Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
November, 2001
Regional Report

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the garden...

Slug Fest

The only good thing I can think of regarding slugs is the clever trade names they inspire when it comes to control products -- for example, "Sluggo" and "Escar-Go!". (More about these later.) Other than that, I sympathize with Calvin, of the now defunct Calvin and Hobbes syndicated cartoon, who said something to the effect of, "Girls are like slugs. They must be good for something, but I sure can't figure out what it is!" (I can say that, because I'm a girl!)

Slug Patrol

Slugs are the only major pest in my garden. Although the garden is in full sun, the soil remains remarkably moist even during the driest summers. I've tried trapping the critters, but found that I had to empty the traps daily -- and, honestly, that's not a chore I'm prepared to do every morning after breakfast.

I use lots of organic mulch in my garden, partly for weed control and partly to help lighten the heavy clay soil. This spring, when slugs were devouring my prized Brussels sprouts and other cole crops, I raked the mulch away from the base of the plants and removed the lower leaves so that none were touching the soil. Desperate to get the upper hand, I even spread a little gravel from my driveway to make the going rougher for these slimy pests. The next morning, the plants were still besieged (and within a week weeds had taken over).

I don't have the stomach for "hand-picking" slugs, a method I recommend to others. I just can't do it. I know these are one of nature's creations, and they won't hurt me -- the things I tell people when I'm offering advice. But, secretly, they give me the willies and that's that.

The Last Straw

Normally, I try to outwit pests without purchasing special products, partly as a challenge and partly because I am, well, cheap. But when the slugs attacked my basil seedlings, threatening my annual supply of pesto, I had to get serious. I went for the Sluggo.

The active ingredient in both Sluggo and Escar-Go! is iron phosphate; this is mixed with a bait that the little fellas find irresistable. Application is easy: you simply sprinkle the pellets around the base of plants. The literature states that slugs eat the bait, immediately stop feeding, and die after a few days. I didn't wait around to watch whether this was the sequence of events -- all I know is that it really worked! Though the product is relatively expensive, I found that a little went a long way, and I have plenty left over for next year.

The best thing about iron-phosphate-based baits is their relative nontoxicity. The material is described as safe to use around animals and humans, unlike slug baits containing metaldehyde.

They're Not All Bad

Of course, nothing in life is black and white. Although, like Calvin, I have a hard time thinking anything good about slugs, the creatures do play an important role in the environment. During my research on slug control, I came across some interesting information about their biology and role in the ecosystem.

Slugs are important players in the recycling of nutrients. They help break down organic matter, in the process transforming organically bound nutrients into a form that is available to plants. They also provide food for toads, snakes, and other animals.

While I'm not quite ready to "live and let live" within the confines of my garden, I am willing to give slugs their due respect as members of the wider ecosystem. I don't want to eradicate them; I just want to keep them away from my prized plants.

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