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Slugging It Out

You aren’t the only one excited to see all that lush green new growth and colorful blooms popping up in your garden. If you’re like a lot of gardeners, you have slugs and snails hiding in your garden. They come out to feast after you are fast asleep, riddling your beautiful plants with noticeable holes and your blood pressure goes WAY up! So how can you control this assault on your precious plants?  There is no magic wand for most of us, the truth is it takes a lot of diligence to control these pests, but there are options and you can make an impact!

Contributors: Dr. Rick Schoellhorn

Keeping Slugs and Snails Away with Good Old-Fashioned Elbow Grease

  1. Keep garden waste to a minimum. Slugs and snails like to hide during the day under logs, branches, piles of old leaves, and any dark, overgrown areas where branches cover the ground. If you do a thorough cleanup of these areas in the fall, you’ll eliminate most of the slug eggs and have less trouble the following year. If you didn’t put in the elbow grease last fall, do it now.
  2. Snails like it wet – so dry things out a bit. You’ll see them after rain or on foggy days, and yes…
    they love your sprinkler system too! A great way to help reduce snails and slugs is shifting to a drip irrigation system instead of a traditional spraying sprinkler. The drier you can keep areas between plants, the less the snails and slugs will move about your garden. WaterWise® is a simple drip irrigation system that you can install in about an hour in a flower bed and keep not only water use but slugs and snails to minimum too. You may also find that drip irrigation makes your life a lot easier by reducing the amount of time you spend watering!
  3. Pick them off. This option is definitely not for the queasy! Every time you see a slug or snail, make it a habit of picking them out of your garden and disposing of them. Squash them under your foot, throw them into a bucket of soapy water, or cut them in half with your shovel and let the birds do the rest.
  4. Trap them. Slug and snail traps can be an effective way to get a bunch of the little guys into one place at one time. You can use a half of an eaten melon turned over so that it forms a small cave that will attract the little critters. In the morning, turn it over and either scrape the snails and slugs into a bucket of soapy water or throw the entire rind away in the garbage. Another type of traps uses a wet board laid nearly flat on the ground with enough space for the critters to hide under. You can trap a lot of invaders at once with this method, again scraping it clean each morning. And then there are the beer traps (ah so ever popular!) which are usually only marginally effective but fun to try. These kinds of traps need to be cleaned and refreshed daily. This option is a bit of an assault to the nose—imagine warm, slug-filled cups of beer and you’ll know what we mean. Finally, a bit of caution: You may have heard about using salt to kills snails and slugs. We don’t recommend it as salt is much more harmful to your plants than the slugs will be with far more permanent damage done as the salt stays in your soil.
  5. Watch Your Mulch Usage. Mulch is always a great way to maintain the health of a garden, but it does
     have a down side when it comes to slugs and snails. These pests love the additional moisture mulch provides and tend to burrow through it to reach covered stems and buds which they will feed on in the dark all day long. So what can you do? First, make sure that your mulch is not piled up against the stems of your flowers and shrubs. Form a basin around the crown of each plant where you keep the mulch away from its stems. In that basin around each plant, you can create a battle zone using whatever bait or control you wish. We’ll discuss that next. 

Engaging in Snail-on-Snail Warfare
In milder climates, there is a snail-eating snail you can buy to help control pests in the garden. These snails are called Decollate snails (Rumina decollata) and while they do not eat slugs, they do eat garden snails. Their shell looks like an upside down ice cream cone, so they look very different than garden snails. They can help in yards where the problems are not too severe. Keep in mind that the snail baits discussed below will also kill Decollate snails, so plan accordingly.

Slug and Snail Baits
Both organic and chemical slug and snail baits and sprays are available at most garden centers and home improvement stores. Both can be very effective at combating these pests, so the decision is yours on which you prefer to use in your garden. If you have children and pets who like to play in the garden, it would be wise to choose non-toxic baits.

Whichever bait you decide to use, there are a few basic principles you’ll need to follow for best success. First, it is best to water your garden before applying the product and then don’t water it again for a few days to give the slugs some time to find the bait before it starts to disintegrate. Set the bait out in the late afternoon or evening when slugs are most active and use it in the places where you’ve seen some damage. You may find that rotating the use of different kinds of baits will be more effective. They will usually need to be reapplied at least a couple of times; follow the directions on the package for best results.

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