A couple of nights ago, I was letting my dog out and came face to face with a slug that was right about eye level on my sliding glass door. This reminded me just how much slugs like wet weather and got me thinking about how many times I have had to battle slugs in my garden in the past. Now that my drip system is finally up and running, I am looking forward to getting my spring garden going soon and, if you have similar plans, I think we all better be ready for more slugs than we are used to dealing with this year.
All of this rainy weather after years of drought is going to bring out the snails and slugs in force, particularly with a growing population being supported by all of the plant growth brought on by the rain. Since these tiny marauders generally work at night, it can be difficult to determine what is devastating your garden, but if you are finding large, irregular holes in your plants’ foliage, these nocturnal trespassers are likely the culprit.
It may be tempting to head to a local nursery for commercial pesticides or to concoct home remedies that will quickly decimate your slug population, but these are not always the best options. There are many natural alternatives that offer non-lethal, non-toxic ways to protect your food plants and ornamentals from slugs without harming other wildlife or introducing unnecessary compounds into your garden.
Before you resort to commercial pesticides, try these non-lethal measures to keep slugs from invading your yard.
1. Plant alliums and herbs: Onions, garlic and other members of the allium family are natural deterrents for slugs and snails, so planting them around the border of your garden will help protect other food plants. Keep in mind that alliums are toxic to dogs and cats, so if you have pets that get in your garden, this might not be the right option for you. Alternatively, you can plant herbs that ward off slugs, such as mint, thyme, sage, lavender, and rosemary.
2. Spray your plants: If planting onions and garlic is not an option, you can spray a mixture of garlic and water directly on your plants and the surrounding area. You will need to repeat this home remedy regularly.
3. Remove manually: If you are okay with touching slugs, removing them manually is an effective method of management. Make sure to move them at least 20 feet away from your garden to keep them from coming back. I get grossed out pretty easily, so this method is difficult for me, but one way to make it easier is to place citrus peels upside down in your garden at night. Return in the morning to collect the peels and use them to scoop up the slugs that have taken shelter underneath.
4. Wrap your garden beds in copper: Purchase rolls of copper tape from a local garden center or online. Line the outer edge of your garden beds and flowerpots with the self-adhesive tape to create a barrier to block entry. The combination of copper and slug slime creates an electrical shock that will quickly deter slugs without killing them.
5. Remove habitat: Slugs like to spend their days protected from the sun and dry air under rocks, flowerpots, firewood, weeds, and even children’s toys left near the garden. To help reduce slugs in your garden, remove these options to encourage slugs to find shelter elsewhere.
6. Water in the morning: It is easier for slugs to slither around when the soil is wet, so watering in the evening allows these nocturnal pests to more easily get to your plants. If you water your garden in the morning, the soil has time to dry out before nightfall, making it more difficult for slugs to infiltrate your garden.
7. Create a barrier: Slugs have soft bodies that make traversing sharp materials painful. This allows for easily keeping slugs out of the garden with barriers made from gravel, wood chips, broken eggshells, or other jagged ground covers.
8. Plant sacrificial plants: Like most animals, slugs and snails prefer to eat certain plants. For example, they would much rather dine on lettuce than ornamental plants, so if you have slugs eating your ornamentals, plant some lettuce in your beds and borders to distract the slugs and keep them away from your desired plants. If you are having issues with slugs eating your food plants, plant French marigolds a few feet away from your garden to attract slugs and distract them from ever getting to your food plants.
9. Introduce predators: This is a lethal method, so you need to be okay with killing slugs. If you are, bringing in chickens or making your garden appealing to birds and other predators is a natural, effective way to reduce the slug population. The problem with bringing in predators is that you usually have to balance the pros and cons to determine if this is your best option. For example, bringing in chickens is going to remove slugs from your garden, but chickens also like to eat vegetables, so they may be just as detrimental to your food plants.
As with most natural pest control methods, you will likely experience the most success by employing a combination of these methods in your garden.
If you need help building garden beds or installing a drip system, be sure to support the local economy by hiring local contractors.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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