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Monday, January 23, 2012

KNOL: Combating Slugs and Snails LOL: An Endless Battle

Transfered from Google Knols for storage on my blog.

Twelve Tips to Help Decrease the Slug Population & The Warrior Iron Phosphate

I have to laugh. It is full time war. If you have them, you would agree. If you don't have them, you are lucky. Slug wars start as soon as the garden can be worked. I have identified several ways to reduce the slug population in your garden. It is a never ending battle. I have grown to believe iron phosphate is a great warrior. I hope this Knol helps you draw up a battle plan. Good luck. You will need it.

Combating Garden Slugs & Snails LOL: An Endless Battle

by Gary Pilarchik LCSW-C

Slugs & Snails: A little bit about the enemy

If you have read about slugs and snails on-line, you have a good idea about why they are so hard to manage. Notice I didn't say control, kill or eradicate. If you have slugs and snails in your garden, you know the damage they can cause in a few short days. The battle begins as soon as your garden soil can be worked and one tip suggests even sooner.
They can fit into tiny cracks and crevices. That includes cracks in the soil, gaps around walls, spaces in garden frames, flipped pots, flat boards and piles of debris. They can make home just about anywhere they can find shade and space.
They have few natural predators, lay 100's of eggs (several times a year!) and eat just about anything.
They aren’t easily poisoned by products that don’t also put toxic chemicals into your garden as well as kill the few natural predators they have. They will eat vegetable leaves and fruits. They love strawberries and radish tops and most of your annuals and perennials. Aside from the damage, if you see a dried silvery mucous trail around your vegetables it is a slug trail. You have been slimed and war has been declared upon your sacred garden ground.
Slugs and snails can take several years to mature. They do nothing but eat as they grow and once they are grown they eat even more.  They are a mobile stomach. They lay eggs multiple times a year. The vile creatures are hermaphroditic, that is, they contain both male and female sex organs so mating is quite easy. All they need is themselves. If one survives... They can lay eggs and repopulate the battlefield.
The odds are stacked against the average gardener when it comes to completely killing off these pests and winning the war. I don't believe eradication is possible. Snails and slugs are only managed. The only strategy is to limit their damage and reduce their numbers in the garden. This is a year long lifetime endeavor that will never end as long as you garden. I have tried beer traps, poison, iron phosphate, lime, sand, hand picking, crops to trap them and other things. They all work to an extent. Yeah, my vegetables still get eaten but I am winning. I think?

Twelve Tips To Manage Slugs & The Warrior Iron Phosphate

You can't control them. It seems to me, they have actually been doing a good job of controlling me. I think they are shaping my behavior and getting a kick out of watching me work. The methods I list below do kill and deter slugs and snails. Managing the damage they cause is only achieved with an intensive pest management plan. Here are twelve tips to develop a battle plan to manage, not control, the slug and snail population in your garden. I have a slug problem in my garden. I don't have snails at this point. (Psst don't forget to check out the last tip - iron phosphate, I saved the best for last)

Hand Picking Their Natural Habitat

Grab them and toss them in a cup of soapy salty water. The exact mixture is less relevant then just dropping them in the cup. In the morning, lift pots, boards, leaf piles or anything they might naturally hide under. You are looking for their home. Lift it and pick them off it. Pretty simple. In the evening, when it is dark, get a flash light and look for their mucus trails. You will see the trail reflect in the light. Look in the garden with the flash light and you will find them invading your plants! Grab them and toss them in a cup of soapy salty water. They hide during the day and invade at night or when it is overcast.

Feed Them & Trap Them with Decoy Homes

Set up inverted melon rinds around the garden. They will think it is a good home to rest in and feed upon. Pick up the rind every 24 hours and see what you caught. You can also set up inverted clay pots, boards or anything that might make a good home. You know where they want to go when the sun is out - the shade. Give them a moist sun free environment and they will come.

Create Natural Food Traps

Bok Choy! Bok Choy! No it’s not a call to arms but it is something I learned. My Bok Choy (chinese cabbage) is being destroyed as I type. They love it. I noticed my broccoli and cabbages have few holes in their leaves because they are swarming to the Bok Choy. They swarm to Bok Choy. Plant a natural food trap near the plants you want to harvest for the table.
I am using the Bok Choy as a trap. They slugs go to it and I pick them off the bottoms of the leaves or I just remove the leaves and toss them. I can also pick a large leaf and set it on the ground. The next day the leave will have quite a few slugs beneath it. Simply throw it away.  If you don’t have access to Bok Choy, green lettuces work well. Don’t use red lettuces. They don’t like it which leads to the next method.

Grow What They Don’t Like

The red lettuces in my garden are not typically damaged by slugs when other food is available. They will go to it if there is nothing to eat. I noticed my red lettuces were left alone by slugs when other greens were near the red lettuce. The red lettuce that was in a bed with no other food source did take damage. I'm not sure if this tip is really worth mentioning. You don't want to miss out on vegetables you like. In a sense all leafy greens are eaten by slugs. Radish are eaten by slugs.  As mentioned above, Bok Choy takes the damage before other greens. Look at this tip as one to be used in combination with others. A way to use this might be to plant vegetables they don't like in an areas that were highly infested.

