Monday, December 9, 2013
Garden centers and homeowners report an abundance of slugs this summer. Their munching can seriously injure the health of plants, especially vegetables.
Putting beer out in the garden works well to attract slugs and drown them, but some gardeners use yeast in water or iron-phosphate products instead.
If you've noticed an unusual number of the squishy, slimy creatures this year, it's not your imagination.
Depending on where you live and how much consistent rainfall your gardens have received this year, chances are you've found yourself stepping over lots of slime trails and counting the number of bites the hungry boneless pests have taken out of your hosta and cabbage.
"It's been a record year for slugs and snails in the garden, no question about it," said Mike Skillin of Skillins Greenhouses in Falmouth. "It's gotten a little dry at times a few weeks back, and we certainly noticed a decrease then. But the population seems to have picked up again. And it's amazing what they can eat."
Slugs use their rasping mouth parts to chew their way through plants. Sometimes the damage is just cosmetic -- if they're not attacking your vegetable garden -- but even cosmetic damage that goes on long enough can seriously injure the health of a plant.
And with food crops, there's the risk that a secondary fungus or bacteria will move in to attack the damaged plant after the slug has moved on to tastier territory.
"They're active when it's dark or overcast," said James Dill, a pest management specialist at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service. "They like the moisture, and they like to have a lot of debris around. So some folks that have gardens that are really big on straw mulch to help keep the weeds down, those are the great gardens to have slug problems too, because you've got that mulch for the slugs to hide where it's nice and damp and cool, and they can spend the day there."
Slugs also love hosta plants. With their broad, long leaves and love of wet, shady areas, hostas are the slugs' version of potato chips.
They can't eat just one. And the more they eat, the more they multiply.
Skillin knows a gardening couple who were determined last year to capture every last slug on their property.
They collected 3,000 slugs out of their yard.
So when should you think about trying to control them? Well, most people would probably agree that the thought of 3,000 slugs gives them the creeps. Dill said it all depends on individual tolerance.
"Most people certainly don't want them in their food crops at all," he said.
If you've decided even one slug is too many, here are some tips on how to get rid of them:
• Salt. This classic slug remedy conjures images of 12-year-old boys gleefully running around with the shaker pouring salt on slugs so they can watch them shrivel up and die. The thing is, unless you spread salt all over your yard, it's going to take a long time to control the population. And it will be bad for your plants in the process.
So, Dill said, unless you have "that sadistic streak" and are "very mad" at the slugs in your yard, you might want to consider something with a little less shock and awe.
• Like beer. Yes, beer. They're attracted to the yeast. The best way, Dill said, is to take an old cat food or tuna fish can and bury it until it's flush with the ground. Fill it with beer. Put three or four rocks around it and set a board over it (because slugs like the cover and it helps keep dogs from lapping up the beer), but keep the wood slightly elevated so the slugs can still get into the can.
You'll find several slugs in the can the next morning.
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Slugs like moisture and shade, so gardens with straw mulch and pieces of wood give them lots of places to hide during the day.
Jim Dill photo