Did you know that 95% of the slugs in your garden can be found underground? Slugs can cause a lot of damage throughout the year on a wide range of plants, but it’s the seedlings and new shoots of spring that are most at risk.
Slugs are so overabundant in gardens that some damage will have to be tolerated. It’s impossible to completely eradicate these pests but controlling them is essential. Fortunately, some measures can be taken to help protect your most vulnerable plants and minimise the damage caused by these pests.
Biological control options such as ‘Nemaslug’ are specific to slugs and snails and have no adverse effects on other animals. This product contains microscopic worms that work by entering a slug’s body and infecting it with a bacteria that causes disease and then death. All you need to apply this option is a watering can with a Course rose attachment.
Other preventive measures include:
- Encourage predators into your garden, these include -birds, frogs, toads, hedgehogs, slow-worms and ground beetles.
- Place ‘Slug Traps’.
- Place copper tape around pots, seed trays, garden furniture, even onto sturdy plants.
- Regularly rake the soil and remove fallen leaves in winter to enable birds to eat the exposed slug eggs.
Slug killers that are based on aluminium sulphate are not strictly organic. However, they are environmentally friendly. These versions of slug killers kill slugs and snails on contact with minimal risk to pets or other wildlife. Commercially available products using aluminium sulphate as an include Fertosan and Growing Success.
Removing the caps from plastic bottles and cutting off the bottom end will make an excellent protective cloche for young plants. Be sure to check freshly transplanted plants to ensure no slugs have become trapped inside.
SAS slug and snail repellent is made with natural yucca extract that when sprayed on the ground, forms a physical barrier that slugs and snails won’t cross. It will withstand light rain but will need to be resprayed after a torrential downpour.
Other materials such as forest bark, crushed eggshells, wood ash, human hair and even soot are said to make practical slug barriers when sprinkled around plants and on the ground. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of any obstacle that dries out the slime that slugs and snails move on is inevitably weather dependant, but maybe worth trying, especially if the affected area has protection from the elements; for best results, apply the material at a width of a few inches.
There are many trap types commercially available; many however can be easily made at home from empty plastic pots such as half-buried yogurt pots filled with milk, water or even beer. These are especially useful when protecting newly planted seedlings. However, these types of traps have also been known to trap giant, black ground beetles. These beetles are your friend as they eat slugs, so make sure to keep the lip of the trap at least 2 cm above ground to stop these beetles becoming trapped.
A bed of lettuce in Spring is a real treat to slugs looking for a good meal. Try to sow some sacrificial crops of something you know slugs love; this may help reduce any damage to the crops you want to harvest for yourself.
Avoid susceptible plants
Too often gardeners attempt to grow plants that are unsuitable for their site. Unfortunately, this is also true for plants that are very susceptible to slugs and snails; in this case, it isn’t worth the effort. If you find that slugs are continually eating away at your garden, then maybe have a go planting something else instead. Alternatively, you could try using terracotta pots or wooden planter for these plants to keep them out of reach of slugs.
Baiting and handpicking
Slugs will inevitably collect in cold & damp spots. You can always use this fact to your advantage by using a piece of wet cardboard held down with a stone, lift it at regular intervals to pick and dispose of the slugs by dropping them into a pot of salty water. Alternatively, Tongs, Forceps or a pair of thick rubber gloves can be used if the idea of touching slugs repulses you. This method alone is unlikely to reduce any slug population in the long run but can be used to save individual plants.
Autumn and Winter digging.
Leaving the ground rough and lumpy while slugs are still active will allow the species that hibernate to move deep into the soil. Digging in Winter while the ground is cold and slugs are less active may also help kill slugs by exposing them to predators. Look out for slug eggs while digging. These appear like small clusters of colourless, eggs, almost like small frogspawn.
Direct sown crops
Directly sown crops can be eaten off by slugs, especially in the early Spring when topsoil is cold and seedlings are slow to emerge. You can increase the rate of seedling growth by:
- sowing later in the season,
- choosing the warm, dry parts of the garden for sowing early.
- pre-germinated seeds
- improve soil so not to hinder seed germination. Using Peat free multipurpose compost will prevent a crust of earth forming over seedling and will help seedlings emerge sooner.
- If you have been using a thick organic mulch over Winter, remove it a few weeks before sowing, this will allow the soil to warm up. You are waiting until crops are established before mulching will also aid in reducing slug damage. Mulches harbour slugs, but also provides shelter for their predators, such as Giant Black beetles.
If sowing directly always fails, the transplants may be a better alternative. They must again grow quick to survive slug attacks, so it is best to raise them in individual modules, so there is minimal damage to growth when they get planted out. It is worth growing plants a little longer before transplanting. A 3ft length of plastic guttering can be used to sow crops such as peas; these plants can then be slid into place once they are well grown.
The main attack on potato tubers happens in late summer and autumn, so lifting the crop by the end of August, at the latest, can help to reduce any damage. If harvesting early reduces the yield too much, consider choosing early varieties and decreasing the spacing between plants to about 12 inches each way. Doing this will reduce the size that each plant will reach, but will also produce crops earlier, with more plants in the given space, so overall yield should remain the same.
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