Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
July, 2001
Regional Report

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The silvery, glistening slime trail on this aster is sure evidence of a slug fest.

Stopping Slugs and Snails

It's a sure giveaway - whenever I spot a trail of glistening slime leading across a leaf or flower, I know that a slug or snail has been feasting. I'm always amazed at the amount of damage they can do in a relatively short period of time.

Slug and Snail Basics

Slugs and snails are mollusks, more closely related to scallops and clams than insects. They range in color from greenish-yellow to brown, black, white, charcoal gray or rosy-pink. Snails carry protective shells on their backs, retreating into them whenever they feel endangered. Most slugs are naked snails, with no visible shells.

Picking Slugs

The simplest way to control the amount of slugs and snails in your garden is to create an environment they don't like. Eliminate their favorite hiding places such as coarse mulches and piles of wet leaves. To catch them in action, start night patrols. They're easy to find during the night or early morning hours when they're feeding the most. Handpick and destroy any critters you find. During the day they hide, often under flower pots or plant debris. Moving these items around will often uncover a whole community ripe for the picking.

Keep Them Out

You can bar slugs and snails from getting to your plants in the first place. Barriers range from fence-like metal enclosures to materials sprinkled on the ground around the plants you want to protect. Solid copper makes the best barrier and the mollusks are repelled by it, getting an electric shock when they come in contact with this metal. Use at least a 3-inch wide strip and lay it along the edge of beds, wrap it around tree trunks or pots, or stand it upright like a fence. Be sure to check for slugs and snails caught inside the barrier.

Laying paths of organic substances such as wood ash, shredded bark, sand, or diatomaceous earth around plants will also deter most slugs and snails. They don't like crawling over the sharp materials.

Trap Them

If handpicking and barriers don't offer adequate control, trap the critters. Successful traps require some form of attractant to lure slugs and snails. The most widely known trap is beer. Slugs and snails are actually attracted to the yeast in beer, so don't sacrifice your best bottled brew. Using stale cans of beer is fine. Raw potato slices, lettuce, yeast, smashed slugs, or commercially prepared wheat-based products also work well as attractants. I place the lure of choice on a small paper plate and prop an old pie pan up a few inches above the plate to protect the bait from rain. I empty the trap every morning and replace the bait.

Animals Like Slugs

Fortunately there are a number of beneficial creatures such as toads, frogs, snakes, ground beetles, and predatory snails that love to eat slugs and snails. Even ducks, geese, and chickens can be sent on patrol to reduce slug and snail populations. You can encourage these beneficials by providing a diverse habitat in and around your garden and reducing the spraying of pesticides.

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