The biggest problem I have in my garden is the slug. Its cousin the snail comes a close second. I’m happy to have all sorts of wildlife sharing my garden, even spiders which I’m a little uncomfortable with in my house help out by eating pests, but the slugs just don’t seem to have any redeeming features.
There are holes in my Verbascum leaves, my lupins have had their stems eaten through before they had a chance to flower, I have very few Calendula seedlings remaining and all of the pepper plants in my grow house got eaten.
Last year I planted out 20 red onion sets and not a single one survived. The whole lot were munched through by hungry gastropods and there’s so little point my trying to plant out lettuce it’s laughable. What’s worse, they don’t seem to want to eat the weeds!
If you’re in any doubt by now the slug, the snail and I do not get on. They are the only animals that live in my garden that I’m happy to kill off. I’m sure they have a place in the natural world, but I can guarantee you, it’s not in my garden!
I will admit that, over a decade ago, I have bought and deployed slug pellets in the garden of my previous house. I believed the warnings on the packet that they were safe around cats and dogs, but as I read more about them I found out that the slugs that had been killed with them could poison the frogs, birds and hedgehogs that came into my garden.
So I started looking for other methods of keeping them away from my herb bed. The first thing I tried was the simple beer trap. I sunk a yoghurt pot into the soil up to its rim and filled it with cheap beer. I was amazed at how well they work and I still use them. I sank one into the herb bed in my current garden a few days ago and by the following morning it had one large dead slug and half a dozen small ones floating in it.
Beer traps aren’t perfect. You have to empty them frequently or you’ll end up with a foul smelling dead slug sludge pool, and that’s not a pleasant thing to have in your garden. They also work much better in dry weather, as rain will dilute the beer or even wash it all out and commercial traps with small roofs cost a lot more than the empty yoghurt pot you saved from the recycling bin.
My friend Marie, who lives in Ireland, advocates “slug wanging”; putting on a pair of gloves and hunting around your garden for slugs and snails in the evening, then hurling them over your fence into a nearby field. Preferably with a glass of wine (for you, don’t hurl this too!). This is the general fate of any gastropods that make it into my grow house when there isn’t a handy beer trap to throw them in. It’s pretty satisfying, but they can still crawl back, plus if you don’t have a field near you and are instead surrounded by neighbours I suspect they won’t appreciate having their garden pelted by flying snails.
Of course, once you’ve picked up your slug or snail, you can dispose of them any way you wish. My garden waste wheelie bin also has a second use as a slug disposal bin. I don’t think I am supposed to put them there, but it’s not really possible to sort them out from piles of weeds and the odd extra won’t make much difference.
Some people drop them in boiling water, others salt them, although salt isn’t really good for gardens and it’s pretty disgusting to watch, and some leave them in a dry place for the local blackbirds to feast on.
Not long ago I burnt off weeds and a nasty kind of creeping grass in the area if my garden where I want to lay turf and any slugs and snails I found met a swift end in the fire.
I recently bought some copper tape and put it around the pot of my last remaining potted lupin. It has survived ever since so I think it must be working. Apparently stripped copper wiring also works and with a little imagination you could make it quite decorative.
I’m also trying the method of using a pot topping of sharp horticultural grit to protect a squash plant in a pot. The sharp edges apparently deter slugs from crawling across. I’ve also read that crushed eggshells do the same. Other barriers that I’ve heard of include bran and sheeps’ wool pellets but I’ve not tried either yet so I couldn’t say whether or not they work well.
I’ve tried other, more unusual, methods too. I read an article in the Telegraph on making your own home-brewed solution of the kind of nematodes that parasitize slugs by catching slugs and trapping them in a covered bucket, which you half-fill with water and weeds. It may have worked, I don’t know, but I couldn’t make enough for my garden and it did get rather stinky.
It’s far easier, and much less smelly, to order nematodes online and have them delivered to your house. I’ve ordered a pack of ‘Nemaslug’ nematodes from Nemasys (@BASF_Nemasys_UK) to treat my garden and found that it’s very easy. It isn’t as effective against larger slugs and snails but any significant reduction in the gastropod population in my garden is a good thing. It also lasts 6 weeks. I’d definitely use these again even though they aren’t cheap. They also have the advantage of being completely safe around food crops.
Although I’ve read about some types of nematodes being bad for bees and other pollinators, these are a different species to the ones mentioned (those were insectivorous types) and should be perfectly safe for the other wildlife in your garden, though don’t use it near ponds if you have pond snails as it may kill them off too.
I’m always open to new wildlife and pet safe ideas for slug control. I’ve not yet tried the orange and grapefruit skin traps that are suggested on the RHS website and at some point I should get around to trying the bran and sheeps’ wool pellets. Sadly, until someone invents the perfect safe method of killing off slugs I’ll keep growing my basil indoors.