No one wants to wake up to find their plants chewed up. Slugs are one of those pests that’s particularly frustrating because you say goodnight to a gorgeous, thriving garden, but wake up to holes in your lettuce, and other plants a well. It seems impossible to win against an enemy you never even see. Don’t worry. It is possible to control slugs. You can get rid of slugs and prevent them from coming back with a little work.
You don’t want to get rid of slugs completely. Having some in the garden is a good thing.
Why Are Slugs Good For The Garden?
Don’t panic! I’m not about to tell you to invite slugs into your yard. But I am going to tell you why you don’t need to worry if you see a slug or two.
As with anything, when you have too many slugs, they become a problem. But some slugs actually help your garden.
Slugs attract beetles as well as some birds, like thrushes, to your yard. When you have beneficial beetles and birds in your yard, they prevent the slugs from taking over, and also help control other pests.
Unsure whether you’ve found a beneficial beetle or a pest? Check out Insects of Alberta to help identify the bug in your garden.
If you use products that kill slugs, including nematodes, then the beneficial creatures don’t have as much food, and they leave. If you use chemical control, this can also hurt the birds and beneficial bugs. Whether you use a natural approach or a chemical approach doesn’t matter. What matters is if you use an approach to completely remove slugs from your garden, then you loose the balance of beneficial creatures as well.
Then the slugs become a problem again the following year, but you’d have even fewer beneficial bugs and birds. It becomes a vicious cycle that gets a lot worse before it ever gets better.
When slugs aren’t eating our flowers and vegetables, they do provide other benefits to our yard. They help clean up leaves, and other vegetation that’s fallen to the ground, they also help clean up cat and dog feces.
So now that you know there are good reasons to have some slugs, let’s move on to talking about how to control them.
A Common Mistake
A common mistake gardeners make is using salt in their garden to control slugs. This is a mistake I’ve made a few times as well. We know it works, and when you turn over a garden stone and find dozens of slugs, it’s easy to panic and want to get rid of them as quickly as possible.
But salt’s not the best way for your garden.
Yes, it does kill them, but it also really messes up the pH and ecosystem for the rest of your garden creating an even bigger problem if you use it frequently over time.
How To Get Rid of Slugs When You Find Them
Let’s say you go to your garden and find several slugs. What can you do instead of pouring salt on them?
There are several different ways you can deal with individual slugs. You can pick them up and drop them in a bucket of water (I often use soapy water). Honestly, I can’t handle touching slugs, even with gloves on, so I usually us something else to slide under them and drop them in a bucket that way.
You can also squish them or stab them. It’s not pretty, but killing them by hand is the best way to deal with them when you find them. Though if you don’t have an infestation, it’s okay to just pretend you didn’t see it and go garden somewhere else until it’s moved on.
How to Deter Slugs
Getting rid of slugs individually isn’t a lot of fun, so it’s best to control the population before they become a problem. The biggest tip is to adjust when you water your garden. Water in the morning, before 10AM. When you water in the evening, the moisture stays in place longer and provides a more enticing home for slugs.
As mentioned earlier, make sure your garden welcomes beneficial bugs as well as birds such as thrushes, robins and even crows or magpies.
Ground beetles that feed on slugs like to live in grasses. Providing a ground cover, such as thyme, in problem areas provides a nice home for the beetles. Thrushes like to have a more wooded home. A variety of plants, especially ones that create a woodland feel bring them into your yard.
Finding and killing the eggs is a labour intensive, but effective, way to cut down your slug population. This method works great when you know where the problem is concentrated.
Starting in spring, as soon as your garden has warmed enough for ladybugs to hatch, and come out of their hiding places, begin by turning over anything slugs might be hiding under. This includes mulch.
If you see clear, or white eggs, that may look like a blob of jelly, scrape them off and get rid of them.
To be clear, you’re not mixing your mulch into your garden, you’re turning it over so it dries out and exposes any eggs that might be hiding under it. Most of the time a problem area is moist, has cool, dark areas to hide, and has low traffic.
Plants Resistant To Slugs
Some plants attract slugs, others repel them. Sacrificial plants, as I like to call them, attract pests away from your garden. These plants are there to be eaten by bugs (or deer/hares, but that’s a different post). Plant the attractor away from your garden, but also plant repellants around the plants you want to protect.
Garlic and mint are two common plants that are good at deterring several different pests, including slugs. Plants that don’t necessarily repel them, but survive and continue to look nice despite them include:
- Ornamental Grasses
Some myths about deterring slugs persist and I’d like to put them to rest.
- Sprinkle Egg Shells Around Your Plants
- Sprinkling egg shells around your plants may sometimes deter slugs. But whether it works or not is really up to the individual slug.
- At best slugs have a minor preference for not crossing egg shells. But even with two identical plants offered, one circled by shells and one not circled, both will be eaten about the same.
- Egg shells do offer other benefits to the garden, so it doesn’t hurt to try.
- Use Copper
- Like egg shells, copper doesn’t really deter slugs. Some slugs cross without any hesitation, others avoid it.
- If you have an infestation, copper won’t help. If you don’t have an infestation, you don’t need copper.
- Beer set in a slug trap does work as an attractant.
- But slugs can easily climb out of many types of containers. So you’ll give a few slugs a party, and maybe kill 1.
- Slugs need to get close to the beer trap for it to work. Set it near where the infestation is worst to be most effective.
- To create a beer trap that works, you need something that a slug will go into, but that it can’t get out of. like the picture below. Cut a bottle in half, turn the top over and place it in the bottom upside down. Pour some beer into the bottom, but not all the way to the bottle opening.
- Bury the trap so it’s level with the top of the ground.
Getting rid of slugs is only necessary if there are a lot of them and they’re ruining your garden. Avoid the use of chemicals that harm beneficial bugs or birds. If you use chemicals to kill slugs, you could also hurt the birds and other predators. The other reason to avoid that level of slug control is because it creates an imbalance in your ecosystem that requires ongoing use of chemical means because you won’t have natural predators in your yard.
Making your garden less habitable for slugs while also more habitable for their predators creates an ecosystem that remains in balance. And provides long-term control of slugs. The work required to do this is well worth the long term benefit in your garden.