dastardly damage are slugs. Slugs are gray to brown in color and have been known to reach 4 inches in length. Lacking a protective shell, they must seek out shelter during the day to retain body moisture and temperature. They hide under garden debris and boards, and they flourish during wet spells.

Left uncontrolled, slugs can become serious pests. Favorite foods include lettuce, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, beans, and peas. In the perennial garden they love hosta, delphiniums, tulips, and daffodils.

Some gardeners stalk these evasive creatures at night with flashlights and pull them from the leaves of plants. (Latex gloves make the task less unpleasant.) Other gardeners place shingles, inverted flowerpots, or citrus rinds in the garden; slugs congregate beneath them and can be collected daily. Drop the slugs into a can of salt or hot, soapy water to finish them off.

A modified version of the classic slug trap is a deep container filled with ½ inch of beer, or sugar water and yeast, sunk so that the top edge is slightly above ground. When the unsuspecting mollusk stops in for a drink on his way home, he drowns. Slug barriers are yet another foil. Wood ashes spread in a four-inch band around plants seem to deter slugs. Sand, stone dust, and other abrasive material is also used in hopes of ripping open the slug’s stomach as it speeds across the surface (highly unlikely for a creature whose odometer reads in feet per day).

Keeping the garden tidy is one of the most effective ways of controlling slugs. Rake leaves from ground covers and from under shrubs often. Pick up flowerpots, flats, and debris to eliminate hiding places.

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I have been collecting slugs from my garden for the University of Alberta here in Edmonton, Canada. Thy are studying natural diseases for our local slugs to find a biological control for them. Our slugs are under an inch long.