It’s never too early to start protecting plants from slugs and snails. As soon as young shoots appear or seedlings germinate, the slugs are out in force munching them to shreds. Before you know it, you’ll be engaged in #slugwars. To win you’ll need a range of weapons in your armoury. Here are our ‘recommendations’ in increasing order of bloodthirstiness. Take your choice.
Vigilance At this time of year when you may have lots of pots and trays in the green house, don’t forget to move the pots and trays around regularly to find any slimy characters that may be hiding in amongst them. After all, its the seedlings you want to nurture not the slugs and snails! If you are bringing things in and out of the greenhouse during the day to start hardening off, you can easily bring slugs and snails back into the greenhouse where they will feast on your precious seedlings. A vigilant gardener is a successful gardener. Nip problems in the bud before they overwhelm you. A foray into your garden in the early morning or late at night with a torch will reveal a whole community of slug families that you just won’t see in the middle of the day. Remove them! Of course, what you do with the offending slugs once removed from your precious young plants is up to you. A game of snail racing is fun for children and may exhaust the offending molluscs for a while. A friend of mine takes them on a one way trip to waste land; another adds them to her green recycling bin, where they can munch on her garden waste until their trip to the composting depot. Others prefer to despatch them swiftly. The choice is yours.
Sacrificial plants I have grown a salad crop around my precious seedlings especially to feed greedy slugs. The thinking behind it is that they are so stuffed with lettuce that they will leave the flower seedlings alone. If you are of a squeamish disposition and don’t wish to commit mass slug murder and don’t mind a plot surrounded with shreds of lettuce, try it.
Barriers Keep your seedlings away from marauding slugs by putting up barriers. Crushed egg shells placed around plants may act as a protective barrier but are not 100% effective. Cloches made from cut up plastic drinks bottles work, place the cloche over the plant and push the edge of the plastic into the soil to prevent the slugs accessing the plant. Copper tape can be placed around the tops of pots or raised beds but this is an expensive option. A less expensive option for a small area is to glue copper coins (pre 1992 coins have a higher copper content) around the top of pots. I garden with a copper trowel, which has a limited ability to keep slugs at bay. I have no idea how it works but suspect traces of copper may be left around the plants.
Wildlife This is my prefered method of keeping the slug population under control. Ducks are effective slug munchers but most schools and home gardeners don’t have the facilities to home a duck family. The most enterprising among you might welcome some visiting ducks from a nearby owner from time to time. Frogs and toads will keep the slug population in your garden manageable. Make a frog a home in a damp, shady corner. Some old, broken terracotta pots are ideal. Attracting a hedgehog to your garden will also keep slugs at bay. There are far too few hedgehogs in evidence these days. In fact, some are the victims of eating slug pellets. Give one a home.
Traps Scooped out grapefruit halves are a great way to trap slugs. They love munching on the pith. Then collect them up and move them well away from your precious seedlings …. or despatch them swiftly. Beer traps are widely recommended but need to cleared out regularly. It’s a bit like working as the props manager on a horror movie. Also be aware that slugs are members of CAMRA and only real ale will do for them. The cheap stuff rarely works.
Slug pellets We don’t recommend slug pellets unless they are the ‘safe’ non chemical kind. Avoid the ones that contain Metaldehyde or Methiocarb. Sara uses a type containing Ferric Phosphate which are broken down into Iron and Phosphate in the soil (both of which are beneficial to the soil). There are some wool pellets available which create a protective barrier which slugs are not inclined to cross. Some slugs haven’t read the instructions and will cross anyway!
Nematodes Organic gardeners often water on nematodes but explaining to children exactly how they work may give them nightmares.
Bran Bran may appeal to some of your young growers – the ones who crave the yuk factor as it makes the slugs swell up and look like they might explode.
Salty water This was a method used very effectively by my mother. She regularly went out with a torch, rubber gloves and a bucket of salty water after dark. Any slugs discovered were popped into the bucket. Goodnight Vienna. Effective but disposing of the sludgy mess is not pleasant.
Scissors If you can bring yourself to do this (Sara is a bit of an expert slug scissor snipper) it is uber-effective. Snip the slugs in two and leave them to be eaten by birds. Those of you who are gardening with children may not want to encourage such widespread and bloodthirsty destruction of living things, even though slugs are a pesky nuisance. However, gardeners can be driven to the edge by slug damage and so we thought we’d better include it anyway. Another of our gardening friends uses the roots of couch grass to stab the slugs. Multi- tasking par excellence.
Happy hunting! May your chosen method prove effective.