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Landscaping & Nursery Information for Home Gardeners


Slug Control

There are several management/control options for slugs. First and foremost is to remove their habitat. Avoid debris left in the garden that provides a hiding place. Encourage air movement. Using less mulch may not seem practical but will reduce the slug population. Some plants may be mulched that don't need mulching; a mature hosta plant will shade the ground and limit any weed competition.

Some plants may appear less desirable to slugs. While many hostas seem to attract slugs like a magnet, many of the blue types and/or those with "waffled" leaves seem unaffected. Succulents, ivy, and ripening produce are also attractive food sources.

Certain mulch material tends to be less attractive to slugs. Cedar chips, pine needles and rinsed, crushed egg shells tend to repel slugs, either due to odor, resin and/or sharp edges. In fact, many hosta growers are reporting remarkable successes with pine needles applied two to three inches thick. Needles will not significantly disturb the soil pH.

Hand picking slugs and crushing them (or placing them in a jar or bag for disposal if you're squeamish) is another alternative, especially during the evening and early morning hours. Slugs can be trapped under boards or overturned flower pots and removed. Keep the traps in the garden several days before removing to allow slug populations to discover a new "hiding place."

SLUGS--BAITS

Beer baits aren't as effective as many are led to believe. If used, bury saucers of containers of beer at ground level. Several saucers or containers may need to be buried in an area, emptied daily and refilled. Cans with plastic lids can be used with holes cut into the side and buried to the hole; this prevents animals from discovering the beer and draining the bait. Slugs are attracted to the yeast smell and drown. However, slug populations may be too large for this method to be effective. However, some degree of control is better than none.

Slug baits (poisons) are available at many garden center, nurseries and discount stores. Most of the products contain metaldehyde or Mesurol. Baits can be pelletized or powdered. Pelletized baits tend to provide longer residual than powdered forms. Most baits need to be moist in order to attract slugs. Replenish baits when dissolved or removed. Baits may be attractive to some pets; use cautiously. Make sure to read and follow all instructions.
 

SLUGS--BARRIERS

Hardwood, softwood and diatomaceous earth barriers against slugs can be used if kept dry. Diatomaceous earth may be lung health hazard if breathed; face masks should be used when applying.

Copper barrier strips create an impenetrable barrier to slugs. Copper flashing or sheets available at hardware stores can be cut and attached to wood frames. Slugs will not crawl over the copper barrier used as strips around individual plants. Any slug already in the area when barriers are put down will not be killed or affected. It might be wise to check an area before creating a barrier. Slugs will not cross copper due reaction between the copper and their bodies.

Ducks, chickens, toads and rove beetles will eat slugs, though neighbors may complain about the noise from the first two. Other birds may eat slugs, though they are seldom active during the same hours of the day.

The use of salt to "melt" a slug isn't recommended. While it may kill the slug, the salt will cause problems with the soil and surrounding plants.
 

SLUGS--BIOLOGY

Slugs have been described as snails without shells, though slugs have a "shell" hidden by the fleshy mantel on their back. They are neither an insect nor relative of the spiders. Like insects and spiders, they're also classified as Arthropods, but belong to the mollusc family.

Slugs travel on a slime trail excreted by their single large foot. Eyes are located at the end of the large tentacles on their head. The small tentacles contain organs of smell. Slugs are hermaphroditic -- both sex organs are located on the creature. Cross-fertilization is more common, but under extreme situations, slugs can fertilize themselves, which is an interesting survival technique. Eggs may lay dormant until sufficient moisture is available for hatching.

Slugs prefer a moist, humid environment. They tend to avoid the sun and feed at night. Birds find slugs a satisfactory food, which is another reason for night feeding. Most slugs will hide in soil crevices, earthworm holes, or under leaves, boards or other garden debris during the day. Most slugs will return to the same "nesting" site each evening unless it dries out.
 

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