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26 June 2015

Controlling Slugs in Your Garden

Slugs are one of the nationís most-hated garden pests, attacking your seedlings, plants and soft garden growth, while leaving a shiny slimy trail wherever they go. They are, however, an important foodstuff for a huge range of garden visitors, including birds, hedgehogs, frogs and toads, and are an important part of the food chain.

Due to the number of slugs in most gardens, you are likely to need to employ anti-slug measures at some point to protect your plants, unless you have a really healthy population of slug-eating wildlife. Warm, damp spring and summer weather is the time when you will see the most slug damage, especially to soft new shoots and foliage and seedlings. If you find slug eggs in the soil and within the compost of your potted plants, leave them out for the birds as tasty treats, they are like caviar to sparrows.

There are various things you can do to trap and remove slugs, and the best approach is probably to use more than one method. Given the slug's importance to animals and insects, always use safe, wildlife-friendly controls.

The most straightforward method of catching slugs is to go out after dark with a torch and a bucket, especially on a damp evening, which slugs love. You will find slugs all over your plants, even in the greenhouse, so just pick them off and put them in your bucket. I would advise wearing disposable gloves. What you do with your bucket of slugs is up to you, but I believe dropping them in a bucket of salty water will finish them off! You might think that the big garden slugs are the most destructive, but the tiny ones do a massive amount of damage.

Below are some other methods of dealing with slugs - both removal and prevention.

Attract slugs and snails by leaving out decaying organic matter, such as lettuce leaves or grapefruit skins. Inspect these after dark then collect and kill molluscs by dropping them into a bucket of salty water.

Use copper rings around the base of susceptible plants - these repel molluscs by generating a small electric current.

Sink shallow dishes (or purpose-built slug and snail traps) filled with beer to soil level. Slugs and snails are attracted to the beer, become intoxicated and drown. A proprietary trap called the Slug X Trap has received good reviews.

Slugs don't like to cross dry or gritty material, so create a barrier around your favourite plants using ashes, soot, sharp sand, crushed nut or eggshells.

Grow plants with rough or hairy leaves which are less palatable or use some young plants as sacrificial specimens in order to discourage the slugs and snails from your favourites.

Nematodes are a natural chemical free way to control slugs, perfect for use around edible plants and for organic gardeners. For best results apply in warm weather when the soil is moist.

Environmentally-friendly slug pellets are available, based on ferrous sulphate or ferric phosphate, which are very effective and much safer if you share your garden with pets, children and wildlife. Slug pellets containing metaldehyde and especially the more poisonous methiocarb should be avoided. Products containing Ferrous phosphate are acceptable for Organic gardeners as they don't contaminate the soil or harm other wildlife.

There is no need to go mad with the pellets - where possible just use two or three per square metre. A higher dose doesn't kill more slugs but does pose a greater risk to pets, children and wildlife.

An alternative method is to place one pellet inside a narrow necked bottle, laid on its side in the flowerbed. The slugs will crawl in attracted to the bait and the pellets will be inaccessible to wildlife.

Finally, if you have both the space and the right environment, ducks and chickens are dual-purpose domestic animals that are great slug and snail hunters.
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