Slug Control - How to Get Rid of Slugs
Slugs are voracious feeders and have the ability to create havoc in a vegetable plot or decorative garden within a very short space of time. But, as gardeners, we have a variety of strategies to hand to enable us to curb the excesses of these creatures, whilst at the same time doing no active harm to the other wildlife in our gardens.
How to Identify Slugs
Unfortunately, the first that most of us know of a slug infestation in our garden is the resultant damage that we see on our plants following a visit by our local slugs.
The reason we do not see them very often is that most slugs are nocturnal feeders, and many, such as the keel slug, spend most of their time underground where they attack root vegetables.
However, we live in Britain and inevitably experience warm, damp summers and cool, wet winters. In other words, ideal conditions for all varieties of slug. We should, therefore, assume that we have slugs in our garden or allotment and as part of slug control take preventative measures to protect our plants as a matter of course.
Damage Caused by Slugs
Slugs can damage, or even wipe out, a wide variety of crops. Some members of the slug family operate underground and attack root crops, while others, such as the field slug, move about on the surface. Several of the surface feeding varieties can climb too. Most tender plants can be affected by slug damage, with brassicas and potatoes being particularly vulnerable.
Slug Control – Non-Chemical
Non-chemical methods of preventing slug damage offer the gardener a range of options:
Barrier Methods – These stop surface-feeding slugs reaching your crops by providing a barrier around our plants that slugs are unwilling or unable to cross. Traditionally these have been made from soot, crushed shells or grit. Such materials are effective in themselves but, being natural products, they can easily be dispersed by wind or rain. Plastic strips sunk into the ground and reaching at least 25cm in height, are a more durable alternative but can be unsightly and quite fiddly to maintain.
Manual removal - This is a labour-intensive method, but is very effective and can be made into something of a game in order to involve the younger members of your household. It simply requires going out at dusk, or after dark with a torch, and picking up and disposing of individual slugs as they feed. By definition, however, this is not an effective method to rid your garden of root feeding slugs.
Beer traps - Another traditional method. One sinks jars, such as jam jars, into the soil every meter or so. Fill the jar a quarter full with beer and, overnight, the aroma of the beer will attract a number of slugs to each jar, thereby to a somewhat soporific death. On the negative side, you will have to be prepared to refill the jars regularly because of dilution by rain or evaporation in hot weather. Be careful to ensure the rim of the jar sits 2cm or so above the level of the soil to avoid beetles inadvertently falling in. Alternatively pre-made slug traps can be purchased from Pest Control Supplies.
Utilising natural predators - Birds, frogs and hedgehogs will eat slugs and should be encouraged into your garden. A recent and very effective development to destroy slugs, while at the same time causing no harm to other creatures, is to use nematodes. These tiny organisms can be bought in a pack and watered into your plot. Once in the soil, they target and destroy all types of slug.
Slug Control - Chemical
A range of chemical options exist, but you should exercise caution when using them to avoid harming other wildlife. Metaldehyde pellets, for example Insecto Pellets, should be used with caution, but can be especially effective if spread very thinly around young seedlings, and in such a way that they cannot be reached by birds and household pets. Far better, in terms of other wildlife, is to use non-toxic slug gels whihc are safe to use around children and pets.
Good management of one's garden can help prevent slugs getting a hold. By digging or rotavating any bare ground or whenever a crop has been cleared you will disturb slugs and their eggs and expose them to their predators. Also, regularly move and check those lumber piles and stacks of upturned pots that most gardeners seem to accumulate as slugs will often take refuge in such places. Finally, several species of plant, particularly some varieties of potato, have been bred to carry a resistance to slug attack and these should be considered.
The good gardener’s strategy for keeping slugs at bay, therefore, is to employ an integrated system incorporating chemical, non-chemical and good garden management strategies.
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