Slugs! The bane of every gardener. One day your lettuces look set to win a prize at the village show, the next they are reduced to a stump by these slimey fiends.
The lovely weather for vegetables (rain!) means that hundreds of the little blighters emerged to wreak havoc on cabbages and my Dad's chili plants (he was NOT amused!). Lili from creativesavv left a comment saying that she was having a lot of trouble with them over in the USA too, due to the weather.
Can anything be done to save the crops and flowers we have spent hours nurturing??
There are a lot of techniques for slug control, from lethal measures to methods that leave the slugs happy but noticeably absent from your vegetable patch! I must admit that I would much prefer to leave slugs alive wherever possible because it is not a life-or-death situation for me. Yes it's annoying if my crops get munched but there's always a trip to Tesco for some lettuce.
- Gritty barriers – Slugs and snails are very keen to protect their soft “foot”, so placing a barrier of sharp grit around plants will make them think twice about trying to attack your vegetables. Top things to use include crushed eggshells (make sure they are washed or you will attract vermin),
coffee grounds (slugs are also repelled by the remaining caffeine, which is poisonous to them)(Edit: actually it is illegal to use coffee as a pesticide), sand and oats.
- Sacrificial plantings – Protect your valuable crops by planting a sacrificial ring of less-important plants that slugs go crazy for. A great example is lettuce. The effect of this can be enhanced by spraying your sacrificial plants (and other weeds near your vegetable patch) with beer, which slugs looooove!
- Copper rings / aluminium foil – I've heard great things about copper. You can buy little rings to put around your plants, which should give slugs a little electric shock. It's not lethal, but hurts just enough to make them turn back. The same effect is said to be had with aluminium foil. I recently tested these two metals and found them woefully lacking however. Gary the test slug happily slimed from copper coins to foil and back again!
Gary didn't mind copper or aluminium!
I think gardeners should employ as many of the above non-lethal techniques as possible in combination. None of them would probably be effective enough alone, but gritty barriers combined with sacrificial plantings should give your vegetables enough respite from the slimey villains.
If you want to get serious, here are some lethal methods for getting rid of slugs in a way that will not harm the rest of the wildlife in your garden:
- Slug pellets – Old-fashioned slug pellets are toxic to helpful birds and mammals that eat the dying slugs, as well as unwitting pets or children that might eat them. Now there are non-toxic varieties that are much more specific to slugs and snails, such as ferrous phosphate or aluminium sulphate.
- Nematodes – Nematodes are microscopic worms that are by far the most numerous organisms found on Earth. They can be found almost anywhere on the planet, but some soil-living nematodes are particularly good at killing slugs. Nemaslug (the trade name for slug-killing nematodes) is a fairly expensive method of slug disposal, coming in at around £10.75 including postage, but it is easy to apply and will kill slugs above and below ground over a 40m2 area for six weeks. They are specific to slugs and will not harm other forms of wildlife.
- Beer traps – A far cheaper method is a beer trap; a plastic container of beer buried slightly below the ground with a lip so that slugs can enter but hopefully excluding most other small invertebrates. Slugs are attracted to the smell of beer, then fall into the trap and drown. Beer can be used in non-lethal methods too (see above).
My alma mater Cardiff University has done a lot of research into the prevention of slugs and snails. Professor William Symondson wrote this article containing an absolute wealth of information for killing, repelling and distracting slugs.
Do you have any top tips for slug distraction or removal? I'll be using coffee grounds to protect my cabbages. Mum works in a coffee shop, but you can pick them up for free at any Starbucks.