Repel Them Naturally

I am told garlic, onions, chives, mints, sage and fennel (anise) all repel slugs. I don’t know if this is true but I grow them. I plant them along the edges of by raised beds. Just keep in mind mint is very evasive and needs to be contained. I plant my mints in plastic pots and sink them into the ground. I don’t put much stock in natural repellents. If you have a sure fire natural repellent please leave a comment. I would love to try it out. I have seen damage on my onions when no other food is around.

Release the Hounds: Slug and Snail Predators

Beetles, birds, amphibians, chickens and ducks are predators to slugs and snails. They however, can only get you so far. I don’t use slug poisons because they will kill amphibians too. Every once and a while I got a toad or two living in my garden and I’m sure they love the slugs. They just don’t eat enough. I would have far worst problems, namely my neighbors, if I bought a gaggle of geese or mess of chickens and ducks to feed on the slugs.  But they are an option if you can manage the animals or your neighbors. One thing you can do is plant your vegetables so there is space for birds to land and walk through your rows. I do have lots of robins that peck through my garden. I think they like the worms better.

Beer/Yeast Traps

It’s the sugars and yeast that attract the slugs and snails. You don’t need to use beer but can use yeast, sugar and water. Use a jar or pie tin. Set in your garden so there is a slight rim above the garden ground. They slugs and snails will be attracted to it, fall in and drown. I have used this. It is messy but it works. It attracts large and small sized snails. Check out my Knol below that shows you in pictures how to create a garden beer slug and snail trap.

Copper foil Barrier

The copper reacts with the mucus and causes a shock. I use raised bed and could put a ban of copper around the outside. This would stop slugs from coming in but it will also stop them from leaving. This is one method I haven’t tried. But it does work to keep them out. You need to use at least a 4 inch band of copper foil for it to work. They will actually stretch and arch over it if it is to narrow. Copper foil does tarnish. It has to be cleaned with vinegar so the shock value is there. Dirt will create an insulation layer.  

Pulverized Lime Barrier or Saw Dust

Spread a good amount of pulverized lime around the base of your plants. The lime helps to dry out and kill slugs and snails. This worked when I used it until it rained for 5 straight days. Wet lime isn’t effective. It has to stay dry. The lime coats there skin and the theory is it drys them out. The saw dust, in theory does the same thing. I don't have access to saw dust so I use pulverized lime. It is also good for my soil.

Coarse Sand Barrier or Diatomaceous Earth

I turned to sand when the lime was getting to wet from the rain and from watering. It seemed to work for large slugs but the little ones could crawl across it. The course sand scrapes the slugs body and can damage and kill them. If a scrap occurs, it can cause moisture lost. The slug also has to expend a tremendous amount of energy to travel across sand and clean off lime (as above). I use them together now. Diatomaceous earth are little silica creature shells that are sharp like glass. It is a lot more expansive then course sand. Lime and sand make them work for your precious vegetables.

Baits with Metaldehyde: The Poison

I have used it in my hostas or places I don’t grow vegetables. It works. It can harm fish, cats, dogs, toads and humans. I don’t recommend using it in the garden. It is a non-discriminative killer. And I'm not sure how truly effective it is.

Baits with Iron Phosphate: The Ultimate Warrior

I use this. It helps. It helps a lot. The baits contain iron phosphate and the slugs and snails eat it and it (my understanding) interferes with digestion, they starve and die. I do not consider this toxic to my garden but to the slugs and snails only. Please research it before you use it. The come in pellets which are loaded with things to attract slugs and snails. It is not harmful to wild life nor does it poison the earth around your plants. I consider this a must have of all the tools to manage slugs and snails. The best place to buy it is on-line. It can be expansive in stores but very reasonable on-line. 

The Battle Plan & Tip Thirteen

To best manage, NOT CONTROL, slugs and snails, I recommend selecting several methods to best manage your garden. You really need to include Iron Phosphate as one of them.  You can greatly diminish the damage from the pests, if you have a strict battle plan. You have to be vigilant and can't miss a week of combat.
A final tip is to turn your gardens 1 or 2 times in the winter. The theory is that you will expose eggs to the cold and freezing temperatures. This will kill the eggs. If you don't live in a place with winter freezes, that's why I gave you twelve other tips.

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  1. We create a good garden .we decorate the house very easily.

  2. Thanks for reposting your article about slugs. I know the problem very well. Iron phosphate has only helped me a little bit. It was only briefly mentioned in one of my dog-eared gardening books, but now I am experimenting with using Sweetgum balls as a barrier for not only slugs, but chipmunks and squirrels too. I have a huge supply of these gumballs and used to think of them as an annoyance. Now, maybe not so much. If anything else, they make a good mulch. I'll let you know how it works. My test is on - what else - Bok Choy!

    Zeke (Also in Zone 7).


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